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Tue, Jan 30, 2007

Study: V-22 Osprey Flaws 'Lethal'

Critics Say The Program Should Be Scrapped

In a report released January 18, 2007, the Center for Defense Information (CDI), a Washington-based think tank, says congress should scrap the V-22 program once and for all. The report, titled  "V-22 Osprey: Wonder Weapon or Widow Maker?" was written by science and military journalist Lee Gaillard.

According to Gaillard, the Pentagon concluded in its September 2005 report the multi-role aircraft is operationally suitable and compatible with flight and hangardeck operations. Yet, says Gaillard, the Pentagon's report also shows the V-22 does not work and faces operational, aerodynamic and survivability challenges that will prove insurmountable -- and lethal -- in combat.

The Osprey has been plagued with problems since its first flight in 1989. A truly marvelous system in concept -- twin, tiltable rotors allow it fly both as a helicopter and an airplane -- Congress was on the verge of scrapping it in 2001 before allowing development to continue. Engineers have only recently claimed to have worked all the bugs out of the system, but not before 30 people died in four separate crashes.

According to CDI, "Three of those crashes were triggered by below-standard parts, software and/or abysmal assembly line quality control; the fourth was caused by a dangerous aerodynamic phenomenon called 'vortex ring state' (VRS)."

VRS occurs when a helicopter descends into its own downwash. In such a situation, the rotor's own downwash interferes with the smooth laminar flow over its blades causing it to stall. CDI says the V-22's extremely high-twist rotorprops make it particularly vulnerable to VRS -- especially in situations requiring a rapid descent such as a crew avoiding enemy fire in a hot landing zone. VRS was blamed for the 2000 crash that claimed the lives of 19 marines and almost shut the program down.

According to the CDI's report, the design problem "has not been, and probably cannot be, eliminated." Gaillard says the military is aware of the issue and has limited maximum descent rates to 800 feet per minute for the V-22 -- an unreasonable restriction for the aircraft given the environments and missions for which it's intended.

The Osprey's manufacturing team from Boeing's and Textron's helicopter divisions issued a scathing rebuttal to CDI's report. In it the team says CDI is referring to problems that have already been corrected.

Bell-Boeing spokesman Bob Leder told the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, "It really baffles us as to why this organization would come out with an anti-V-22 diatribe when clearly the aircraft is performing well. Apparently, they just used a lot of out-of-date information -- or disinformation."

James Darcy of the Navy's V-22 Joint Program Office says military testing has shown the V-22 to be less susceptible to VRS than traditional helicopters as it can speed through turbulent air by tilting the rotors forward.

But, that doesn't answer how an aircraft speeding forward can land vertically.

The V-22 Osprey is slated to see combat for the first time this year in Iraq.

FMI: www.navair.navy.mil/v22, www.cdi.org

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