Union Tribune

October 31, 2002 

Critical testing is scheduled for troubled Osprey aircraft

By OTTO KREISHER 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON The Marine Corps' troubled Osprey is ready to
enter a critical phase of the flight testing that will determine
whether the tilt-rotor aircraft will be used in combat, the Navy
said yesterday.

Next month, V-22 test pilots are expected to start rapid descent
maneuvers similar to those that led to an April 2000 crash that
killed 19 Marines in Arizona. Many critics, including the
Pentagon's top procurement official, have voiced doubts that the
Osprey can safely perform the aggressive flight maneuvers,
including rapid descents, which are required for combat
operations.

The Marines and the Bell-Boeing manufacturing team, however,
insist that the aircraft will be safer and more effective in combat
than the Vietnam-vintage helicopters they would replace.

The V-22's movable rotors allow it to take off and land like a
helicopter but fly with the speed and range of an airplane.

The Arizona crash occurred when Marine pilots trying to land
during a simulated combat mission attempted to get down too
quickly while flying too slowly in the helicopter mode. The
rotors lost lift and the Osprey plunged to the ground, killing the
crew and 15 infantry from Camp Pendleton.

The following December, four more Marines died when an
Osprey crashed in North Carolina after failures of the hydraulic
and the co mputerized flight control systems.

The remaining Ospreys were grounded while several high-level
studies considered if the program should be killed.

Flight testing resumed in May at Naval Air Station Patuxent
River, Md., with one aircraft available to requalify test pilots and
to check out the extensive modifications.

Now, two more Ospreys are on hand with the arrival of a new
aircraft from the Bell-Boeing plant in Texas and completion of
the modifications on an older test aircraft, said Naval Air
Systems Command spokeswoman Gidge Dady.

The older aircraft will be used to determine at what forward
speed and rate of descent the Ospreys can operate safely and to
test cockpit warning systems and pilot training procedures that
could prevent future crashes.

The newer plane will conduct other tests, including whether men
and cargo can be dropped by parachute, which some critics
have questioned.

The aircraft also will test if the Ospreys can operate safely
aboard amphibious ships and in multi-aircraft missions, which
are other areas of concern.

By mid-summer, seven of the Marine Osprey will be flying at
Patuxent River and two of the Air Force models will be in flight
tests at Edwards Air Force Base, Dady said.