But Admit Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Hasn't Been Battle-Tested
It's hard to recall an aircraft which was criticized more during
its development than the V-22 Osprey. But after a year of
deployment in Iraq without a major incident, the pilots who fly the
tilt-rotor hybrid are giving it great reviews.
The Associated Press reports the Osprey has won over the Marine
pilots who first flew it into a war zone... despite critics who
said it lacked adequate armor and firepower, descends too slowly,
is less maneuverable than a helicopter, cannot autorotate if
engines fail, and kicks up too much dust.
But pilots say they appreciate the Osprey's speed advantage over
the helicopters it is displacing, like the CH-46 Sea Knight. One
says he can take the plane to altitudes beyond the reach of
small-arms fire, "like a bat out of hell."
Military officials admit that direct comparisons to older
helicopters can't yet be made, in part because modern-day political
considerations limit the military's willingness to expose
servicemen to risks.
Major Paul Kopacz led two Ospreys on a recent mission to
Fallujah, and comments, "It's not the same World War II tactics
that we used to deal with, or even Vietnam tactics. We have not
been battle-tested because we aren't going guns blazing into hot
zones. Our nation is now too sensitive to the loss of soldiers to
let that happen."
To be fair, skeptics still remember problems that beset the V-22
during its development, including a series of technical failures
and deadly crashes. Two of those accidents came in quick succession
in 2000, killing a total of 23 Marines, and nearly ending the
Military officials admit a few technical glitches in the field,
many involving avionics or contamination of sensitive parts by the
ubiquitous dust in the Iraq theater.
But they also consider the aircraft safe enough to have used it
to transport Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama around
Iraq on his tour earlier this year.