View Full Version : Unscheduled landing rattles supporters of V-22

11-26-05, 06:20 AM
Unscheduled landing rattles supporters of V-22
Program's defenders clash with critics over ice incident
12:00 AM CST on Saturday, November 26, 2005
By RICHARD WHITTLE / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – A version of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft meant to fly secret military missions has been getting some unwanted – program officials say undeserved – public attention.

Not three weeks after the Pentagon approved its full production, a V-22 being delivered to the Air Force from Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.'s assembly line in Amarillo made an unscheduled landing after ice damaged its engines.

The Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit Washington group devoted to exposing government scandals, announced the incident a week later in a news release. It suggested that the helicopter-airplane hybrid had nearly crashed from a "condensation stall of both engines."

The group then had to retreat from that accusation. The test model wasn't equipped with icing equipment, which will be standard on the final product. A spokesman for the V-22 program, James Darcy, said the Osprey had merely made a precautionary landing in Prescott, Ariz., rather than continue to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Five years ago the Osprey program was nearly canceled after two separate crashes killed 23 Marines. That makes V-22 officials extra cautious – and critics quick to jump on real or suspected failings.

"The engines did not stall," Mr. Darcy said. "Actually, there's no such thing as a 'condensation stall.' "

Ice apparently flew into the Osprey's two turboprop engines and bent some compressor fan blades, causing the engines to run roughly for a while, he said.

That is known as a "compressor stall," he added. But it doesn't really mean anything quit working.

The incident has been designated a "Class B" mishap, meaning repairs are expected to cost between $200,000 and $1 million, Mr. Darcy said.

High stakes

The V-22 stakes are high for both the military and for Fort Worth-based Bell, which builds the Osprey in a 50-50 partnership with the Pennsylvania-based helicopter division of Boeing Co. About 2,100 Bell employees in Fort Worth and 900 in Amarillo work on the Osprey.

Under the decision to proceed with full rate production, the Pentagon is to boost its annual purchases of Ospreys in coming years. Bell expects that to generate more than $1.5 billion a year in revenue and $19 billion by 2018.

The Marine Corps version of the Osprey, the MV-22, has gotten far more attention over the years than the CV-22, a model crammed with electronic gear for secret missions.

The Marines want 360 MV-22s for use as troop transports. The Air Force Special Operations Command is to buy 50 CV-22s for secret operations such as inserting or extracting commandos behind enemy lines.

The Navy may buy 48 HV-22s, another version, for search-and-rescue flights.

The military expects the tilt-rotor to revolutionize airborne tactics. The V-22 has about twice the speed and five times the range of the helicopters the Marines and Air Force use today for similar missions.

"It can hold special operations targets at risk from a much greater distance away," said Lt. Col. Tim Healy, a former V-22 test pilot now working on special operations aircraft requirements for the Air Force. "It's a humongous leap."

Suited for missions

Today the military uses helicopters for such missions. It can take days to break them down, fly them overseas on transports, put them back together and test-fly them before launching a mission, Lt. Col. Healy noted.

The Osprey, which can fly overseas on its own with aerial refueling, will make it possible to do a broader array of missions more quickly, with less need for foreign bases and less risk of detection, Lt. Col. Healy said.

"The V-22 can fly straight to the fight," he said.

The Marines' version has room for a crew of four and 24 combat-loaded troops. The Air Force version will carry special operations teams numbering up to 18. But the major differences in the two are the electronics.

Special features on the CV-22 include terrain-following radar so it can fly at treetop level at night and in bad weather; jammers to fool enemy radar and heat-seeking missiles; two 600-gallon fuel tanks in the wings; and classified communications gear.

That extra capability comes with an extra cost – $86 million per CV-22, excluding the future cost of flying and maintaining the aircraft, according to Air Force figures. The Marines are paying roughly $69 million for each of their Ospreys.

According to V-22 spokesman Mr. Darcy, the CV-22 involved in the icing incident was not equipped with gear that automatically detects in-flight icing and prevents water from freezing on the aircraft.

The model being built for operational use does have that equipment, he said, and it is still being tested.

The Air Force is still preparing for operational tests of the CV-22. If all goes well, the service expects to inaugurate an initial special operations squadron of six CV-22s in February 2009 at Hulburt Field, Fla.

"We're anxious to get it on board, speaking for the operator," Lt. Col. Healy said.

E-mail rwhittle@dallasnews.com