by Stephen Bryen
The costly Osprey (MV-22) has had another setback. A US Marine Osprey has crashed in the water near Camp Schwab in Okinawa. Camp Schwab is also known as the Smedley Butler Marine Base. Major General Butler, a two time Medal of Honor winner, was a pioneering Marine General and advocate but also a leading isolationist in the 1930’s.
The five crew members of the Schwab crash, a few of them hurt, were all rescued. The pilot was able to get his aircraft into the water and avoid a hard landing on land which would have almost certainly resulted in a fatal crash. Nonetheless, even the crash in the water touched off a furor in Okinawa, where the locals don’t want the Osprey there, nor do they really want the Marines either. The Marines immediately suspended all Osprey operations pending an investigation on the cause, although it is already pretty well known what happened.
Many will be surprised that the crash of the Osprey was an accident caused while it was in a refueling operation. The Osprey is a rather larger vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. It was acquired by the Marines for long range infiltration and resupply missions. The aircraft is very expensive, topping $72 million dollars a copy, expensive to maintain and expensive to operate. The overall procurement of 408 aircraft cost is $44.31 billion (around 200 have been manufactured, more coming) and $10.52 billion was invested so far in R&D. Additional costs to fix problems and to add capabilities is not known.
Most of Osprey’s missions can be better carried out by standard fixed wing aircraft or standard helicopters. The Osprey virtue is its overland speed and much longer operating range. Here it outperforms a traditional helicopter, but the trade off is in risk. The aircraft is risky because there are severe restrictions on how to use it. It has trouble in dusty conditions and can only safely be landed on prepared surfaces. The risks are brown out conditions and ingestions of dust particles and debris.
The Osprey’s two engines each are equipped with an air filtration system. The one on the Marine MV-22 Osprey is called an Engine Air Particle Separator (EAPS) produced by Eaton Corporation. In a crash in Hawaii in brown-out conditions, two marines were killed and a number hurt. A US Marine “Mishap Board” found that the EAPS failure was one of the causes of the crash in Hawaii in 2015. Reportedly maintenance crews in the field have been taking ladies panty hose stockings and stretching them over the air inlets to trap particles. The Air Force version of the V-22 Osprey (CV-22) does not use the same EAPS and the Marines are working on a replacement for theirs.
There are active lawsuits against Boeing, Textron Bell, Eaton and other companies because of the deaths and injuries involving the Osprey.
One of the key differences between the Osprey and a standard helicopter is what to do in emergency situations. A standard helicopter, in the case of an engine failure or loss of power, is capable of auto-rotating. The rotor (or rotors in the case of the Chinook and some Russian helicopters) is an air foil. When power is lost the air foil keeps rotating and acts as a foil, slowing down the descent of the machine. This allows that a safe landing can be made in case of an engine failure.
But the Osprey cannot auto-rotate. The two large propellers do not have sufficient air foil lift to permit safe auto-rotation. Thus if power is lost especially in a landing operation*, the aircraft crashes. For this reason, the President of the United States is not ever allowed on-board an Osprey. The Osprey is not equipped with ejection seats and because its top mission is troop transport, the troops are hostage to a dangerous safety hazard.
The crash in Okinawa was not an air filtration problem. According to what can be pieced together from news reports, the crash happened in a refueling training accident.
The Osprey mission has been expanded to use it as an aerial refueling truck to support the Marine’s F-35 as they come online starting next year. The Osprey can carry up to 10,000 pounds of fuel and a refueling system has been added to the platform. It is called the V-22 Aerial Refueling System (VARS), which can be put on-board the aircraft when it is needed to act as a refueling platform. VARS is still a development and testing item, and it was a VARS exercise that led to the Okinawa crash. Again, according to news reports, the refueling hose (or line) got tangled up in one of the V-22 props, probably when it was released from the aircraft it was refueling. It is not clear if the Osprey was refueling another V-22 in the exercise nor is it clear which of the two planes crashed. But the incident took out one engine and made the V-22 unstable. It seems the V-22 does not fly for long on one engine, and the pilot realized that he could not make it back to base, which would have been the Futenma Air Force Base in the center of Okinawa. Thus, he ditched the Osprey.
