February 27, 2006
Ospreys to enter combat zones within a year

By Estes Thompson
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Marine Corps plans to send the troubled Osprey aircraft into combat zones within a year and is activating a squadron of the tilt-rotor planes this week.

“Obviously, due to operational concerns we don’t want to tell exactly when they will deploy,” said spokesman Master Sgt. Phil Mehringer at Marine Corps Air Station New River, where the squadron will be based. “But it’s certainly going to happen in the near future. Definitely, within a year.”

The Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, had a troubled started.

Four Marines died in a 2000 crash in North Carolina that was caused by a ruptured titanium hydraulic line. Nineteen others were killed in a crash that year in Arizona that investigators blamed on pilot error.

The Pentagon approved full production of the Osprey in a $19 billion program last year, and the Marines have been showing them off. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew aboard one last week.

Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, which will carry the Vietnam-era “Thunder Chickens” nickname of the helicopter unit it is replacing, is to be formally activated Friday. There are about 250 people in the squadron and at least a dozen aircraft.

The Ospreys will replace the aging, Vietnam-era fleet of CH-46E twin-rotor helicopters. The newer aircraft can carry more cargo and fly five times farther at speeds around 300 mph.