Union Tribune

August 24, 2002 

NATION 
Osprey program moving toward more dangerous testing

By OTTO KREISHER 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON Like toddlers determined not to fall, the
managers of the Marine Corps' MV-22 Osprey program are
taking a cautious walk-before-they-run approach to testing the
trouble-prone tilt-rotor aircraft.

After 35 hours of low-risk flying, technicians are painstakingly
inspecting the lone test aircraft to determine the effectiveness of
modifications to its failure-prone hydraulic system.

Next month, pilots will start more dangerous tests using a new
aircraft.

The second Osprey will test the modified MV-22's ability to
perform the kind of rapid descents that caused a crash in
Arizona that killed 19 Marines, including 18 from Camp
Pendleton, in April 2000.

The cautious testing is warranted for a program that is
threatened with cancellation and cannot stand another failure,
said Phillip Coyle, a former director of the Pentagon's
operational test office.

"They should be careful," Coyle said yesterday. "They don't want
to rush into anything. . . . They can't afford another accident, and
they have a lot to learn about the characteristics of the aircraft."

Although it has been the Marines Corps' top aviation priority for
a decade, the Osprey was threatened with cancellation
repeatedly even before the string of accidents that killed 30
men.

After a crash that killed four Marines in December 2000 in
North Carolina, the Ospreys were grounded and were studied by
a host of experts.

One modified Osprey has been flown 15 times since May 29 by
test pilots for the Marines and the manufacturers, Bell
Helicopter and Boeing. Most have been short, relatively
unchallenging flights, said Gidge Dady, a Naval Air Systems
Command spokeswoman.

More rigorous tests set to begin next month will be watched by
skeptics, including the Pentagon's top acquisition executive,
Pete Aldridge, a former aerospace engineer and test pilot.

The aircraft's ability to rotate its two huge rotors from a
horizontal position overhead to a vertical position allows it to
take off and land like a helicopter but fly as fast and as far as a
turbo-prop airplane.

All helicopters can experience rotor stall if they lose altitude too
quickly at a slow forward airspeed, but because the Osprey's
rotors are at the end of 20-foot-long wings, a rotor stall can
create a rapid roll that could be irreversible at low altitude. That
is what caused the crash in Arizona.

Some senior Pentagon officials are troubled by the MV-22's
extended and troubled development and its soaring cost.

The Marines, however, remain enthusiastic about the Osprey's
capabilities.

"Operations in Afghanistan proved, probably on a daily basis,
that the capabilities the Osprey will give us could have been used
and could have allowed us to do things faster, certainly with less
risk to the force and to do things in places we couldn't get to with
helicopters," said Lt. Gen. Emil Bedard, assistant commandant
for plans, policies and operations.