The video below shows an Osprey being refueled by a KC-130J (the K indicates the C-130 is a refueling aircraft) and not an Osprey refueling another aircraft or another Osprey.
We don’t know if the VARS problem is systemic, or whether it was a one-off accident. What does seem to be the case is there are better platforms, especially airplanes such as the KC-130J or even the now cancelled but excellent C-27J, suited to a refueling mission. Because the F-35 does not carry much stores, extending its mission time over target (which seems to be the point of V-22 refueling) seems unnecessary and unneeded.
Some time back I spoke to a number of senior active duty and Marine senior officers about the Osprey. It is a very touchy subject. The Marines think this is “their” platform and if “they” want it, they have their reasons. End of discussion.
The Osprey remains a controversial aircraft for the Marines and the Air Force. It has done poorly as an export item and some countries that initially wanted it seem to have backed out of deals, seemingly including Israel, often a top early technology adopter. Conventional helicopters and fixed wing aircraft may better perform the missions of the Osprey at lower acquisition cost and risk. We are not at the end of the saga, but the Osprey is a cautionary tale of how pushing the technology envelope can fail, and how hard it is to unwind a mistake once the error has been made.
*When the Osprey is in level flight and has an engine failure it can continue flying on one engine but it cannot land like an airplane, meaning that it is doubtful that the platform could land safely. Some argue the aircraft can glide to a landing, but if it was gliding when it hit ground the props would be torn off and it is likely the aircraft would tilt over or suffer other catastrophic damage.
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I’d like to add one thing that you just pulled out of you ass you stated that the Air Force and Marine Corps Ospreys use different EAPS systems in can tell you that that is straight BS both planes use the same EAPS system the only difference between the two are the avionics packages. Furthermore I don’t know of any unit active duty, reserve or otherwise that have put panty hose over intakes for any reason. You obviously have no idea what the hell you’re talking about and I seriously doubt your “credentials” it must be nice to go around calling yourself Dr.
Aside from your rude and snide foul language, that information about the filtration system is in an interesting discussion by the lawyers who are handling the wrongful death law suit on behalf of one of the Marines killed in Hawaii. It is one of the links I provided. Of course the lawyers could be wrong, but that will be worked out in the court room. The main thrust of their argument is that the Hawaii crash was caused by a failed filtration system provided by Eaton. They claim that the Air Force does not use the same system. Pay attention to the evidence they provide, perhaps it isn’t right but it is very compelling. You might have usefully checked the links before making accusations. Don’t bother to write here again.
The Osprey is not without substantial limitations and costs–which are a natural complement to its unique strengths. It is complicated, expensive to buy and operate, and not optimized for some helicopter missions and regimes of flight (such as hovering at high altitudes). It can also perform in mission scenarios in ways that no other aircraft can. Many comments in this blog are wrong or speculation unsupported by published reports. My source for accident information discussed below is: https://news.usni.org/2016/12/14/v-22-crash-off-okinawa-occurred-during-nighttime-aerial-refueling-halt-in-operations-ordered
“…avoid a hard landing on land which would have almost certainly resulted in a fatal crash…” – A water landing is not somehow more safe or “softer” to the extent that it would make an otherwise fatal hard landing survivable. No aviation emergency procedure or training guideline directs pilots to intentionally land in the water if land can be reached (published reports indicate this V-22 crew landed in the water to avoid overflying densely populated areas with a damaged aircraft).
“…the Marines immediately suspended all Osprey operations…” – They suspended V-22 operations **in Japan**–a small fraction of worldwide Marine Corps Osprey flight operations.
