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thedrifter
03-29-06, 09:49 PM
Posted on Wed, Mar. 29, 2006
V-22 that apparently flew itself under investigation

By BOB COX
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Marine Corps investigators are trying to determine why a V-22 Osprey aircraft apparently took off uncommanded Monday afternoon, resulting in an accident that caused no injuries but at least $1 million damage to the aircraft.

A Marine flight crew was on board the aircraft testing the engines and conducting routine, post-maintenance checks when the aircraft suddenly lifted more than 30 feet off the ground and then made a very hard landing, damaging the right wing and engine.

The accident occurred Monday afternoon at the Marines’ New River, N.C., air base, adjacent to Camp Lejeune, where pilots are being trained to fly the twin-engine, tilt-rotor aircraft built jointly by Bell Helicopter and Boeing.

A Marine spokeswoman said the crew didn’t intend to fly the plane and that the pilots are not believed to have done anything to cause the aircraft’s ascent.

“This (aircraft) was just sitting on the deck and it began to take off,” said Maj. Shawn Haney, spokeswoman for the 2nd Marine Air Wing at Cherry Point, N.C. “At this point, it does not appear to be a human error.”

Two pilots and a crew chief aboard the aircraft were not injured. Haney said it was also not clear why they were unable to land the airplane properly.

The Marines halted training flights by training squadron VMMT-204 at New River until more is known about the cause of the accident, Haney said. But other military units, including one operational squadron preparing to go to sea next year and testing crews in Maryland and California, are continuing to fly V-22s.

The accident has been designated Class A, meaning that damages are likely to exceed $1 million. Haney said she could not detail the extent of the damage, except to say that the right wing and engine were damaged.

The latest V-22s to roll off the Bell assembly line in Amarillo cost the government about $70 million each.

The engines of the V-22 are mounted at the end of the wings and swivel from 180 degrees, or parallel to the ground, to 95 degrees, or almost vertical, so the aircraft can take off and land like a helicopter.

The accident was the latest in the V-22’s long and troubled journey from the drawing board to active duty with the Marines. Conceived by Fort Worth-based Bell in the mid-1970s, Pentagon officials finally approved the V-22 last year to enter service. Since its conception, there have been four crashes — three of them fatal — and 30 deaths.

Bell and Boeing build the V-22 in a joint venture, with major work performed in Boeing’s helicopter plant near Philadelphia and Bell’s Fort Worth and Amarillo facilities. Bob Leder, a Bell-Boeing spokesman, said he could not comment on the likely cause of the accident.

“It’ll be studied by the safety experts, and we’ll figure out what went wrong,” Leder said.

Marine Corps leaders have long supported development of the Osprey as a replacement for their aging, Vietnam era CH-46 helicopters, spurning legions of critics who have argued that the service should buy cheaper — and some would say safer — modern helicopters. The V-22’s tilt-rotor technology, developed by Bell, allows the aircraft to take off and land vertically and fly at the higher speeds of a conventional airplane.

Pentagon officials nearly cancelled the program after two fatal crashes in 2000. But after major redesigns and more than three years of flight tests, key officials approved Marine and Air Force plans last September to increase purchases of the aircraft from 11 a year to 16 in 2007 and greater quantities in succeeding years.

More than 60 V-22s have been produced to date, but only recently have the first combat-capable planes been delivered to both the Marines and Air Force. Marine leaders are planning to purchase at least 360 combat-capable V-22s, and the Air Force another 48 for special operations forces. Bell and Boeing hope to sell the aircraft to the Navy, Coast Guard and military services of foreign nations as well.
Bob Cox, (817) 390-7723
rcox@star-telegram.com

Ellie