Union Tribune

August 29, 2003

Squadron formed to test Osprey for combat readiness


WASHINGTON The Marine Corps' prolonged struggle to deploy the V-22 Osprey gained ground yesterday with the formation of a squadron that will try to prove the accident-plagued tilt-rotor aircraft is ready for combat.

The unit, which could determine the fate of the Osprey, came to life in a ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station in New River, N.C., attended by officials from the three armed services that plan to fly the Osprey.

The squadron has only a handful of its expected personnel and will not receive the first of its six Ospreys until later this year. After nearly a year to absorb its factory-fresh aircraft and to train its personnel, the unit will conduct a lengthy series of operational trials that, if successful, would lead to formation of the first combat-ready Marine and Air Force units.

Those trials will have to remove critics' doubts that the hybrid aircraft can fly safely in formation in challenging tactical situations on land and from amphibious ships at sea. The tests also must demonstrate that the V-22s can transport combat-loaded troops, vehicles and weapons at the speeds and distances that its proponents claim.

The Osprey has twin jet engines driving large rotors that can be rotated from a horizontal position, which allows it to take off and land like a helicopter. The engines give the Osprey the speed and range of a turbo-prop airplane.

The Marines have been struggling for nearly 20 years to obtain the Osprey to replace their aged CH-46 and CH-53D helicopters. The Air Force wants a modified version of the V-22 to enhance its capabilities to transport Special Operations troops.

The Navy might buy Ospreys for search and rescue and logistical missions.

The V-22's development has been plagued by design and manufacturing problems and haunted by three fatal crashes that killed a total of 30 Marines and manufacturers' personnel.

Extensive redesign and 15 months of flights by test pilots at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., have answered some of the doubts about the Osprey, but problems continue to surface.