The U.S. Air Force’s request for five Bell-Boeing CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in the administration’s fiscal year 2012 budget request is “sensible” and “reasonable,” Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, head of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), told a symposium in February.
Both the Air Force (with 16 of 50 planned Ospreys) and the Marine Corps (with 132 of a planned 360) report favorable safety figures for the Osprey. Over the last ten years, the V-22 mishap rate has been about half the average for the entire Marine aircraft fleet, and it is currently the lowest of any rotorcraft in that fleet. Except for one Air Force CV-22 crash on April 9, 2010, where the cause of the crash is in dispute, the Osprey is widely credited with being both safe and suitable for difficult conditions like those in Afghanistan.
When the House of Representatives voted down a February 16 measure that would have curtailed the Osprey program, Rep. Patrick L. Meehan (R-Pa) argued that earlier crashes, almost a decade ago, are “ancient history.”
Wurster said that AFSOC’s Ospreys are flying faster, farther, and need less tanker support than older assets. Pointing out that Afghanistan is “a terrible place to fly helicopters,” where the dirt is sharp and angular and chews up compressor blades, turbines, and other parts, Wurster said the ability of the Osprey to fly like an airplane and land like a helicopter is saving lives and money and pointing to “a brilliant future” for the aircraft.
Two generals disagree over the cause of the crash of Osprey serial no. 06-0031, of the 8th Special Operations Squadron, in Afghanistan last year. The brigadier general in charge of the accident board wrote: “the greater weight of credible evidence supports engine power loss as a substantially contributing factor.” His two-star boss, in a dissent, attributed the crash to pilot error. A finding of pilot error would acquit the CV-22 of any design flaw, but a determination of power loss is not necessarily an indictment of the aircraft. The major general believes the pilot lost situational awareness while landing in a wadi around 1:00 a.m. in brownout conditions seven miles west of Qalat City, in Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan. A study by Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ office found that 80 percent of the armed forces’ 320 helicopter and tilt-rotor crashes during the past decade were caused by degraded visual awareness.
In the aftermath of the crash, troops went to the scene and destroyed the crashed CV-22 to keep it out of enemy hands. Inadvertently, they destroyed the aircraft’s “black box” flight information recorder when they blew up the Osprey. The differing views of exactly what happened now may never be resolved.
An Air Force official said on background that there are “absolutely no current concerns” about the Osprey. On February 18, Marines at Miramar, Calif., held a celebration to mark 100,000 flight hours by the Marine version of the aircraft.