Union Tribune

August 9, 2002 

Pentagon official has 'some real problems' with Osprey's design
Tilt-rotor craft said to need more testing


WASHINGTON The Pentagon's top acquisition executive said
yesterday he has "some real problems" with the design of the
Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey that must be resolved if the
controversial tilt-rotor aircraft is to survive.

"I'm probably the most skeptical person in the Department of
Defense on (the) V-22," said Edward "Pete" Aldridge, the
undersecretary of defense for acquisition.

While the Osprey has resumed flight testing, Aldridge said he is
studying several helicopters as possible alternatives.

"If the flight-test program fails, I don't want to be sitting around
here waiting for another couple of years to decide what are the
alternatives we want to pursue," he said.

Aldridge's doubts about the aircraft that has been the Marines'
top aviation priority are significant because of his position and

In his off icial position, he can recommend termination of the
$40 billion program, an action Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld is believed to favor because of the Osprey's cost and
troubled history.

In development for two decades, the V-22's cost has nearly
doubled and four crashes have killed 30 people, including 18
Marines from Camp Pendleton.

Aldridge's criticism of the Osprey is based on his experience as
an aeronautical engineer, astronaut and aerospace executive
and his examination of all the reports and studies on the
troubled program.

"I've got some real problems with the airplane. The only way to
prove or disprove my concerns is to put it through a very
thorough test program," he said, adding that it should take about
a year.

The Osprey resumed flying at Patuxent River Naval Air Station,
Md., on May 29, six months after a fatal crash forced the
Pentagon to ground it.

A series of studies concluded there is no fundamental flaw in the
tilt-rotor concept, but found problems with the design,
manufacture and flight testing of the Bell-Boeing product.

The Osprey has movable twin rotors that give it the ability to
take off and land like a helicopter but fly as fast and as far as a
turboprop airplane. It is intended to replace the Marines'
Vietnam War-vintage CH-46 and CH-53D helicopters.

But Aldridge said the design compromises that give the V-22 its
revolutionary capabilities create safety problems that
helicopters do not have.

Because the Osprey's rotors are smaller than those of a
similar-size helicopter, it might not be able to maneuver
effectively in combat, he said.

The rotors are at the end of 20-foot-long wings, and the Osprey
becomes "uncontrollable" and rolls quickly if a rapid descent
causes the rotors to lose lift, in a condition known as "vortex ring

Although the V-22 can avoid those conditions if flown carefully,
that might make it unacceptable in a combat situation.

"If I can't take the airplane into the combat zone, why buy it?"
Aldridge said.