June 24, 2003
Three years after deadly accidents, Osprey is fixed, Marines say
Aircraft could be flying by December
By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Declaring that it has resolved the problems that plagued the V-22 Osprey, the Marine Corps expects operational pilots to start flying the aircraft again by December, three years after fatal crashes grounded the Osprey and brought the controversial tilt-rotor aircraft to the edge of termination.
"We have confidence in this aircraft. We're ready to bring it back from flight testing and give it back to the fleet," said Marine Col. Daniel Schultz, the Osprey program manager.
Schultz said the progress in the V-22 program also justifies an increase in production of the long-sought replacement for the aged CH-46s.
"We've solved all the aeromechanical issues. . . . We've solved the engineering issues," Schultz said. "We've proven it and now it's time to start buying the airplane at an efficient production rate so we get these airplanes to the fleet a lot sooner."
Osprey program officials held a briefing and flight demonstration last week to show the progress they believe the aircraft has made from the flight disasters and the engineering mistakes the crashes revealed in 2000.
After two years of study and extensive engineering modifications, as well as a year of flight trials by highly experienced test pilots, Schultz insisted that the V-22 has proved that it is not only much more capable, but safer than any existing helicopter.
Schultz presented charts of flight-test data showing the Osprey was more responsive than helicopters in slow-speed, intense maneuvers, such as would be required in combat landing situations, and less susceptible to losing control from a dangerous flight condition known as vortex ring state.
Vortex ring state – which is similar to a fixed-wing aircraft stall – occurs when a rotary-wing craft descends too quickly while flying at a slow airspeed.
Pilots from the former Osprey training squadron were attempting a night assault landing at Marana, Ariz., in April 2000, when they encountered vortex ring state and crashed, killing 19 Marines, including 15 from Camp Pendleton.
The test data shows "it takes a lot more to get a V-22 into vortex ring state than any other helicopter," and the tilt-rotor technology allows a faster, safer recovery, Schultz said.
The Osprey's twin engines can rotate from a horizontal position – which allows it to take off and land like a helicopter – to vertical, which lets it fly like a turbo-prop airplane.
Tilting the rotor forward slightly from the helicopter position enables the V-22 to fly out of vortex ring state quickly, said Lt. Col. Kevin Gross, the chief Marine test pilot.
Bolstered by test data, Osprey program officials are preparing to ask for a production increase during a July hearing before the Defense Acquisition Board.
Schultz said the Marines will form a "fleet" squadron this fall at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. The new squadron will train for a year and then conduct extensive operational evaluation trials, starting in December 2004, to prove that the V-22 is ready for combat use. If there are no setbacks, the first operational squadron could be combat-ready by 2006, Schultz said.