Osprey tilt rotor plan/heli gets operations experience

Mr Happy


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Once derided as a white elephant, the U.S. Marine Corps' tilt-rotor aircraft, the V-22 Osprey, is proving its mettle in Iraq, military officials said.

The Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like a plane, was designed to replace the Corps' aging and less-capable helicopter fleet.

But a series of accidents involving the planes left 30 people dead from 1991 to 2000, and critics said the Osprey never would be able to replace the Vietnam-era CH-46 Sea Knight, which was the Corps' airlift workhorse.

The military, which has ordered 360 of the aircraft, said the 10 deployed to Iraq are doing what they are supposed to do -- carrying troops faster, farther and safer than the copters can.

Last September, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 left for Iraq's western Anbar province on the first deployment of the V-22.

Since then, the planes have logged more than 2,000 flight hours, initially doing routine cargo and troop movements from base to base in an area about the size of South Carolina.

In December, commanders gave the planes a more risky mission called "aero-scout" in which a group of V-22s flies into a relatively unsecured location and drops off Marines for a search mission.

The planes sit on the ground until the Marines load up and then fly off to somewhere else for another mission.

The Osprey's speed has been a lifesaver, too, squadron officials said.

For instance, they said two V-22s were dispatched to fly a more than 130-mile round trip in the remote western desert to pick up a wounded Marine and get him to a hospital. The planes were able to do so in an hour, something no helicopter in the Marine inventory could do, squadron officials said.

Commanders in Iraq have allowed little media coverage of the V-22s since their arrival, wanting to get crews used to their mission and to keep insurgents from targeting the planes for propaganda purposes. The planes have not come under direct fire, officials said.

Critics said the plane is lightly defended, with only one rear-mounted gun.

But Marines said the Osprey has enough power and speed to get out of a hostile zone faster than any helicopter, and the aircraft can fly higher, allowing it to be out of range of shoulder-fired missiles.

The Osprey seems to have become a favorite of commanders who need to get to places quickly, including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. Petraeus used one to fly around the country on Christmas Day to visit troops.

"Gen. Petraeus flew in the jump seat and was very impressed by the aircraft's capabilities," according to Col. Steve Boylan, a spokesman for the general.

"The rate of climb is exceptional, and it can fly about twice as fast as a Black Hawk [helicopter], without needing to refuel as frequently," Boylan said. "Beyond that, its automatic-hover capability for use in landing in very dusty conditions, even at night, is tremendous."

Petraeus chose the Osprey for that mission because it was the only aircraft in the inventory that could fly around the country without refueling and not rely on runways, Boylan said.

Despite glowing remarks from troops in Iraq, the planes have an overarching reliability problem, according to critics.

"The Marines will tell you it's a new plane, and all new aircraft have problems, but it's not a new plane; it's been around for a long time now," said Philip Coyle, former chief of the Pentagon's weapons testing division.

"It seems like every time one problem is fixed another one comes along, and I just don't think the program will be able to get over that."

Marines contend the planes have performed well, with six to eight aircraft out of 10 available at any one time.

No serious reports of mechanical problems have been reported with the planes in Iraq, according to Marine Corps officials in Washington, and a shortage of spare parts has been alleviated.

Critics such as Coyle said they aren't convinced the planes are the answer for the Marines.

"It has flown more than 2,000 hours in Iraq, but most of that has been carefully coordinated to minimize the risks," he said.

"The program is like a bad poker hand. They keep putting money into it when they should have spent it on a new helicopter system."

The Marine commands in Washington and Iraq said they do not let the critics faze them.

"As with any first-time deployment, new lessons are learned every day," one Marine deployed with the Osprey squadron said.
I suspect that the V-22 is still a deathtrap.

A couple of decades of development dozens of Marines killed or injured in crashes and you still have a plane that occasionally takes off on its own and crashes. It does not like dust.

You can buy five Blackhawks for the same price without the punitive costs of V-22 maintenance. They are at least a decent weapons platform and can autorotate when in trouble. With UH-60s rapidly being worn out in desert environments the 2007 Pentagon budget For the UH-60 Blackhawk was $793.3 million for 42 birds. In the same year it spent $2,454.4 on 26 less tactically flexible Ospreys.

Like the F-22 the Osprey program has proven remarkably robust under fire... from a Congress with highly conflicted attitudes to Pork. Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN Ret.) has at it here:
PRESIDENTIAL candidates routinely rail against big government, but they're often silent when it comes to denouncing the biggest source of waste, redundancy and inefficiency in the federal bureaucracy. That is, the Pentagon.

This year, against a backdrop of ballooning deficits and serious threats from terrorists, we're already starting to see a few candidates break free from the taboo against calling for serious cuts in defense spending.

But if you listen closely to the presidential hopefuls traipsing though Iowa and New Hampshire these days, you'd think it's only a few of the Democrats who will cut Cold War weapons systems from the Pentagon budget, and their proposed cuts are mostly nominal compared to the potential savings that could be realized.

Sen. Joe Biden, for example, opposes space-based weapons. Gov. Bill Richardson wants to cut 10 percent from the Pentagon budget. Both candidates would cut the V-22 Osprey and the F-22 Raptor fighter plane. And former Sen. John Edwards opposes Star Wars.

All of these programs are big bonanza projects for defense contractors but are of little or no use for our national defense.

The failures of missile defense are the stuff of legend, and offensive space-based weapons are almost literally pie-in-the-sky ideas that could trigger an arms race in space.

The Osprey, a helicopter-airplane hybrid, offers only marginal improvements to our existing helicopters, yet costs five times as much and has killed 23 Marines in test flights.

