The V-22 Fiasco

     The V-22 program will soon become the largest fiasco in Marine Corps history unless changes are made.  The V-22 can fill a role as a long-range transport, it cannot fill the assault helicopter role.  The fundamental truth is: The V-22 is too expensive and too unstable for combat assaults, and requires modifications and at least two more years of development for non-combat roles.  The V-22 can fly safely if it slowly comes to a hover over a landing zone, then carefully sets down.  Obviously, this is not a good tactic in a combat zone, especially for something as large as a V-22.  The V-22 can swoop down like an assault helicopter, but this is a risky maneuver.  If the pilot does not perform the task flawlessly, the V-22 loses lift, flips over, and everyone dies.

Click to view full-size JPEG photo     This is exactly what happened on April 8, 2000 when the Marine Corps' best pilots attempted to land two V-22s too fast during an operational test.  The lead aircraft hit the runway hard and suffered damage, the second V-22 flipped over in the air and crashed, killing 19 Marines.   These pilots were flying in ideal weather in a carefully planned test.  What will happen when the V-22 is flown by pilots with limited experience, suffering from fatigue, flying into an unknown LZ in bad weather?  What happens when they are distracted by gunfire while trying to stay in formation with a dozen other V-22s?

     The crash was blamed on "vortex ring state" (a loss of lift) which has caused helicopter crashes in three rare cases.  However, this will become a common cause of V-22 crashes.  The V-22 rotors are much smaller than helicopters, so they must produce three times more downwash to stay airborne.  In addition, they are too small to safely land the aircraft when an engine fails, something helicopters can do with "autorotation".   Even if a pilot can successfully fly assault missions 99% of the time, this means that a V-22 will last fewer than 100 missions before it flips over and kills everyone.  It is insane to pack groups of 24 Marines into V-22s and attempt to land them under enemy fire because distracted pilots will eventually flip the V-22 over, killing everyone.  The Marine Corps has withheld the recommendations made by the team which investigated the April crash.

     In a letter to the editor in the August 28, 2000 "Aviation Week", retired Marine Captain Arnold Reiner wrote about this crash:

      "As a former Marine CH-46 pilot who flew countless combat missions in Vietnam in 1966-67, I can attest that unpredictable and sometimes fairly sharp maneuvering is common in a combat assault to a strange and often obstruction-filled landing zone.  That will never change.  The Marine Osprey flipped over and crashed as the pilot maneuvered to land at an airport, unchallenged by any of the distractions and variables of combat.  The accident report cites a fast, steep approach.  In a helicopter, that can result in a hard landing or even a collision with something on the ground, but that shouldn't cause total loss of control before the aircraft reaches the surface. 

      If the Osprey is so sensitive to wake turbulence or short-term high rates of descent that it tumbles from the sky like a toy, then it's not ready for Marine Corps prime time.  The concept is good but the aircraft just isn't there yet."

     The V-22 is also too expensive to expose to ground fire.  The Marine Corps continues to demonstrate a lack of moral turpitude by claiming the V-22 costs $40 million each, when its own budget projections show $70-80 million per aircraft; the price varies depending on the number funded each year.  This is not total costs (e.g. including R&D) just annual production costs.  This is how Marine Corps Chief of Staff for Aviation, General Fred McCorkle, responded to this question at a news conference after the December 2000 crash.

     "I didn't come down -- if you'll forgive me -- to talk about cost of the aircraft. I've done that before. We can get you a spreadsheet, if you want the cost, if you want the garage that goes with it.  For those of you that I've talked to that say when somebody says $83 million, I just read [GAO report]-- I would hope to sell you your car, your next one, where you buy a $23,000 Chevy and I build your garage and give you the tires and batteries for 20 years, that will be about $85,000. So when you put it that way -- but we can get you the cost.  But we're really here to talk about the families."

       During this year (FY2001), Bell-Boeing will receive $1208.5 million to produce 16 V-22 aircraft for the Marines, for an average cost of $76 million each.  This amount is only for procurement, extra "garages, tires, batteries" are not included.  An additional $148.2 million has been funded for continued research and development.       

Click to view full-size JPEG photo      A better assault aircraft is the modern UH-60L Blackhawk (right), now in production for the Army.  The Navy has begun buying a nearly identical MH-60S Knighthawk version to replace its CH-46 helicopters for only $17 million each.  The MH-60S can carry twice the load of the original UH-60A, can fire Hellfire missiles, and has plenty of range to support operations "over-the-horizon" (e.g. 25 miles away) . 

