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thedrifter
12-05-06, 04:35 PM
December 11, 2006
Report blasts Osprey testing, readiness

By Trista Talton
Staff writer

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — The V-22 Osprey is unfit for combat and needs to be scrapped altogether, according to a new report from a defense think tank.

The Center for Defense Information report, titled “V-22 Osprey: Wonder Weapon or Widow Maker? They warned us. But no one is listening,” includes nearly 50 pages of text sharply criticizing the tilt rotor’s combat capability and lack of testing.

“If deployed in combat, the price could be fatalities inflicted not just by enemy fire, but by flaws that were the result of omitted tests and basic design deficiencies pointed out but never addressed,” wrote Lee Gaillard, a former Marine reservist who has published more than 100 articles and book reviews on defense issues and aviation.

A spokesman for the program said a majority of Gaillard’s report deals with earlier versions of the Osprey that are no longer in service and the author has omitted important information about testing and modifications to the aircraft currently flying.


From all indications, the Corps has no plans to halt its Osprey program, and it is set to be operational next year. The hybrid aircraft that promises to fly faster, farther and longer is a common sight in the skies over eastern North Carolina around Marine Corps Air Station New River.

Commandant Gen. James Conway flew in one during a Nov. 29 visit to Camp Lejeune and spoke highly of the aircraft.

“A couple of options, it could go aboard ship with the [Marine expeditionary unit], it could go into Al Asad [Air Base],” Conway said. “It could go elsewhere or not go, but our belief is it’s a great airplane. We need to get it into the fight as soon as we can. It’s going to give us an enhanced capability well beyond our legacy aircraft, the venerable CH-46.”

The Corps is phasing out the third of six CH-46 Sea Knight squadrons at New River. The West Coast transition will likely begin around late 2009 or early 2010, followed by overseas squadrons. There are six squadrons on the West Coast and two on Okinawa, Japan.

But Gaillard wrote that the Marine Corps should replace the Osprey with modern helicopters, which he claims would be safer and cheaper. He suggests three options:

• AgustaWestland’s US101 (EH-101), which has three engines, a single rotor and was recently selected as the presidential transport helicopter.

• Boeing’s CH-47F Chinook, which has two engines, two rotors and carries up to 33 combat-equipped troops.

• Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk, which has two engines, a single rotor and carries up to 22 combat-equipped troops.

Vortex-ring state

One reason he suggests the Corps turn to one of these aircraft instead of the Osprey is because of the aerodynamic phenomenon known as vortex-ring state. This condition is caused when a helicopter descends too rapidly without enough forward air speed, putting the helicopter in its own rotor wash.

“This is the primary reason why the maximum vertical descent speed of 800 feet per minute — that’s just 9.1 mph — is mandated for this aircraft,” Gaillard wrote. “It is so slow it will make the V-22 an easy target.”

Osprey pilots landing in a hot zone may try to descend more quickly and encounter vortex-ring state, he said.

That’s not so, said James Darcy, spokesman for the V-22 Joint Program Office for Corps and Navy aircraft acquisition and testing.

“The V-22 is less vulnerable to VRS than any other helicopter,” he said.

Extensive testing following an April 2000 Osprey crash in Marana, Ariz., the third of four crashes since 1991, which killed all 19 Marines onboard, has proven the tilt rotor can descend faster than 800 feet per minute without going into vortex-ring state, Darcy said.

“We don’t see the initial onset of VRS until at least 1,600 feet per minute,” he said.

Testing, most of which was conducted in 2002, also proved that pilots can get out of VRS by rotating the nacelles slightly forward. Since then, the Osprey has been modified with a safety feature no other helicopter has — a descent rate warning system in the cockpit.

“That sounds good, but it makes no mention of the altitude at which those recovery exercises were run, where the nacelle would be able to tilt forward 16 degrees over a 2-second period, resulting in probably abort of any descent profile in progress,” Gaillard wrote.

He criticizes other tests, including one engine operative testing. During 17 years of evaluation, he wrote, the V-22 has never been tested to take off or land with one engine shut down. That’s the kind of landing or takeoff a pilot would need to make from a small clearing or on a mountainside, Gaillard wrote.

“Basically, he’s refuting a claim that nobody’s making,” Darcy said. “To my knowledge, at the program office level, we certainly never had a request to further explore a single-engine takeoff issue. It comes down to a question of who gets to decide whether there’s been adequate testing. The users have the final say in whether or not this aircraft is ready to be fielded.”

Ellie