View Full Version : Marine aviators try to burnish V-22's image

07-20-06, 01:51 PM
Posted on Thu, Jul. 20, 2006

Marine aviators try to burnish V-22's image


FARNBOROUGH, England -- Marine aviators say the V-22 Osprey is proving to be a far better aircraft than it's getting credit for from skeptics, including the press.

After an embarrassing engine problem marred their trans-Atlantic flight to England last week, the Marines who flew or accompanied two V-22s to the Farnborough International Airshow are working hard to allay skepticism about the aircraft's quality and reliability.

Four Marines -- two senior test pilots, a maintenance crew chief and the program manager -- met with reporters Wednesday at the air show. For an hour, they answered questions about recent engine problems, which they say aren't serious, and maintenance of the complex aircraft.

The bottom line, the Marines said, is that as they get more experience with the V-22 and its self-diagnostics systems, it's becoming easier to maintain and keep flying.

"Readiness and reliability are improving," said Col. Bill Taylor, the Marine assigned to oversee production and testing of the aircraft.

The Marines flew two V-22s across the Atlantic Ocean a week ago to participate in the prestigious Farnborough air show and another British military air show. It's a trip aimed at building credibility for the often-troubled aircraft and to bolster the hopes that Bell Helicopter and Boeing have for selling V-22s to other nations' militaries.

But the trip gained less-favorable attention when one of the V-22s was forced to divert to Iceland after encountering engine troubles.

Col. Glenn Walters, commanding officer of the Marine test squadron, was flying that plane and gave reporters a detailed account of the events.

Both V-22s apparently suffered what is known as a compressor stall, disruption of the air flow through the engine, at almost the same moment while flying high above the Atlantic.

The aircrafts' diagnostic systems told the pilots what was happening, Walters said, and there appeared to be no serious problem, so the planes continued on course. A little more than an hour later, Walters' plane warned of a second incident. The engine shut itself down as designed and was soon restarted.

"The engine did not fail," Walters said, adding that, except for about a minute, the V-22 was flying under power from both engines. But the Marines had planned for such an occurrence, and Walters said that plan called for diverting to Iceland and having the engine inspected.

"If it had been an operational mission, we would have pressed on," Walter said, but in this case he said the prudent thing to do was check out the problem.

Marine repair crews replaced the engine with a spare that was flown in overnight, and the plane continued to England two days later.

Walters and Taylor said a preliminary examination of the engine showed no damage. They believe that ice that had formed on an unheated part of the engine frame broke off and was sucked into the engine, causing the warning signals.

Taylor said improved de-icing equipment on the newest V-22s now being delivered by Bell will solve the problem, if icing was indeed the cause.

Asked about other reliability issues, Taylor said the V-22's performance has improved markedly in the last 24 months. "It's not where the service would like it to be, but based on past [aircraft] introductions, it's about where it should be."

The amount of maintenance time now required by aircraft in operational testing and training squadrons is about 17 hours per hour of flight time, down from 38 hours two years ago.

"This analysis says this is where we should be at this point in this aircraft's development," Taylor said.

Both V-22s in England flew low over the Thames River in London on Sunday night, at a time when numerous social gatherings were being held in conjunction with the air show.

Bell-Boeing pilots have flown the aircraft daily since Friday, demonstrating the aircraft's agility, maneuverability and speed.

Bob Cox, 817-390-7723 rcox@star-telegram.com