Thursday, June 14, 2012

Special Ops Tiltrotor Down in Florida: Second Crash in 3 Months

Special Ops Tiltrotor Down in Florida: Second Crash in 3 Months:
CV-22s over Florida. Photo: Air Force
V-22s over Florida. Photo: Air Force
An Osprey tiltrotor belonging to Air Force Special Operations Command crashed in Florida Wednesday evening, injuring five people aboard and likely badly damaging or destroying the aircraft. It’s the second crash in three months for the controversial V-22 tiltrotor, which takes off and lands like a helicopter and cruises like an airplane thanks to its rotating wingtip engine nacelles. A Marine Corps V-22 went down in Morocco in April, killing two crew.
Yesterday’s crash occurred “during a routine training mission” at 6:45 p.m. local time at a training site north of Hurlburt Field, according to the Air Force. Hurlburt is home to the Air Force’s first frontline Osprey squadron. Three of the injured airmen were airlifted to a nearby hospital; the other two were taken by ambulance.
The Air Force has launched an investigation of Wednesday’s incident, but if it turns out anything like the Air Force’s last V-22 crash probe, politics and denial could obscure the truth. In 2010, an Air Force V-22 crashed in Afghanistan, killing four people. The crash investigator, Brig. Gen. Donald Harvel, concluded that engine failure could have been a factor. But his superiors, eager to protect the high-tech aircraft’s reputation, allegedly leaned on Harvel to shift the blame to the V-22′s crew. “There was absolutely a lot of pressure to change my report,” Harvel told Air Force Times.
An earlier version of the V-22 crashed four times during testing between 1991 and 2000, killing 30 people and forcing the military and manufacturers Bell and Boeing to redesign the tiltrotor, greatly improving its safety margins. But the V-22′s unique hybrid design means it will always have complex, delicate engines.
Since entering service in 2009, three of the Air Force’s roughly 20 V-22s have been destroyed or badly damaged in accidents. Likewise, in the last 10 years the Marines’ fleet of some 200 Ospreys has suffered around a dozen major accidents resulting in several destroyed aircraft and no fewer than three deaths. The Marines, who have long touted the Osprey as their “safest tactical rotorcraft,” have used semantics and fudged statistics to obscure the V-22′s true safety record.
Let’s hope the Air Force bucks the trend and honestly and openly investigates Wednesday’s accident. The military has to admit an aircraft’s flaws before it can fix them.

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