Tilt-Rotor Osprey May Soon See Role In Iraq




 
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January 14th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Tilt-Rotor Osprey May Soon See Role In Iraq


Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
January 14, 2007
By Hearst Newspapers
WASHINGTON The Marine Corps is planning the first-ever deployment of its controversial V-22 Osprey aircraft later this year, possibly to Iraq or Africa.
The aircraft a hybrid helicopter and airplane has been the Marines' top new weapons priority since the mid-1980s.
The dispatch of a squadron of 12 Ospreys sometime after June will be the culmination of efforts by Boeing Co. and other contractors to build a reliable aircraft with unique engineering features and to overcome a shaky safety record.
Gen. Michael Hagee, then the Marine Corps commandant, indicated last fall that the maiden deployment of the squadron could be to Iraq.
Hagee told Leatherneck, the Marine Corps Association magazine, that Ospreys based at the Marines' Al Asad base west of Baghdad could "reach all the countries surrounding Iraq without refueling."
Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, the top Marine Corps aviation official, last month expanded the options for the first deployment by adding the Horn of Africa or to a Marine Corps expeditionary unit aboard amphibious assault ships at sea.
"I like to go to the sound of the guns," Castellaw told reporters.
Aircraft faced termination
Built mainly for the Marine Corps, the V-22 is a hybrid helicopter and airplane powered by two huge propeller engines attached to the wings. When the engines are in one position, the propellers allow the plane to take off and land vertically like a helicopter. When the propellers are rotated forward, the craft can fly like an airplane.
It would be the first tilt-rotor military aircraft used to move troops and materiel.
The upcoming deployment marks a dramatic turnaround for the Osprey, which had been on the verge of termination because of a checkered history of technological failures and deadly crashes.
The Osprey became enmeshed in controversy first in the late 1980s when then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney recommended terminating the program due to excessive cost. He later reversed his position after strong opposition from Congress.
Then in 2000 the safety and science of the tilt-rotor technology came into question after two deadly accidents. Nineteen Marines died in an April 2000 accident when their V-22 crashed in Marana, north of Tucson. That accident was blamed in part on human error and on "vortex ring state," a dangerous condition in which at least one of the aircraft's two rotors can inexplicably lose lift and send the plane into a deadly roll.
Four Marines died in December 2000 when a V-22 crashed in North Carolina. Investigators said the aircraft had experienced a hydraulic malfunction in its final moments.
In the ensuing years, the Marines and contractors on the effort, a consortium of Boeing and Bell Helicopter Textron, have worked to fix design problems in the $50 billion project.
In its most recent report on the V-22, the Pentagon's weapons testing office gave the V-22 passing marks last year and said technical problems that have dogged the aircraft had been resolved.
"Major safety concerns noted five years ago have been corrected," the testing office said in a 2006 report. The testers found that the aircraft is "operationally effective" and "operationally suitable," the Pentagon bureaucratic equivalent of a green light for deployment.
Currently, about 50 Ospreys are based at a Marine Corps airfield in New River, N.C. The first Osprey squadron to be sent overseas will be drawn from these aircraft.
Marine Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a spokesman at the Marine Corps headquarters in the Pentagon, said a squadron in Iraq "would add a quantum leap in capability" because the Osprey can fly higher, faster and farther than traditional Marine Corps helicopters.
One possible scenario
He pointed to a hypothetical mission in Iraq in which Ospreys could be used to transport a rifle company of 180 Marines from Al Asad, 110 miles west of Baghdad, to the Syrian border, some 100 miles away. Such a mission would require 12 CH-46 helicopters to make two trips, requiring flying time of about 2 1/2 hours.
"They would be flying under 10,000 feet and subject to anti-aircraft threats for the entire time flying time," said Fazekas.
Eight Ospreys could do the same mission in 17 minutes, "and in much of that time, the aircraft would be above 10,000 feet and beyond the anti-aircraft threat," he said.
Not everyone is convinced that the Osprey is ready.
Lee Gaillard, an aerospace author and researcher, has criticized the new aircraft in a 52-page report for the nonpartisan Center for Defense Information titled, "V-22 Osprey: Wonder Weapon or Widow Maker?"
"Throughout the V-22's development, 30 people have died and now this glitch-plagued program that survived one cancellation and numerous design and operating problems is poised to reveal fundamental flaws that may cost even more lives," he wrote.
 


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