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The V-22 Osprey comes up short in desert testing

The last time we covered tilt-rotor aircraft, Bell Helicopter's TR918 Eagle Eye Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) received its FAA certification. The Eagle Eye weighed in at around one ton and featured a top speed of 250MPH.

Today, a report shows that a much larger scale tilt-rotor vehicle from Bell-Boeing is running into more trouble. The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey has had a storied past including two prominent crashes during development that have killed a total of 23 Marines. These days, the Osprey is still getting flak for "poor aircraft availability" and "marginal operational availability" during 41 test flights this past summer.

The aircraft was lambasted in a recent annual report put forth by the U.S. Defense Department. "Frequent part and system failures, limited supply support, and high false alarm rates in the built-in diagnostic systems caused frequent flight delays and an excessive maintenance workload," claims the report.

Four Air Force CV-22 Osprey aircraft were assessed between June 6, 2006 and July, 10 2006 at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. Many of the problems cited in the report stem from the aircraft's poor performance and serviceability in desert conditions. The Marine Corps version of the Osprey is likely to encounter similar performance and maintenance issues as the aircraft mainly differ in equipment packages offered.

The latest batch of issues is troubling to Philip Coyle, senior advisor for the Center for Defense Information. "This produces a maintenance and support burden that the Marines really can’t afford. All of the reliability problems that they continue to have here in the [United] States -- it’s going to drive them crazy overseas."

The V-22 Osprey has a maximum take-off weight of 47,500 pounds, a cruising speed of 246MPH and a top speed of 316MPH. The Air Force currently has plans to purchase 50 Ospreys while the Marine Corps has plans for 360 aircraft.

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By Desslok on 1/22/2007 7:56:38 PM , Rating: 2
The Osprey may have problems, but lets not forget it is still in development. The CH/MH 53 had a very similar shaky start and still is a very temperamental airframe. Be that as it may it is still one of the best heavy lift helicopters in the world and is a great platform for behind the lines and foul weather operations.

RE: Problems
By IGBT on 1/22/2007 8:08:42 PM , Rating: 2
..C-17 had similar development problems although I don't reall any C-17 crashes during the development phase. C-17 is now one of the best heavy lift cargo craft in the world.

RE: Problems
By weskurtz0081 on 1/23/2007 9:33:53 AM , Rating: 2
The C-17 is an outstanding transport, but, it definately has it fair share of issues. As the fleet is getting older, the reliability has dropped of the table. The bases which receieved the early 17's are now having problems keeping them in the air. That said, they do a great job replacing the 141 and allow the C-5 to better do it's job of the main heavy lifter for intercontinental travel while the 17 does theatre transport(for the most part).


RE: Problems
By MajorPaver on 1/22/2007 8:16:57 PM , Rating: 5
The problem with the Opsrey was that it was largely pushed through by a few souls that really wanted it and as a corporate welfare handout to Bell. This project is now over SEVENTEEN years old. Yep, maiden flight in 1989. That's the sign of a troubled project.

Even the F-22 has been in service for over a year.

There are also some serious issues with range and speed goals that were reduced twice by the Marines in order to allow the thing to meet it's "targets".

Two big problems are also the inability of Marines to rappel from the side doors and the complete lack of *any* side firing guns. I mean, the thing is meant to be a troop delivery and pick-up vehicle but can't provide any level of fire support or deploy it's contents except out the back door.

Considering the problems encountered by well-tested systems like the Chinook, Apache and Cobra in desert conditions, I shudder to think what happens to a far, far more complex system that can't be maintained in the confines of a US AFB.

B-O-O-N-D-O-G-G-L-E. Boondoggle.

RE: Problems
By Ringold on 1/22/2007 8:41:08 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know enough to comment on if this thing is useful or if it's government waste, but.. I can see the value in keeping defense manufacturers afloat. I'm a little worried with the drastic loss in the numbers of shipyards and submarine pens and whatnot as it is. Our shipbuilders are barely worth keeping solvent.

Once some of these companies wither away it may be extremely difficult to impossible to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There are only so many people in the country with experience in the kind of stuff some of these specialized companies do.

So if a boondoggle is what it takes so that if a day comes when we suddenly have a need for a thousand aircraft in the span of just a year or two we have a company ready, willing, and able to massively spool up then let them have their boondoggle. IMHO, anyway. The alternatives save money, but at a greater potential future cost.

But then again, the words of Eisenhower's presidential farewell address resound thunderously in my ears. Vigilance is needed, but I don't see Bell conquering Congress through the Osprey...

