Feeds

US Marines: Osprey tiltrotor doing OK in Iraq

V-22 plane-chopper combo finally working?

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

The troubled, revolutionary V-22 "Osprey" tiltrotor aircraft - which takes off and lands like a helicopter, but flies from place to place like a fixed-wing plane - appears to have finally left most of its development snags behind it.

The first operational Osprey squadron has been operating in Iraq for three months, initially under a news blackout. But there have been no mishaps so far, and chuffed military bigwigs have begun to allow reports out.

An Osprey in vertical-lift mode

Up, up...

The V-22's tiltrotor tech appears a simple idea in outline. The ordinary winged fuselage has its engine nacelles mounted on swivels at the wingtips. The engines drive large propellors which point upwards like a helicopter's rotors in order to lift the V-22 off the ground. In flight, the nacelles tip forward to act as propellors and lift is generated by the wings as in a normal plane. This more efficient flight mode means that the V-22 flies high, fast and far compared to a normal chopper.

Simple as the idea may be, implementing it has been a 25-year nightmare during which four tiltrotors have crashed with the loss of 30 lives. (One of these accidents involved a V-22 full of troops during proving.) Early notions that the idea would soon spread into civil aviation - perhaps carrying commuters into city-centre rooftop pads - were stillborn. Only the corporate enthusiasm and political clout of the US Marine Corps kept the programme alive through its long troubles.

Last year the first operational Marine tiltrotor squadron - designated VMM-263 - was finally judged ready for war, and shipped out to Iraq's Anbar province. The programme's many critics predicted more problems, but in fact things seem to have gone fairly well.

The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday from Al-Asad in Iraq that VMM-263 Ospreys have logged 1,639 hours of flight time in Iraq, carrying 6,826 passengers and delivering 631,837 pounds of cargo "without a mishap or even a close call".

An Osprey in horizontal aeroplane-flight mode

... and away

The Marines aren't releasing any detailed reliability figures for now. VMM-263's commander, Lt-Col Paul Rock, said his unit had only been compelled to turn down tasks for lack of serviceable aircraft on "one or two" occasions over three months in theatre. His maintenance boss, Chief Warrant Officer Carlos Rios, said day-to-day availability for the Ospreys had varied from 50 to 100 percent.

That could be seen as unimpressive, especially as VMM-263 has a lot of extra technical support above that which a normal squadron could expect. However, ordinary helicopters and military transport planes often exhibit poor availability rates - especially in the desert. The US Army thinks it an OK day when 75 per cent of its Apache attack choppers are "mission capable", and C-5 transport planes have run at similar levels in the past.

The Dallas Morning News also quoted Philip Coyle, who was a Pentagon weapons tester during the Clinton era and can be relied upon to pour cold water on expensive military tech. (He doesn't think much of the US missile-defence effort either, and has always criticised the Osprey.)

"As long as they keep using it like a truck, I think they'll probably be okay," admitted Coyle.

Osprey critics sometimes say that the machine may now be acceptably reliable - at least in a military context - but that it is still unfit for combat landings under enemy fire. Many have pointed to the aircraft's lack of any forward-firing machine guns, often seen as a good idea for suppressing hostile fire during arrival at a "hot LZ"*. Others say that the Osprey can't descend to landing quickly enough without risking a crash, though this is disputed by Marine test pilots.

Operations in Anbar province would formerly have offered many chances to try the Osprey in such situations. However, US forces have for once managed to win over the local Sunni gunmen who previously gave them so much trouble.

The Marines plan to buy 360 Ospreys, saying this will let them operate far inland from ships at sea. The US special-ops fraternity intends to purchase 50 customised CV-22 versions which will allow long-range commando intrusions. ®

*A Landing Zone is "hot" when under enemy fire.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
LOHAN Kickstarter push breaks TWELVE THOUSAND POUNDS
That's right, folks, you've stumped up OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.