     Another option is to expand the Corps fleet of CH-53E helicopters, which can carry twice the cargo of the V-22.  The Navy is retiring its 43 MH-53Es and the Air Force is retiring its 41 MH-53Js.  Since the Marine Corps will soon begin a program to remanufacture and upgrade its CH-53Es to a CH-53F configuration, it can easily absorb similar H-53 helicopters.  The Corps could also add squadrons of C-130 seaplanes, which can carry twice the cargo of the V-22 at ten times the range, including light armored vehicles.   Any combination of these proven aircraft can fill the V-22 mission at a quarter the price.

                 Troops     Cargo          Speed         Range        Unit cost

CH-46E   18           4,000            145kts         132nm            NA

MV-22B      18*        20,000        240kts         200nm       $87 million

MH-60S      14          10,000           147kts         200nm       $17 million

M/CH-53F   55         32,000           150kts         540nm       $20 million  

C-130J        92         40,000           417kts       2500nm       $77 million

*The CH-46E design states it can carry 25 troops and 8800lbs of cargo (see Boeing technical stats).  The Marine Corps has imposed limits due to the aircraft's age.

*The MV-22Bs cargo compartment is almost four feet shorter that the CH-46E.  Nevertheless, the Marine Corps insists the MV-22B can carry 24 combat equipped Marines, even after the GAO determined that only 15-18 Marines would fit.

*Stability problems limit the V-22's external lift to 15,000lbs with two hooks, 10,000lbs with one hook, and speed is limited to 50kts since its rotors must remain upright.

      Another problem is that helicopter mechanics consider the V-22 too complex and too fragile to maintain.  In November 2000, "Aviation Week" reported the V-22 breakdown rate is 0.7 per hour between any component on the aircraft failing, only half the goal of 1.4 per hour.  Can you imagine having a different component on your new car failing every 40 minutes of driving time?  The Marine Corps responded to criticism by planning 149 modifications to V-22s already in production, and by no longer measuring failure rates.   Recent leaks revealed that the Corps first V-22 squadron could keep only 5-6 of its 10 new Ospreys mission ready over the past year, a much lower rate than the Corps 35-year old CH-46 helicopters.  This is even more shocking because the V-22 is maintained by the Corps best mechanics with direct contractor support at permanent base facilities, while many of the old CH-46s operate from ships where they are continually exposed to harsh weather.

     In November 2000, the Pentagon's Operational Test and Evaluation office rated the V-22 capable of achieving planned missions,  but recommended against full production and declared it "operationally unsuitable".  The evaluators noted the V-22 suffers a low mission capable rate and has still not completed testing because of waivers.  They also expressed safety concerns because the "vortex ring" problem had not been solved, and the V-22s lack of autorotation capability ignored.   They noted "failures related to the hydraulic system deserve special mention."  The complex hydraulic power system suffered 170 failures during the 804.5 hour operational evaluation.

     Two weeks after this report was released, another V-22 crashed while the Corps' best V-22 pilot attempted to land in good weather, killing four more Marines.  The Marine Corps has determined that this crash was caused by hydraulic failure.  The V-22's tilt-rotor blades were too small to allow it to make an emergency landing with autorotation, like helicopters can, so it fell from the sky.  While all helicopters use hydraulics, the V-22's smaller rotors require a compact system which requires twice the pressure to function.  This problem may be resolved after a major redesign and a couple more years of testing, but not by a quick "software fix" as General McCorkle has implied.

      Two Marines who have worked closely with the V-22 program have also stated the aircraft is not safe.  LtCol Odin Leberman was commander of the first operational V-22 squadron for 20 months when he announced to his Marines "We have to lie to make it past Milestone III" (e.g. to get approved for further production).  This made major news as an embarrassing lack of integrity in the Marine Corps, more importantly, LtCol Leberman admitted the V-22 could not pass testing, and that no plans exist to correct the problems.

      The anonymous V-22 mechanic who wrote a letter to expose LtCol Leberman also condemned the V-22.   Keep in mind that Marines selected to work on the V-22 are the best in the Marine Corps with many years of experience.  In his January 2001 letter he stated.

     "This plane is not ready for the fleet.  I have been on the program for over two years.  Very few have been on longer than me.  I have seen very few improvements over this period.  Everything that is brought up as an issue is just swept under the rug.  This might be a great plane one day, but not today.  It needs to spend at least another two years in test, with people who can identify problems so they can be fixed."

Current V-22 Ospreys are unreliable "Hanger Queens"

      The V-22 has killed 30 Marines since tests began in 1986.  After two V-22 prototypes crashed, the program was terminated by the Bush administration's Dick Cheney in 1992.  Unfortunately, Bill Clinton made it an election issue to buy votes by promising to resurrect the program if elected.  Clinton was elected, so the Marine Corps spent billions of dollars over the next eight years attempting to overcome technical problems while building another dozen V-22 for testing.   Most of these test V-22s were eventually deemed unsafe and scrapped after test pilots carefully accumulated flight hours.   While all aircraft suffer from development problems, many are canceled as a result.   Safety is far more important with the V-22 because it does not have 27 ejection seats in case of engine failure.  Throughout the years, the Osprey has attracted unusually negative criticism from government leaders:

1992: Navy Secretary Sean OíKeefe told the House Armed Services Committee, "The V-22 cannot be built to meet the requirements specified. Itís an engineering impossibility."

