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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.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch
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