Five years ago, a few V-22 supporters argued that this tiltrotor transport should be sent to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. The V-22s wasn't ready then, and no V-22s are supporting Marine forces today, although the current promise is that nine V-22s may deploy to Iraq toward the end of 2007. If they deploy, they will be restricted to safe missions from hard surface airbases where they can operate like airplanes and not have to perform tricky helicopter maneuvers. This is because the V-22 has killed more Marines than the Taliban.
G2mil has published nine articles about the V-22 scandal over the past six years; the most recent article was published last year: V-22 Osprey Fails OPEVAL. This is the largest scandal in US military history. Over $20 billion was spent while the V-22 flew for the past 17 years in perpetual development. The V-22 is fundamentally unsafe. This is what Marine Corps Generals learned in 2003 when the Defense Department contracted experts at the Institute for Defense Analysis to review the program. They produced a report that was published by G2mil two years ago: Why the V-22 Osprey is Unsafe
These problems may be difficult to grasp. Fortunately,
a great new website with thousands of videos hit the Internet last December,
and includes several
V-22 videos. This one shows a V-22 operated by experienced test pilots
landing, then taking-off with no payload
in good weather. Notice how it wobbles a bit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4VlPbg18DE
Contrast those videos to the stable CH-53E, with a big rotor attached to its center of gravity, landing perfectly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag-8b-IdlnA&NR If it has a problem, it will plop down on deck, not cartwheel to one side. The Marine Corps is developing a new CH-53K helicopter that is the same size of the V-22, yet it will cost half as much, can carry three times more payload, and has greater range.
There are no plans to deploy V-22s aboard ships because the US Navy has refused to certify it for shipboard operations. These large aircraft are unstable in the VTOL mode, and cannot flare to land safely on ship should they lose an engine. However, the Navy chose two other reasons to reject deploying the Marines' V-22:
1) If a V-22 sits on the deck with its engines running, it blows hot exhaust directly on the deck. This causes the metal to expand and warp the deck, is a fire hazard since paper or cardboard may catch fire in the space below, and this exhaust may burn through clothing or fuel hoses should they get too close. There is no solution to this problem.
2) The V-22 is controlled by complex computer software that sometimes crashes. When this occurs, control is switched to a back-up computer. However, this takes 2.5 seconds, which is acceptable for a fixed-wing transport gliding through the skies, but not for something hovering just a few feet off the deck. The computer that keeps the V-22's engines in sync is called FADEC, and sometimes crashes, as happened twice within the past year. This is all that has been publicly reported, and only a couple dozen V-22s are in service for training and development.
The FADEC is most likely to fail when a V-22 is performing something complex, so pilots will lose control for 2.5 seconds until the back-up FADEC kicks in. This caused a V-22 to crash earlier this year, breaking off its wing. It could not be repaired so this $115 million wreck is now a ground training tool. Lockheed-Martin thinks it can reduce the FADEC turnover time to one second. However, they have already worked to minimize this turnover gap for years, and even one second is enough time for a V-22 to flip over near the ground if its engines are not in sync. Meanwhile, they want several years to try to fix this problem.
As a result, the V-22 will never deploy overseas aboard ship. It will be limited to safe missions from airbases with one-quarter the capability of a short-take off aircraft with the same two engines - the C-27J. So far as maneuverability, a combat-loaded V-22 must land and take-off just like a carrier aircraft. It must make a smooth straight approach, then a smooth straight take-off. No jerking around the landing zone like helos or it will crash. V-22s may look agile during air shows when they fly with no payload, little fuel, and experienced test pilots. However, when combat loaded, they can easily lose control if they perform combat maneuvers while rotors are up. Rotorcraft expert and test pilot Nic Lappos explains:
For a tilt rotor, the blades are
purposely made with less chord than a helicopter, because the thinner blades are
then operating at a higher angle of attack in a hover, and are more efficient.
This means that they can save power in a hover by operating at a high Ct/sigma.
The downside is that there is little margin left over for maneuvering at low
speed. For helos, the blade chord is sized up to allow flight at high speed, so
it is way oversized for a hover. Tilt rotors don't need the extra chord for high
speed because they are on the wing by then, and the rotors are props!
A person can encounter 1.2 Gs while driving their car around. Imagine if cars flipped over at 1.2 Gs? Several years ago, a model of Japanese jeep was recalled because it flipped over too easily. The manufacturer argued that the driver's manual clearly warned against making sharp turns, yet this was not accepted as safe and the jeep recalled. This is Bell-Boeing's solution to the problem. The V-22 NATOPS (users manual) is filled with warnings about avoiding sharp "combat" maneuvers.