1994: The GAO said the Ospreys primary components "remain inadequate or untested".

1994: The Pentagons inspector general said the Osprey program had commenced development "without proper authorization" and without "formal review". This was due to "highly unusual political factors."

1997: The Defense Department criticized the aircraft tests as "extremely artificial".

1998: The GAO concluded, "after 15 years of development effort, the V-22 design has not been stabilized."

2000: The Pentagon's Test and Evaluation office declared the V-22 "operationally unsuitable" after 14 years of flying.

      The V-22 tilt-rotor is technically "revolutionary" but offers no revolutionary operational capabilities, which is why the U.S. Army and no foreign nations have shown an interest.  The V-22s higher speed is advantageous, but it is not essential for any future Marine Corps operations, despite the marketing hype.  Marine CH-53Es conducted successful long-range rescues in Somalia and Bosnia, and can carry larger items like armored vehicles.  The Marines in charge know the current V-22 is unsafe, but they plan to continue production until more crashes finally end the program.  Then an expensive safety upgrade will be proposed and all the new V-22s will be sent back to Bell-Boeing plants to generate billions more in profits.  This conclusion may seem harsh, but what else can be concluded when Marines like LtCol Leberman openly conspire to continue production of an unsafe aircraft.

      The best option is to scrap the V-22 program and admit to a huge mistake.  The V-22 has gutted Marine Aviation by wasting $14 billion on development while starving other programs.  It has ruined the Marine Corps image of an economical organization which excels with training and esprit.  Worst of all, the integrity of Marine officers has been hurt by the blatant lying about the V-22.  Canceling the V-22 would restore some respect in Congress and solve the Corps aviation funding shortfall.  Most importantly, it will save lives and guarantee prompt delivery of modern helicopters.

     The second option is to cut, delay, and restructure the program as a long-range transport.  The procurement objective would be cut from 348 V-22s for 22 squadrons to 60 V-22s for four squadrons.  This will provide one squadron for each Marine Air Wing to support theater transport, insertion and extraction of long-range reconnaissance patrols, and search and rescue missions.   This would allow the Corps to buy 124 CH-60s a year, rather than 28 V-22s a year.  This option is risky because it assumes the V-22s can be modified to operate safely in stable conditions.  Nevertheless, the Marine Corps must take bold action today if it wants vertical lift in the future.

                                         Carlton Meyer



HV-22 Canceled

     Editor update on February V-22 story.  The Navy has canceled plans to buy 48 HV-22s as part of the Marine Corps' planned buy of 348 MV-22s.  Apparently, Navy leaders learned of a near 1999 crash during shipboard testing when a V-22 almost flipped over.  The tests revealed that the V-22 tilt-rotor must approach and depart ships on a straight heading because if one rotor is over the deck while the other is off the side, it immediately wants to flip over.  The Navy plans to buy more new MH-60S Knighthawks (formerly the CH-60).  The recent movie "A Perfect Storm" demonstrates the toughness and stability of the H-60 design; the V-22 is a "fair weather" bird.


Good MV-22 article

Just wanted to tip my hat to you for your piece on the MV-22.  Hopefully it gets into he hands of people who can make a difference.  I've written some op/ed pieces for our paper, after covering the 4/8 tragedy in Marana.  Keep up the good work.  Your piece was well thought out.

                                                     J. Stryker Meyer                                           

V-22 Downwash is another flaw

      Your review was very good and accurate, but did not directly mention one major limiting feature of the V-22.  And that is that its terribly high velocity downwash 90+ kts is, alone, is a major operational limitation.  You cannot pick anyone up from the water, in a boat, while hovering over a building etc, as the downwash will drown them, capsize a small boat, blow them away etc.  It has to land in clean site, and have folk walk aboard - gentleman like.  It cannot do what a helo does - hover overhead, survey a situation and pick people up.  IT CANNOT DO HELO THINGS. It is a slow fixed wing plane that CAN land vertically under ideal conditions.  If someone were to get into the gritty details of the developmental issues, a few which have come out now, it could be a big expose.  R&M people have been reporting the maintainability problems (some fundamental to the basic architecture mandating massive support equip), for years but with it all being ignored. 