The F-22, designed to fight Soviet jets, brings little to an Air Force that has easily proven its superiority in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why the Air Force has tried to convert the F-22 to close-air support missions. But at 25 times the cost of a regular A-10, it's hard to see the value of a supersonic stealth fighter to attack ground targets.

Cutting these programs would potentially save taxpayers more than $80 billion over the next four years without affecting our national security.

Republicans on the presidential stump can hardly manage to name a single multi-billion dollar system that they would cut, though most deserve credit for at least acknowledging the fact that substantial waste can be found over at the Pentagon.

This is strange, because some brave Republicans have indeed stood up in the past and called for an end to the Pentagon's Cold War relics.

When he was Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney canceled the Osprey, only to have it saved by Congress.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to scale back production of the F-22.

Just last year, President Bush tried to scale back the Army's ambitious Future Combat System, a bloated weapons project, only to be overruled by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. John McCain is famous for his scorn for pork spending, including wasteful defense programs, and has fought to rein in cost overruns on big acquisition projects.

But it's one thing to talk about cutting waste in the abstract, and quite another to single out programs that have built-in constituencies in Congress and the defense industry.

In an era where it's considered politically safe to lavish money on defense budgets regardless of the threat to America, it takes leadership to stand above parochial interests.

Now is the time for Republican candidates to muster some of the courage they will surely need if elected President, and name specific Cold War weapons systems that would be cut under their administrations.

And it's time for Democratic candidates, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who have yet to name specific Cold War relics that should be axed, to tell us what they plan to cut.

And all candidates, Republicans and Democrats, should go further, offering their own plans to save tens of billions in wasteful defense spending.

There's no doubt the savings are there for the taking.
Mark Thompson goes into more detail in V-22 Osprey: A Flying Shame.
As originally designed, the V-22 was supposed to survive a loss of engine power when flying like a helicopter by autorotating toward the ground, just as maple seeds do in the fall. Autorotation, which turns a normally soft touchdown into an very hard emergency landing, is at least survivable. It became clear, however, that the design of the Osprey, adjusted many times over, simply could not accommodate the maneuver. The Pentagon slowly conceded the point. "The lack of proven autorotative capability is cause for concern in tilt-rotor aircraft," a 1999 report warned. Two years later, a second study cautioned that the V-22's "probability of a successful autorotational landing ... is very low." Unable to rewrite the laws of physics, the Pentagon determined that the ability to perform the safety procedure was no longer a necessary requirement and crossed it off the V-22's must-have list. "An autorotation to a safe landing is no longer a formal requirement," a 2002 Pentagon report said. "The deletion of safe autorotation landing as a ... requirement recognizes the hybrid nature of the tilt-rotor."

Indeed it does, but that doesn't make the aircraft any safer. The plane's backers said that the chance of a dual-engine failure was so rare that it shouldn't be of concern. Yet the flight manual lists a variety of things that can cause both engines to fail, including "contaminated fuel ... software malfunctions or battle damage." The lone attempted V-22 autorotation "failed miserably," according to an internal 2003 report, obtained by TIME, written by the Institute for Defense Analyses, an in-house Pentagon think tank. "The test data indicate that the aircraft would have impacted the ground at a ... fatal rate of descent."

That prospect doesn't concern some V-22 pilots, who believe they'll have the altitude and time to convert the aircraft into its airplane mode and hunt for a landing strip if they lose power. "We can turn it into a plane and glide it down, just like a C-130," Captain Justin (Moon) McKinney, a V-22 pilot, said from his North Carolina base as he got ready to head to Iraq. "I have absolutely no safety concerns with this aircraft, flying it here or in Iraq."

Helicopter expert Rex Rivolo, who called the decision to deploy the V-22 without proven autorotation capability "unconscionable" in that confidential 2003 Pentagon study, declined to be interviewed. But in his report, Rivolo noted that up to 90% of the helicopters lost in the Vietnam War were in their final approach to landing when they were hit by enemy ground fire. About half of those were able to autorotate safely to the ground, "thereby saving the crews," Rivolo wrote. "Such events in V-22 would all be fatal."

Faced with killing the program — or possibly killing those aboard the V-22 — the Marines have opted to save the plane and have largely shifted responsibility for surviving such a catastrophe from the designers to the pilots. While the engineers spent years vainly trying to solve the problem, pilots aboard a stricken V-22 will have just seconds to react. But tellingly, pilots have never practiced the maneuver outside the simulator — the flight manual forbids it — and even in simulators the results have been less than reassuring. "In simulations," the flight manual warns, "the outcome of the landings varied widely due to the extreme sensitivity to pilot technique and timing." The director of the Pentagon's testing office, in a 2005 report, put it more bluntly. If power is lost when a V-22 is flying like a helicopter below 1,600 ft. (490 m), he said, emergency landings "are not likely to be survivable."
A former F-14 aviator, Carroll likens the V-22 to another Marine favorite, the AV-8 Harrier jump jet. "The Harrier," he notes, "is actually a good analogy for the V-22." Like the AV-8, the V-22 is a radical aircraft crammed with compromises that may change combat forever. And like the AV-8, it may also kill a lot of Marines while doing little of note on the battlefield. Since 1971, more than a third of Harriers have crashed, killing 45 Marines in 143 accidents. But there's a critical difference between the two warplanes. Each Harrier carries a single pilot, nestled into an ejection seat with a parachute. But after all the debate about tilt-rotor technology — after all the vested interests have argued their case and all its boosters and critics have had their say — this much we know: within days, a V-22 will begin carrying up to 26 Marines into combat in Iraq, with no ejection seats — and no parachutes.

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