RE: Problems
By qdemn7 on 1/23/2007 2:47:43 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know enough to comment on if this thing is useful or if it's government waste, but.. I can see the value in keeping defense manufacturers afloat.
Good post, I agree with you 100%.

The thing that people always forget when they cry BOONDOOGLE!! is the money isn't just going to some Defense Contractor. It's going to pay the excellent salaries of some highly skilled blue-collar workers. White collar workers can often find new jobs at comparible salarieis, but if you've been building military aircraft for a living for a decade or more and bringing home $50K a year plus benefits, you are NOT going to find a comparible paying job in the non-Defense sector. And if you do need their skills in a hurry, well then you're screwed because their skills have atrophied. So for keeping those people's trained is reason enopugh for me.

RE: Problems
By Grast on 1/23/2007 10:34:24 AM , Rating: 3

I do not agree with your stance. I do not believe the government should help any of the ship builders or any other manufacturing company. If the companies are unable to stay in business, they should be allowed to fail. Once these failing and poorly run companies are gone if a demand exists, a new more hungry and stable company will arize.

I believe that is part of the reason why our defense manufacturing companies are in such poor shape is due to the government bailing them out constantly.

Let the free market determine if a company can survive.


RE: Problems
By stromgald on 1/23/2007 11:52:48 AM , Rating: 3
I think the main concern is the loss of knowledge and experience. That is critical in spooling up and building new military platforms. It's not as simple as slapping a few guns on a ship or aircraft.

If a company like Lockheed goes belly up because they lose two contracts in a row and doesn't receive government help, many of their engineers will get drawn to unrelated work like designing cars. Without these companies which help facilitate knowledge passing from generation to generation, the next generation will lose much of the knowledge learned by previous generations. And its not like the knowledge can be easily published or taught at schools since much of it is proprietary if not top secret.

RE: Problems
By Grast on 1/23/2007 12:52:54 PM , Rating: 2

If Lockheed went belly up, that would open up the market for a new company to hire all of the old employees. When dealing with billions of dollars in contracts, I find it hard to believe tha no one would start a new company to go after the dollars.

These new companies would have a number of advantages: no unions, no capital costs such as pentions from 30 years ago, good credit, and most importantly new leadership. The problem with current established military contractors is they are old for one and unable to think out side of the box. They refuse or are extremely slow to accept new ideas and ways of development.

In my last job (Intel), I had the pleasure of tring out a new project managment style for application development. The style is called SNORT and currently used by successfull small companies with much less resources than Intel to develop new custom business applications. This managment style was the best I have every been apart. The project was completed ahead of time and below budget with great customer satisfaction. However at the end of the project, the establish leadship decided to not implement further due to lack of experience with the method and choosed to continue in normal matter. In the end, it was easier to continue with business as normal than change to something more effecient.

Large companies are not the end all of businesses. Small to medium size companies are much more effecient. I believe when we talk about the rizing cost of defence. We should be looking for the best and most cost effective method to developing those weapons.


RE: Problems
By masher2 on 1/23/2007 1:03:28 PM , Rating: 2
> "If Lockheed went belly up, that would open up the market for a new company to hire all of the old employees"

True, but that's a process that takes time. More time to build a large company, with facilities, teams that work well together, etc. That's fine if you're building washing machines or stitching together jeans. But in the defense industry, you may not have that time. What if a hostile enemy has cut off vital energy or food supplies or worse, is threatening to invade your borders?

I'm a hard core laissez-faire Capitalist, but a little government meddling in defense and agriculture is probably a good idea. As long as you have food and peace, you have the luxury of allowing time for market forces to work out everything else.

RE: Problems
By stromgald on 1/23/2007 2:58:56 PM , Rating: 2
Like masher, I tend to agree that smaller companies are much more efficient in managing resources. But, the sheer amount of resources to build something like a fighter jet makes it extremely difficult and risky for anytone to enter the defense industry without much prior experience.

Developing contracts, negotiating specifications for everything down to the component level takes alot of time and money. That's where the cost of entering the industry comes from, and the amount of government regulations doesn't help one bit.

If you want smaller, more efficient companies, IMO it would be better to break up a company like Lockheed, Boeing, or Northrop Grumman. However there's a tradeoff in internal management efficiency to supplier efficiency. With Boeing building commercial jets to fighter jets to satellites, there is a commonality in ordering everything from nuts and bolts to Dell computers. You take a cost hit in that area when you break up these big businesses

RE: Problems
By plowak on 1/24/2007 2:23:20 PM , Rating: 2
The best example of lost the skill/technology through nonsupport is found in the lost of how the Romans made their concrete - some of which could set underwater. Took nearly 1500yrs to regain a similar technology. Put me down in the subsudize skills column.