Given that pilots are subject to fatigue, bad weather, formation flying, obstacles in the landing zone, and enemy fire; "pilot error" will cause many more V-22 crashes. This is why the FAA refused to certify it as safe a decade ago, so Boeing is not offering a commercial version of the V-22. Bell has teamed up with Augusta to produce a smaller commercial version called the BA609. However, this also remains in perpetual development while Bell negotiates with the FAA, seeking approval to sell it as an executive transport, whose safety standards are less rigid than a passenger aircraft. This may succeed because it will only operate is benign airport environments, and not the dangerous world of ships and combat landing zones.
Osprey boosters note that all new aircraft have problems that must be worked out. Yes, for example the C-17 had developmental problems. It first flew in 1991, began flying operational support missions in 1995, now has a 92% readiness level, and its production line is closing down. The V-22 first flew in 1989, (right) has not supported any operational missions, has a readiness level of less than 50% even with a high-level of direct contractor maintenance support, and those flying crew training and developmental missions today are scheduled for yet another upgrade "Block C" in the coming years in the perpetual game of fixing this flawed aircraft. The V-22 began test flights before some U.S. Marines were born!
The only advantage is the V-22 can fly 40% faster than helicopters, except during the vulnerable approach into a combat landing zone where it must descend much slower than helicopters and only in a straight flight path, lest it flip over. The V-22 is limited to a descent rate of 800 feet per minute for safety reasons. After a V-22 rolled over approaching a landing zone too fast in a May 2000 crash that killed 19 Marines, a reporter asked the head of Marine Corps aviation if this limit is practical for an combat assault aircraft. Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle, a highly experienced combat helicopter pilot, forgot his sales role and uttered the truth:
Q: For a helicopter pilot going in a hot LZ, getting down fast is usually highly desirable. Is an 800-foot-a-minute rate of descent, you know, compatible? Is that a good rate --
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Not below 500 feet.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is losing its ability to conduct helicopter assault missions as the ancient CH-46Es retire themselves. This situation is so bad and shocking that few believe this is possible. Certainly Marine Generals are not this criminal. However, few understand the mentality of the Marine Corps. This has been the Corps #1 program and political objective for two decades. The Generals can't admit the Corps was wrong and wasted $20 billion, even if Marines must fly in an overpriced, less capable, and unsafe aircraft. The Corps' reputation is at stake, so its best to ignore facts, accept lies from Bell-Boeing, and hope to pass the buck and retire before the shit hits the fan.
Meanwhile, they pray that a senior civilian "bean counter" will cancel the V-22 for budgetary reasons and save the Corps' reputation and many lives. These Generals should heed the words of retired Marine Corps Colonel Bill Hammerle, who summarized this disaster in a a June 24, 2002 letter to the Marine Corps Times over FOUR years ago.
Osprey is no revolution
1 Unit cost excludes research, development, evaluation, and testing costs. It is based on the latest contracts, with the exception of the CH-53K now in development where an estimate is provided. The V-22 program has always lied about unit cost, read V-22 Costs Soar.
2 The Navy MH-60S is in production and can also operate as an attack helicopter with Hellfire missiles and heavy machine guns. The Navy is reducing its annual buy to save money, so it would be easy for the Marine Corps to buy into this existing program. A Navy training and parts pipeline already exists, so Marine Corps CH-60Ss can be delivered next year and fully supported from any Navy ship or airbase.
3The V-22s cabin is almost four feet shorter than the CH-46E. Nevertheless, contractors insist the V-22 can carry 24 combat equipped Marines, even after the GAO determined that only 15-18 Marines fit. OPEVAL II demonstrated flying 4760 lbs 200 nm, or the equivalent of 19 combat equipped Marines. Note that V-22 specs listed everywhere are sales pitches from a decade ago. The V-22's actual performance during the 2005 OPEVAL was dismal as it failed all key performance parameters.
4The C-27J is a new two-engine STOL military transport airplane that uses the same two engines as the V-22. It is included to show how poorly the V-22 performs as an airplane, mostly because it has small wings to save weight and huge proprotors. The C-27J payload listed in the chart can be carried well past 50nm, out to 500nm. It has a ferry range of 3200nm, compared to 500nm for the V-22.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com