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V-22 Osprey downblast scatters spectators like skittles

72-year-old, baby bowled over by descending tiltrotor

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Spectators were blown "thirty feet" along the ground and battered by flying debris including branches ripped from trees by downwash from a V-22 Osprey tiltrotor landing in a park at the weekend.

The MV-22B aircraft, operated by the US Marines, was landing in Clove Lakes Park, Staten Island as part of Memorial Day festivities. The New York Post reports that ten onlookers were hurt by the tiltrotor's downwash, fortunately none seriously.

"I felt something hit me in the back and knock me down, and it just blew me along the ground," airforce veteran John Wilson, 72, told the paper.

"I looked back, and it looked like I'd been dragged about 30 feet. It's a memorable Memorial Day," he added.

"It was pretty scary. I was trying to hold on to the stroller, and I got dragged," local mother Jenny Gasser told the Post. Ms Gasser reportedly required several stitches for an injured knee, and her one-year-old, Katie, sustained a "nasty scrape" to the foot.

In all seven bystanders were taken to the local Richmond University Medical Center to have "cuts and bruises" attended to.

"People were getting physically thrown," commented Sal D'Alessio, 35, who required 7 stitches for his injuries.

Before the V-22 landed, conventional helicopters had set down without incident. However the Osprey is known to have higher "disc loading" than a normal chopper when operating in vertical-lift mode; that is it generates more thrust per square metre of rotor disc, and so it naturally blows air with greater force. Also, the V-22's engine exhausts - according to US government sources powerful enough to buckle a warship's steel flight-deck - point downwards for landing, unlike those of normal copters.

Another factor in the incident may have been that the Osprey's approach was restricted by the need to avoid the already-landed choppers, causing its pilot to set down nearer to the spectators and pass closer above them than he otherwise would have.

The V-22 is famous in America and in aviation circles, as much for its troubled, long-drawn-out and hugely costly development saga as for its radical design. Nonetheless it is highly valued by the US Marines for its combination of helicopter-style vertical landing and takeoff with superior height, range and speed while operating in aeroplane mode. The machine has seen frontline service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, reportedly without difficulties.

Captain Michael Henson, piloting the Osprey, told the Post he had noticed a blanket flying through the air as he descended toward the park - apparently close enough that he was able to identify it as a Tennessee Titans one, suggesting that the V-22 may have been in some danger of engine failure due to foreign-object ingestion into its intakes.

Marine Lieutenant Lauren Schulz, aboard the Osprey during the park setdown unpleasantness, added: "We noticed nothing out of the ordinary. It was probably one of the best landings I've been on." ®

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Hat tip to the DEW Line blog for flagging the incident up.

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