RE: Problems
By Ringold on 1/24/2007 8:19:49 PM , Rating: 2
Hell, it took Europe a mighty long time just to figure out how to read again.. much less build and maintain continent-spanning highway systems and concrete ;)

RE: Problems
By Pneumothorax on 1/23/2007 7:51:13 PM , Rating: 2
That can work when you're dealing with commodities like computers/cars, but not with "sensitive" equipment. It's one thing to have our jeans made in China instead of SF by Levis. I guess if you have it your way, our pilots will be flying Geely/Chery F-25's & our tank drivers will be driving GWM (Great Wall Motors) M3A2 Tanks! lol

RE: Problems
By masher2 on 1/22/2007 8:16:59 PM , Rating: 1
The Sidewinder missile failed nearly all of its initial testing phases as went on to become by far the most succesful missile in its class.

RE: Problems
By Martin Blank on 1/22/2007 8:27:10 PM , Rating: 2
The Sidewinder first flew in 1953 and was in service less than three years later, with actual use five years after that. That's a far cry from 17 years of development before entering service.

RE: Problems
By dodgybob on 1/22/2007 8:44:38 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps the sidewinder analogy is apt. Wasn't it's performance in the Vietnam war one of the reasons why the US Air Force reintroduced guns on fighter aircraft? Over the decades it's matured into a very effective weapon but one wonders how long it will take for the tilt rotar concept as military transport vehicle to reach the same level of dependability.

RE: Problems
By customcoms on 1/22/2007 8:57:23 PM , Rating: 3
I concur. A tilt rotor is BY FAR THE MOST complex aircraft you can design. It has EVERYTHING a helicopter has and EVERYTHING an airplane has. My dad fixes both and flies jets for a living....vehicles designed to fly are inherently complex and prone to mechanical failure, and need solid maintenance, which is hard to provide in a foreign desert environment.
I agree with the post below recommending black hawks. While they don't exactly have top notch range, they are far more reliable in actual operation and will probably meet the needs of the marines. They've been living without a V-22 for 17 years, I don't think they are going to miss them. That said, I feel at this point the project should be taken to completion, like the sidewinder and tomahawk missiles.

RE: Problems
By Lakku on 1/22/2007 11:55:18 PM , Rating: 2
The AIM-7 sparrow was the bigger problem, with only a 30 to 35% hit rate. Sidewinders had better success. With that said, the F-4 didn't have guns until a gun pod was made for it, but other aircraft had guns on them still, just not the main air superiority fighter.

RE: Problems
By Martin Blank on 1/23/2007 12:09:43 PM , Rating: 2
Guns were added in not because of a problem with the missiles, but because engagement ranges often were much, much closer than expected. The Sidewinder needs room to accelerate and arm the warhead so that it doesn't put the launching aircraft in danger of being hit by fragments from its own weapon. Vietnamese MiGs would close in rapidly, and engagement ranges could be well inside the minimum Sidewinder range. F-4 pilots would have to break away and gain distance to allow room for missile engagement, which left time for the MiG pilot to either maneuver into a kill position or escape, racing for the trees at full speed. This left them out of range of the Sidewinders (though a great IR target), and in a difficult position for the Sparrow because the radar return was cluttered.

RE: Problems
By masher2 on 1/23/2007 10:37:20 AM , Rating: 2
> "The Sidewinder first flew in 1953 and was in service less than three years later, with actual use five years after that. That's a far cry from 17 years of development..."

The Sidewinder began development in 1946, and first saw operational deployment in 1956. That's ten years. Its first combat use didn't come until 1958, which makes 12 years.

Is that a "far cry" from 17 years? I don't think so...especially when one considers an aircraft is considerably more complex than a missile.

RE: Problems
By Martin Blank on 1/23/2007 12:12:53 PM , Rating: 2
If you want to add in pre-first-flight development, time, you have to extend the Osprey's time back to 1981, which makes for 24 years of development time before first deployment. So yes, 24 years is a far cry from ten.

RE: Problems
By masher2 on 1/23/2007 12:42:41 PM , Rating: 2
Money wasn't allocated to the Osprey program until 1986. That makes the total 19 years....which proves that development and testing of manned aircraft is, unsurprisingly, more complex than that of unmanned missiles.

By Brovane on 1/22/2007 8:50:19 PM , Rating: 2
The Marines should of just bought BlackHawks. Billions could of been saved and all the CH-46 that are so old they are almost falling out of the air would of been replaced already. All of the development costs had already been paid for with the Blackhawk by the army. Obviously the Blackhawk has no problem with a desert environment. While lacking the speed and range of a Osprey at least the Marines would have had a aircraft in service already instead of still trying to get the Osprey to work.