“The aircraft is risky because there are severe restrictions on how to use it. It has trouble in dusty conditions and can only safely be landed on prepared surfaces. The risks are brown out conditions…” – There are not “severe” restrictions on how to use the V-22. All aircraft have a long list of limitations, and the Osprey’s is not especially longer–though it has unique rules because its aerodynamics are unique (certainly its slow-speed handling characteristics are inferior to helicopters and ignoring the limitations of its “tilt” capability can be catastrophic, just as flying a helicopter or conventional aircraft in certain regimes can be). Its safety record is also better than most other helicopters since its operational debut. It is in fact easier to land an Osprey in dusty conditions than other medium/large helicopters due to its flight control systems and instrumentation–and it most certainly can be safely landed on unprepared surfaces (as has been done for the last 10 years of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, etc.). It is correct that Ospreys have restrictions on the length of time they can hover in large dust clouds due to particle ingestion–mainly because the aircraft allows pilots to maintain stability in these conditions for much longer than traditional helicopters do. There are, however, needed improvements in dust resistance.
“But the Osprey cannot auto-rotate. The two large propellers do not have sufficient air foil lift to permit safe auto-rotation. Thus if power is lost especially in a landing operation*, the aircraft crashes.” – The rotors have sufficient lift, they just have too much drag and insufficient inertia to make an auto-rotation landing easily performed in a relatively heavy aircraft. Autorotations are, in fact, a V-22 emergency flight procedure. However, the entire auto-rotation discussion is mostly irrelevant for the V-22, as it spends the majority of its flight time in “airplane” configuration (from which it would glide to a landing [yes, destroying the rotor blades, as designed] as the earlier comment correctly noted). In hundreds of thousands of operational and combat flight hours, there has not been one engine or other failure in which better auto-rotation characteristics would have prevented an otherwise fatal crash.
“[…cannot auto-rotate…]. For this reason, the President of the United States is not ever allowed on-board an Osprey.” – The President does not fly on an Osprey because it is not configured with the required equipment (the President’s aircraft are highly specialized–which is why they are so expensive–even more than a V-22). The V-22 flies White House staff, foreign dignitaries, etc. The only sources for the “it’s too dangerous for the President” contention are other articles with no sources.
“…it was a VARS exercise that led to the Okinawa crash.” – Can you provide a citation for this?
“It is not clear if the Osprey was refueling another V-22 in the exercise nor is it clear which of the two planes crashed.” – Published reports state the aircraft’s rotors impacted the refueling line, which could only happen to an aircraft receiving fuel (not giving it). I’ve seen no source saying there were two V-22s involved (although it could be true).
“What does seem to be the case is there are better platforms, especially airplanes such as the KC-130J …” – Of course there are better platforms–the KC-130J is designed to be a refueler! The V-22 is not obviously not optimized for refueling–it’s not even optimized to be a helicopter!
“But the incident took out one engine ..”- Can you provide a citation for this? Published articles state the aircraft became unstable after the rotor-hose impact (as would be expected), but not that an engine failed.
“It seems the V-22 does not fly for long on one engine, and the pilot realized that he could not make it back to base, which would have been the Futenma Air Force Base in the center of Okinawa. Thus, he ditched the Osprey.” – This speculation is (a) not supported by any evidence of engine failure, (b) contrary to the V-22’s published performance characteristics showing single engine flight capability in airplane configuration is in most cases limited only by available fuel, and (c) contrary to the published report saying the crew consciously decided to ditch to avoid overflight of densely populated areas.
“…remains a controversial aircraft for the Marines and the Air Force…” – Only in the eyes of perpetually biased observers who base their views on old news; fair comparison from the last 10 years of deployed operations shows the Osprey is capable and safe. Its real current limitations are cost and readiness (maintenance).
“Conventional helicopters and fixed wing aircraft may better perform the missions of the Osprey at lower acquisition cost and risk.” – Finally, at least one fair statement. There is a legitimate argument to be had here. Ultimately it depends on mission parameters.
“Because the F-35 does not carry much stores, extending its mission time over target (which seems to be the point of V-22 refueling) seems unnecessary and unneeded.” – Except for the issue of range, or loiter time before munitions are employed and for sensor-based missions.
Update: video of the Marine Corps’ press conference confirms that this accident did not not involve VARS or a second V-22. The fact that this blog invented this non-fact makes its agenda more clear. The same press conference notes that the Osprey’s unique capabilities–including air-to-air refueling–made it among the first US military aircraft to respond to several humanitarian crises in the far east.