     Its shape (flying X) does not allow positioning as is possible with Tandem rotor helos (CH-46) for VERTREP ops etc.  The Boeing Helicopter Model 360 - a "new technology" CH-46 which holds the helo speed record would have and still might be another competitive candidate.  It could, even at this time probably be brought to an operational configuration for less than required to further attempt to make the V-22 viable.  The Sikorsky S-92 (see latest Aviation Week and Space Tech article) would be another practical alternative for the future.  As you conclude the V-22 is not practical.  It is exotic jewelry -  a gimmick.  A bit more speed but at a hideous cost and safety impact.  It is not clear why the USMC would sell their soul to such a program.  

                                                                                       Terry Jackson

V-22 Article was Trash
       You must be a Sikorsky employee or a United Technologies stockholder. There are more mistakes and misrepresentations in this trash than I have seen in my 26 years with the Osprey program. You clearly don't know what you are talking about.
Good candidate for the Darwin Award.
                                                                        Dick Spivey

Ed. I asked Mr. Spivey, a spokesman for Bell-Textron, to identify the "mistakes and misrepresentations" so I could correct them, he refused.  He spent 26 years on the V-22 and it still doesn't work, but he made a career out of the project, which is "The Problem with R&D" discussed in this month's editorial.  The new GAO report is available on-line in Adobe at
GAO- 01- 369R Defense Acquisitions United States General Accounting Office Washington, DC 20548 February 20, 2001 The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld The Secretary of Defense Subject: Defense Acquisitions: Readiness of the ... - size 269.0K - GAO Reports

I've read parts, its very negative, I haven't read all because the download is slow and it keeps freezing up my computer. 

Many readers sent in short comments:

 # If the tilt-rotors become jammed in the airplane mode, it can't land, it would have to ditch at sea.

# In Vietnam, most crashed helicopters were recovered, repaired, and put back in service, or stripped for valuable parts.  In the V-22 crashes, its composite airframe always caught fire and quickly incinerated the entire aircraft. 

# The 4-8-00 crash was blamed on pilot error for descending too fast, yet this experienced pilot had an experienced co-pilot who also failed to notice that anything was wrong.

#The Corps bought 10 MV-22s in FY99, and another 16 MV-22s are in production for FY00.  Even if the current flaws can be fixed, it will cost another billion dollars to upgrade these 26, (oophs) 24 new aircraft.

#I read that "money was saved" by allowing 80% of the V-22s flight test be conducted in simulators.  Since this was new technology, they could not have had enough data to perform accurate simulations.

#The V-22 hydraulics system failed 170 times last year during 804 hours of evaluation.  Does Bell-Boeing expect us to believe this wasn't a problem they discovered during testing?  It is obvious they don't know how to fix the problem, or they would have done so years ago.

#They can't fix the vortex ring problem or the lack of autorotation, they are flaws inherent in the V-22 design.  They knew this years ago, which is why some corrupt officers gave them test waivers.  If they had told the truth, the marines would be flying a hundred new CH-60s today and have 23 more marines on active duty.  

#Since neither the USAF or Navy will let the Army have fixed wing combat aircraft, the Army will never buy transport contraptions that fly faster than escorting gunships.  Boeing got the cross-linked transmission working good in the CH-47D, but that wasn't inside a wing that rotates 90 degrees and they're hooked up to real rotors, not some bastard cross breed of propeller and rotor.

#When the V-22 flies like an airplane, it big rotors extend well below the aircraft, which may hit something in low level flight, and would certainly destroy the aircraft if it needed to belly land.

#Here's a very detailed link for an explanation of the V-22s vortex ring problem  Basically, if one rotor loses lift, the other one instantly flips the V-22 over.

#Until the V-22 came along, all acceptance testing was done by Navy/Marine pilots at Pax River.  In its 9-8-1997 article, "Aviation Week" reported  that V-22 program manager Jack Gallagher proudly announced:  "Flight testing and acceptance tests will be conducted by an integrated test team of Bell Boeing and U.S. Marine Corps pilots."  It seems likely that the Bell-Boeing employees somehow influenced the Marine pilots.  I wonder who these Marines work for now?

Ed. The new GAO report says the V-22 can carry only 15-18 combat loaded Marines, rather than the claim of 24 Marines.  Remember that 19 Marines died in the April 2000 operational evaluation (e.g. 4 crewmen and 15 troops)  Will Bell-Boeing argue that it was unable to verify this during testing due to funding constraints? 

I've also learned that the CH-46Es capabilities which I listed from the Marine Corps website are misleading. The CH-46E design states it can carry 25 troops, and 8800lbs of cargo (see Boeing technical stats).  The Marine Corps has imposed limits of 18 troops and 4500lbs. due to their aircraft's age.  The V-22s interior cabin dimensions are (H-5.5ft W-5.7ft L-20.8) which is smaller than the CH-46E (H-6ft W-6ft L-24.2 ft).  With a height of only 5.5ft, the V-22s will have many hunched-back crew chiefs and a lot of passenger head banging.

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