RE: BlackHawk
By Lakku on 1/23/2007 12:04:59 AM , Rating: 2
And what would Marines need Blackhawks for if they were doing their designed job as an expeditionary force and not an occupying force? That is why they don't have them. Aside from that, a plane that could fly low n slow or even hover would been infinately more useful then a helicopter, mostly in the amount of troops and equipment it could deliver.

RE: BlackHawk
By Brovane on 1/23/2007 12:50:37 AM , Rating: 2
The Osprey is a replacement for the CH-46 helicopter which was introduced in the 1960's. So Marines need sometime of aircraft that is capable of vertical take off and landing to replace the CH-46. They could of started procurring the UH-60 Blackhawk back in the 80's. Instead they have old CH-46's that cost more and more every year to maintain and are falling apart. Basically the Blackhawk could of done the job of replacing the CH-46 for a whole lot less money that what it cost to develop the V-22 Osprey. While the V-22 Osprey has some great capability however how long will it take before all the bugs are finally ironed out of this aircraft. Sometimes having better equipment sooner is better than having the perfect equipment sometime in the future.


RE: BlackHawk
By The Boston Dangler on 1/23/2007 1:52:03 AM , Rating: 2
the chinook / sea knight is still in production. the marines will deploy them until at least 2014.

To the Many Naysayers
By beepandbop on 1/22/2007 10:21:51 PM , Rating: 4
True, this project has had its ups and downs, but we need a new concept. This is to replace the CH-46 and CH-53 in the troop transport and it is much faster and more quickly able to take off. Any aircraft has had its difficulty. The fact that this project has taken so long is because its government funded, and its revolutionary. We had probs with the AV-8B and its doing a spanking job.
True, I'm rather befuddled about the lack of guns, but there is a gun at the back door, where our boys load in. The gun will lay down suppressive fire while the marines hop in. The later design will most likely have a Gatling gun attached at the nose. There are side panels, and guns may be positioned there in the future, but the gunners would have to be limited to shooting straight out and straight down and forward. They would be able to shoot at maybe a 35* angle to the left (looking from within the panel perspective), but it is plausible. Although many would think this thing being so revolutionary would have so more modern and cool defense systems, the vehicle is very fast, and able to perform a variety of missions.
Also, keep in mind, even though this thing is branded as "assault" what they really mean is insertion and extraction, meaning, this aircraft will dump troops on the ground, and then come back at rapid speeds and dump more. This thing will not totally supersede the CH-46, or -53, and there will be light gunships like the Huey and Cobra (and soon to be SuperCobra) to guard the thing, but remember, this aircraft never was meant to be completely self defensive or be a new type of gunship.
To be an optimist, this thing looks amazing, and quite necessary for rapid deployment, and on the pessimistic side, its accidents and problems might seem to out weigh the bad. Always remember though, nobody got no where by not trying new concepts.
I'm confident this new marine aircraft will serve the marines well.
If you're wondering how I know all this, I work at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, on MCAS Miramar base, and I seem train with these things, and they look pretty amazing.

RE: To the Many Naysayers
By kextyn on 1/23/2007 7:59:11 AM , Rating: 2
Don't expect to see any guns besides the one on the ramp. My brother has been working on them for years now and has told me of the problems with mounting weapons. The fact is there is NO room for any weapons. Unless they turn it into a gunship rather than a troop transport it's just not going to happen. Guns on the front wouldn't work because there is no room for the weapon or the ammunition, it's already packed full of everything it needs to fly. Guns on the side won't work because you would lose half of your troop capacity and you wouldn't be able to fire out to the side. You could only fire down at an angle and to the rear while it is in flight which doesn't do you much good. The times you want guns firing out the side is when you're hovering above troops or on the ground picking them up or dropping them off. You can't fire out to the side in these conditions because you would risk hitting the engines.

RE: To the Many Naysayers
By beepandbop on 1/23/2007 4:00:00 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, but as I said before, this ship will be patrolled with Hueys and cobras, it won't be making solo trips, unless going in huge groups and waves.
So, theres not really any need for a gunship transport yet anyway.
Also, note that the CH-46 will also be providing cover as well, probably for the next 50 years.

By Hokum on 1/23/2007 4:00:31 AM , Rating: 2
The AgustaWestland EH101, has a higher capacity, has a greater range, offers defensive and offensive weapons and has higher failure tolerance...

By kenl on 1/23/2007 6:48:36 AM , Rating: 2
The range of the EH101 is 460 miles. The range of the Osprey is 2100 miles.