I don’t think you are right on this unless the early stories on the incident were wrong, which is possible. I would like to see the video you refer to so please provide a link. Its successful response to humanitarian crises involved refueling the Osprey, not the Osprey refueling other planes. (I am thinking of Nepal where it was quite successful.) Why do you keep saying the blog “invented” something when that is simply not true. You don’t advance any argument by making accusations or by mischaracterizing what I said and the documentation links I provided.
Here is a perfect example of your fabrication:
“For this reason, the President of the United States is not ever allowed on-board an Osprey.”
Patently false. POTUS does not regularly fly on the HMX V-22 because the Sea Kings have the requisite comm equipment and land on the white house lawn. It has absolutely nothing to do with autorotation capability.
That is NOT a fabrication at all, is widely reported, and has never been challenged. Your use of the term “fabrication” and “patently false” made me think of not printing your comment. Let me refer you to just one of many articles on this subject here http://gizmodo.com/the-president-gets-a-personal-osprey-hes-not-allowed-t-1108783801
The story starts out as follows: “Even with the VH-71 helicopter project permanently grounded, President Obama still has a number of egregiously expensive air transport options—such as the newly unveiled MV-22 Osprey—to choose from. The only problem is the MV-22 is that he’s not actually allowed to ride in it.”
Here is another story on the same subject: http://www.aviation.com/general-aviation/president-still-cant-fly-v-22-osprey/
Unlike you, I do my research and I check my sources. You just throw out assertions and pejorative words like “fabrication.”
Have a nice day.
Firstly, I invite you to present an actual source that POTUS is barred from flying on a V22 because of safety concerns outside of a handful of civilian bloggers (who laughably are citing EACH OTHER) making that unsubstantiated assertion with absolutely no references to any sort of regulations or confirmation from DoD personnel on the record. I will give you one hint as to why that is the case – because no such regulation exists.
Secondly, I encourage you to read OT-IIG (V22 program 2005 operational evaluation), page 35
To this day, NATOPS still prescribes autorotation for recovery under certain circumstances.
The blanket statement that “The V-22 cannot autorotate” is incorrect and its usage as some kind of “achilles heel” is a red flag of such yellow journalism that has plagued the V22 through its lifetime. The rotor system is aerodynamically capable within a relatively narrow range flight envelope of autorotation. For all practical purposes, in most of the flight regimes that a helicopter can autorotate, a V22 would indeed be outside of its capability. But with a greater RoD and non MGW condition, the V22 does it. Regardless, as was well stated by Ret Lt Colonel Braganca, the V22 spends so little time in the H-V diagram where it would require an autorotation (with such small odds of a dual engine failure to even put it in that situation) as to make this essentially a moot point.
Question: In over 300,000 operation flight hours, the V-22 has experienced a dual engine failure or other problem that would require a conventional helicopter to enter autorotation how many times?
Your usage of phrases regarding the Osprey as a “failure” and “error” (its the most in-demand Aircraft in the USMC inventory, and has among the lowest Class A mishap rate according to Naval Safety Center statistics) and passengers supposedly being held “hostage to a dangerous safety hazard” belies your claimed objectivity and displays your inherent bias.
Perhaps it was your time as “President of Finmeccanica North America” that formented your ongoing distaste for a competitors product.
I already provided references (a few of many) on the POTUS question. The President flies in the Sea King SH-3 or the smaller VH-60N because these platforms have been specially prepared and hardened. For your information, Finmeccanica is a partner with Bell on the civilian passenger version of the V-22. I have no distaste for a competitor’s product as you incorrectly allege. I should add that the autorotation scenario you offer is pretty strained.
I am sorry, but you very explicitly asserted “for this reason (referring to the lack of conventional autorotation capability) the President of the United States is not ever allowed on-board an Osprey”…not because of requisite EM hardening and other communications equipment. Simply because a handful of civilian bloggers made the logical leap towards the reason being safety-related does not make it truth.
For the record, Finnemeccanica/Augusta Westland’s (now Leonardo) partnership with Bell on the BA609 (now AW609) ended over 5 years ago when Bell sold the program to AW. Bell is now merely a supplier of rotor and blade components, and maintains IP for much of the rotor system design and prior flight test data. In every other facet of business, AW and Bell are direct competitors.
