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V-22 Osprey Aircraft


V-22 Osprey

Boeing test pilots put the MV-22 Osprey through its paces at a demonstration for the media at Patuxtent River Naval Air Station in June 2003.

Official USMC Photo
Updated January 05, 2004
by Staff Sgt. Cindy Fisher

PATUXTENT RIVER NAVAL AIR STATION, Md -- The V-22 Osprey program has suffered serious setbacks throughout its development, but program leaders here are confident these problems have been resolved and they are ready to move forward.

“This is a warfighter’s airplane,” said Col. Daniel Schultz, the Osprey program manager. “We have confidence in this aircraft. We’re ready to bring it back from flight testing and give it back to the fleet.”

With the Landing Craft, Air-Cushioned and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the Osprey is an integral part of the Corps’ Expeditionary Maneuver Warfighting concept. This tilt-rotor aircraft takes off like a helicopter, then the two rotors mounted to its wings tilt forward to allow it to fly as a plane, converting the craft from helicopter hover mode to airplane mode in 12 seconds. This conversion allows the craft to take off and land in smaller places than an airplane, but fly farther and faster than a helicopter.

It is this capability that makes the aircraft an integral part of the expeditionary warfighting concept, said Schultz. “It can go deep and come back.”

The CH-46, which the Osprey is set to replace, has a range of 160 nautical miles, while the Osprey’s range is 2,100 with one refueling. This increased range will get Marines to the battlefield faster and from further away. “The Osprey will provide our Marines with a needed edge in the complex operations they will face while defending Americans and American interests in the 21st century,” said Gen. James L. Jones during his tenure as Commandant of the Marine Corps.

The advantages of the Osprey are obvious. It can fly at a maximum altitude of 26,000 feet, about 15,000 feet higher than a helicopter. This innovative aircraft can also fly nearly twice as fast and three times farther than a helicopter and needs less runway length than a traditional airplane—just under 500 feet.

Turbulent Times

But, the Osprey, built by The Boeing Company and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., has experienced serious drawbacks since its first flight March 19, 1989. The program’s mechanical, technical and even political difficulties have delayed its entry into the fleet and at times even threatened to end the program.

The 1986 estimated cost of a single V-22 was about $24 million with a projected 923 to be built. The first Bush administration cancelled the project in April 1989, by which time the cost of a single craft was estimated at $35 million. However, Congress continued to allocate funding for the program in a November 1989 authorization. Throughout Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney’s tenure, he and Congress wrestled over the question of the V-22 as he felt the project would cost more than the amount appropriated. Eventually he relented, proposing that $1.5 billion be spent in fiscal years 1992 and 1993 to develop the project. The arrival of the Clinton administration into the White House in 1992 provided new support for the program.

Osprey crashes have resulted in 30 deaths. No one died in a June 11, 1991, Osprey crash, but a crash July 20, 1992, in Virginia killed three Marines and four civilians. The Osprey was grounded for 11 months after this crash. A crash in Arizona April 8, 2000, killed 19 Marines, grounding the aircraft for two months. Another crash in North Carolina Dec. 11 of the same year killed four Marines. After the December crash, the Osprey was grounded until May 29, 2002.

The Virginia crash resulted from a combination of an engine surge, nacelle fire and a drive shaft failure, according to the V-22 Resource Book. The Arizona crash was blamed on a situation called a vortex ring state. A vortex ring state can result when a rotary wing aircraft with a high rate of descent and a low air speed falls into its own rotor turbulence and loses lift. The December crash was caused by a hydraulic system failure coupled with a software glitch.

Renewed Confidence

In June 2003, after a year of extensive testing, program officials held a briefing and flight demonstration to highlight the progress made from mechanical and technical errors revealed by the 2000 crashes. Schultz extolled the extensive testing and provided comprehensive charts of flight-test data.

“We have now solved all the aeromechanical issues. We have solved the logistical issues. … We have solved the engineering issues,” he said.

“The V-22 is much less susceptible to vortex ring state,” Schultz said. “It takes a lot more to get a V-22 into the vortex ring state than any other helicopter.”

The tilt rotor technology even allows for a quicker recovery from this problem by tilting the rotor forward from the helicopter mode and flying out of the vortex ring state, said Lt. Col. Kevin Gross, the chief test pilot from the Marine Corps for the program. To further safeguard against the problem, a device was installed that gives pilots 18 seconds of warning that they might be entering vortex ring state.

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