By Hokum on 1/23/2007 7:44:57 AM , Rating: 2
Range of the HM1 Merlin is 863 miles and the V-22 1011 miles. I was looking at ferry range. The 2000 mile range you quote is with refueling...

By Ringold on 1/23/2007 8:35:44 PM , Rating: 2
Boeing says..

2,289nm self-deployment range, 638nm range for assault.

I would interpret that to mean that at empty weight (crew 3, full fuel, standard cruise), it could fly directly 2289nm. Fully loaded to maximum gross TO weight, one would assume the assault range is actually a radius meaning the V22 could fly 638nm, deploy its troops/cargo, and then return. The fact it adds up to only 1276nm reflects the much heavier weight plus the time and fuel burned to descend, hover while deploying, then powering back up to altitude. Both scenarios probably include 15-30min reserve fuel and slight padding if they follow civil aeronautical conventions, which would give them around 100nm wiggle room. Refueling range should be virtually unlimited; if their turboprop's can't sustain more than 2000nm of operation as you stated, which would be just 6.6hrs, then their design would be extremely flawed.

By unknown1243 on 1/23/2007 12:52:57 PM , Rating: 2
What was the report cited? You say recent, but I can't find anything like this quote back to 1994. I would assume recent means less than 10 years ago. In fact every recent report (2000, 2002, 2003, 2005) actually praises the CV-22 and HV-22. Enlighten us please.

Here is your text:

The aircraft was lambasted in a recent annual report put forth by the U.S. Defense Department. "Frequent part and system failures, limited supply support, and high false alarm rates in the built-in diagnostic systems caused frequent flight delays and an excessive maintenance workload," claims the report.

By rgsaunders on 1/23/2007 4:12:40 PM , Rating: 2 this report gives a relatively well balanced presentation. The issue of flexible SORs (Statement of Requirements) for aquisition of new equipment is not uncommon in military circles, although it must be said that on occasion these changes are driven directly by regional politics and not neccessarily by the military itself. As someone who spent many years in a staff environment before retiring after 37 years of service, these things are unfortunately part of the procurement process.

By unknown1243 on 1/23/2007 5:49:43 PM , Rating: 2
I looked at the Defense Department and DOD annual reports that were online. The author was quoting(!) a recent report - I want to know what that report was.

When I see the actual Defense Department Annual Report I will no longer think the author may have either fabricated the quote or worse - presented information from a secondary source as a primary source.

By unknown1243 on 1/23/2007 6:02:33 PM , Rating: 2
Defense Department’s operational testing directorate annual report. Not the whole department of defense.

development time
By arizmendi on 1/23/2007 11:09:02 AM , Rating: 2
The Osprey concept started with the Hiller tilt wing in the mid 50's - so it's 50 years development. The Hillers that were built were also failures. Good luck to the Marines.

RE: development time
By masher2 on 1/23/2007 11:11:19 AM , Rating: 3
> "The Osprey concept started with the Hiller tilt wing in the mid 50's - so it's 50 years development..."

Lol, by that logic, the F-22 has been under development since the Wright Brothers took off at Kitty Hawk.

Easy to shoot down
By timmiser on 1/23/2007 7:34:31 AM , Rating: 4
I've shot down about 80 of these aircraft in Half Life. :)

concept vs reality
By Cascaderanger on 1/23/2007 5:28:07 PM , Rating: 2
The idea of a VTOL craft with vastly improved cruising speed and range is what captured folks (including the Marines) interest in the late 80's. Who wouldn't like the vertical lifting capacity of a CH-46 or -53, w/ C-130 speeds and ranges? I think it would be a great SAR platform.

Spendy? You bet. But it would be worth it if they can solve the reliability issues.

I can see where mounting guns would cost you cargo volume, but I disagree that it can't be done safely. The Germans figured out the interrupter-gear to sychronize gunfire through a propeller in WW-I. The Russians put mechanical templates to limit arcs of fire on their cannon-armed bombers in the early jet age. I've never read of a top-turret gunner on a B-17, B-24, or any WW-II bomber shooting off the tail or wingtip of his own plane?

Some form of reliable mechanical, or electro-mechanical interrupter template should do it.

RE: concept vs reality
By Ringold on 1/23/2007 8:40:50 PM , Rating: 2
It could be an issue with the airframe if they originally designed it without making an allowance for it I suppose.. but yeah. I didn't see the problem with gunners taking out their own engines either.. They're big, they're loud, and they're always in the same position in the window. One would think training alone with mitigate the risk..

By unknown1243 on 1/23/2007 6:01:31 PM , Rating: 2
Defense Department’s operational testing directorate - their annual report.

Glad to know you had a source for the unsourced the quote.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer
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