San Diego Union-Tribune

May 3, 2002 

Marines get OK to resume Osprey tests


By Otto Kreisher 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON The Pentagon's procurement chief said
yesterday the Marine Corps's MV-22 Osprey could resume flight
testing next week, although he remains skeptical that the
controversial tilt-rotor aircraft can be made safe, reliable and
operationally effective.

"I think there's a lot of uncertainties we don't yet know about,"
said Pete Aldridge, under secretary of defense for acquisition,
technology and logistics.

Aldridge said the first test flight is set for Thursday at Patuxent
River Naval Air Station, the Navy's main aircraft test center. But
a Navy spokeswoman at Patuxent said it likely would be later
this month.

The Osprey is intended to replace the Marines' Vietnam-era
CH-46 and CH-53D helicopters. It has the vertical takeoff and
landing capability of a helicopter, but the speed and range of a
turboprop aircraft.

The Osprey has been grounded since December 2000, after the
second of two fatal crashes in eight months that killed 23
Marines, including 18 from Camp Pendleton.

Despite widespread demands that the program be canceled, the
Marines fought and won another chance for the program, which
has been threatened with death several times over its more than
15-year development.

Extensive studies by a blue-ribbon commission of veteran pilots
and aerospace engineering exports and by a panel of NASA
scientists concluded there were no critical aerodynamic flaws in
the basic design of the Osprey.

But they recommended changes in the high-pressure hydraulic
system and the computerized flight-control system which were
cited as the cause of the last crash in North Carolina. And they
demanded extensive flight testing to examine the troubling flight
condition called vortex ring state, which was a factor in the April
2000 crash in Arizona.

The manufacturing team of Bell and Boeing helicopter divisions
and the Marines have worked for a year on corrections for those
problems and a flight program they hope will prove that the
aircraft is safe and capable.