The autorotation scenario I described is unlikely. That was the ENTIRE point – it’s never occurred nor needed to occur.
Everything in the article is derived from news reports, almost all of which are in the links I provided. The Okinawa crash was in the midst of a VARS exercise (refueling exercise) according to the news reports. The base commander said (in a video that I did not link) that the decision to ditch the plane in the water saved lives. “He could have tried to make it back to base” said the commander but that would have been a disaster. He went on to say how proud he was of the pilot and crew (5 persons). I did not claim there were two V-22s. I simply said there could be two. You can both fuel from and refuel from an Osprey. I have no detailed information on the refueling exercise. One of the props was tangled in the fuel line and the pilot needed to get the aircraft on the ground quickly. As for the Osprey, it is terribly controversial especially in the Congress and has been for years (I am not counting the Okinawan obsession with the aircraft). My main problem with the Osprey is NOT that it does not work. I agree with you it has been deployed for some time. But it is terribly costly and not much better than far less expensive alternatives, and I think the Marines could have done better improving their other kit.
I do want to take one exception to your interesting comments: my statements and analysis were not unfair and everything I wrote was documented. My primary concern is that the US defense budget has been heavily consumed by overly expensive and sometimes overly complex weapons when less expensive ones will do. That leads Congress to cut the overall defense budget, which I oppose. (Congress will never share responsibility for funding these costly systems in the first place.)
Your concern about the defense budget and the cost/complexity of weapons systems is always grounds for a fair argument–including the value proposition for the V-22. This is always a debate worth having.
But your article does not focus on the cost/value of the V-22 in various mission scenarios–it instead attempts to characterize the aircraft as unsafe/incapable by using incorrect statements, which I carefully detailed above and summarize again below.
-It is not true that the aircraft cannot autorotate (see V-22 flight procedures)
-It is not true that the President does not fly on V-22s because of safety concerns (no government source for this non-fact exists, because it is not true–and makes no logical sense…how would it be ok for key White House staff, senior diplomats, etc. to fly on a too-dangerous aircraft?)
-It is not true that the V-22 is “severely restricted”.
-It is not true that the V-22 can only land on prepared surfaces.
-It is not true that V-22 operations were stopped (this occurred only in Japan).
-VARS had nothing to do with the recent accident. VARS is not a synonym for refueling. VARS is the roll-on system with which a V-22 can provide fuel TO another aircraft. In the recent accident, according to the recent Marine Corps press conference from Japan, the damaged V-22 was receiving fuel FROM an Air Force C-130; it was not providing fuel to another aircraft.
Actually, the following is inaccurate: (bracketed)
“When the Osprey is in level flight and has an engine failure it can continue flying on one engine but it cannot land like an airplane, *[meaning that it is doubtful that the platform could land safely]*. Some argue the aircraft can glide to a landing, *[but if it was gliding when it hit ground the props would be torn off and it is likely the aircraft would tilt over or suffer other catastrophic damage]*.”
The V-22 CAN safely land following a single engine failure in AIRPLANE. The profile flown and procedures for it are routinely practiced in the simulator and aircraft in addition to the real thing happening over the life of the program. I have personally landed (roll on) to a runway, single engine, twice…no damage to aircraft.
Yes, landing in AIRPLANE mode would result in damage to the proprotors, however, the proprotors are designed to “broomstraw” upon contact with the ground or in the case of the recent dithching, the water. Further, it is not likely the aircraft would tip over…in fact in the simulator and evidenced by yesterdays ditching, the aircraft doesn’t tip over.
My two year old understands aviation better than you. Thanks for proliferating a tired and inacurate narrative about one of the most ground-breaking and capable aircraft ever invented. The silver lining of your ignorance is the enemies of freedom might underestimate our capabilities because of garbage like this. Thank you for that if nothing else.
As a pilot and a defense expert I find your comments unworthy of a response. There is not a word in my article that is inaccurate and I don’t have the faintest idea about what you mean by “tired.” If you have something intelligent to say, try saying it. What are you taking about “enemies of freedom”? I was twice awarded the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor and I am very proud of my service to the United States. You should be ashamed.