More V-22 Failures Emerge

     This is an update on the V-22 Osprey program since our article last October. This is our fifth article on the V-22 scandal over the past two years and the news is worse. The first three articles are linked from here: Keeping the V-22 Alive.  We discovered that has excellent background on the V-22, although it's a couple years old.

Total FY 2003 Costs Soar to $165 million for each V-22

     The President's Department of Defense FY 2003 budget proposal shows $1323 million for 11 V-22 aircraft ($120 million each) plus $497 million for testing.  The new Navy MH-60S will cost $372 million for 15, or $25 million each for an aircraft that can lift as much as the V-22 and carry almost as many Marines.  So if they took the $1820 million from the V-22 accounts, the Marines could buy 73 MH-60S.  V-22 advocates claim costs will fall as production rates increase, yet the MH-60S production rate is only 15 helicopters a year.  In addition, while the overall inflation rate hovers around 2%, the V-22 unit cost rose 16% last year, from $103 million each in FY2002 to $120 million!

      The Marine Corps says it needs 360 V-22s, but at a rate of 11 per year the 40-year old CH-46Es will have to fly another 33 years until the last is retired.  Hopes for increased production levels are doubtful since the overall Navy/Marine Corps aviation plan calls for increasing aircraft procurement from 83 aircraft in FY2003 to 193 aircraft in FY2007, which is extremely unrealistic.  In addition, development of the V-22 is scheduled to continue until FY2008 when Blocks B and C are finalized with key components like the gun and hoist.  As a result, the Corps will need a billion of so additional dollars to send the first 60 V-22s back through the production line for upgrades.   

     The Corps has been losing around two CH-46Es a year to attrition and many squadrons have just 8 aircraft, rather than 12.  Clearly, the Marine Corps aviation plan is completely unrealistic, especially considering its desire to begin purchases of F-35 aircraft in FY2006.  The $1820 million for the V-22 this year leaves little for the the rest of the Marine Corps.  No other aircraft are purchased except four KC-130Js funded for the Marines by DoD's Emergency Response Fund.  All that is left for grunts on the ground is $45 million for SRAW shoulder-fired rockets and $380 million for new trucks. 

Unsafe Fuel Tanks

      The first V-22 squadron commander, LtCol  Odin “Fred” Leberman, had complained to the Inspector General that test results were withheld and that unsafe fuel tanks may have killed his Marines.  The Inspector General's report called Leberman a liar, but this Aviation Week article reveals that unsafe fuel tanks were used during operational evaluation by Marine crews.  They were lightweight composite (e.g. plastic) tanks that break from minor impact and are not considered crashworthy.  Despite this known problem, Marines went ahead with operational testing and 19 Marines were incinerated in two crashes, although it is unknown if any would have survived if the V-22s had crashworthy fuel tanks required by well-established Navy safety regulations.

Poor Lift Performance

      The reluctance to incorporate heavier crashworthy fuel tanks was an attempt to keep the growing V-22 from exceeding its contract guaranteed empty weight of 33,140 lbs. The V-22 program is seeking a waiver up to 33,531 lbs, although "Aviation Today" reported the recent redesign will add over 2200 pounds to the V-22; up to 35,375 pounds.  This means the Osprey program can be cancelled without payment of billions of dollars in termination costs to Bell-Boeing.  As a result, they are eagerly seeking a waiver, yet there is no reason the Marines should grant one until a design is finalized and proven.

     This explains why the troublesome lightweight titanium hydraulic lines were retained in the redesign, and why the NBC protection system and the passenger oxygen system were deleted.  However, the Marines have refused to delete the long-delayed hoist and gun, which explains some new schemes to improve performance, like a magical piezoelectrically reconfigurable blade. This may allow the program manager to claim that failures to meet performance guarantees are only temporary until new technology is developed in the coming years. 

    A basic program contractual requirement for the V-22 is the ability to lift 10,000 lbs vertically and drop it off 50 miles away.  Although they advertise the V-22 can lift 15,000 lbs vertically, last year a V-22 pilot mentioned that only 11,000 lbs has been demonstrated, and that 15,000 lbs is just a goal.  A direct inquiry to NAVAIR eventually produced this response from Gidge Dady:

"With respect to the question on "maximum vertical lift" a 12,000 lb, steel sled, dual hook, inverted "V" sling suspension on Aircraft 8 was flown from pick up to hover out to 120 kcas and back to hover on 20 May 1999, Patuxent River, Maryland. Also of interest was a 10,000 lb load suspended from the forward hook and flown out to 220 kcas in airplane mode on 13 August 1998 at  Patuxent River."

     There was no independent confirmation of this single "steel sled" test, whose compact size minimized realistic drag which reduces performance.  Notice the claimed pounds are nice round numbers, not something like 11,867 lbs., as though it was weighed.  You'd also think that demonstrating maximum lift would be hailed as great news, but nothing was ever released by NAVAIR public affairs or Boeing's fully staffed "Tiltrotor Times" newsletter, which was renamed "Osprey Facts" after the fourth V-22 crash uncovered numerous lies by the V-22 program.  A direct inquiry to the editor about the maximum lift demonstrated produced an evasive response which only mentioned that approval for a 15,000 lbs test is pending.

     The only news report of a heavy lift was a replica of the new LW155 howitzer.  This NAVAIR news release says the Osprey lifted 9320 lbs just 4.5 feet off the ground and hovered for 25 minutes.  A real test would have lifted the howitzer some 50 miles away.  An experienced helicopter pilot told me that this careful hover test is an indication that the V-22 was near its max weight and pilots were afraid to move with the load since aerodynamic drag will increase the pull weight.  Since lifting objects vertically is a primary mission for the V-22, why hasn't it conducted hundreds of heavy lifts with different objects during its decade of testing?  Equally suspicious is that during the entire year of operational evaluation by Marine crews in 2000, nothing heavy was lifted.

      Keep in mind that such tests occurred before additional weight was added during the latest redesign, so it will probably fail its requirement to lift at least 10,000 lbs vertically and move it 50 miles; if tests are ever performed.  In comparison. the CH-53E weighs 33,226 lbs empty and can lift 32,000 lbs vertically, and has more range than the V-22.  The Navy MH-60S Knighthawk has an empty weight of just 11,516 lbs and can lift 9000 lbs vertically.  The V-22's lift is limited because its smaller rotors have blade twists like a propeller for higher speeds, and its wings disrupt airflow while rotors are vertical.  

V-22 Lift Performance is Dismal

  Empty Weight lbs. Payload Vertical lbs. Unit Cost


CH-46E 15,537 10,000* NA
V-22 33,531 9,000* $120
CH-53E 33,226 32,000 $21 SLEP*
MH-60S 11,516 9,000 $25

*The Marine Corps has imposed a load limit of 4000 lbs on the CH-46E due to the aircraft's age.  It can carry 25 troops or 10,000 lbs of cargo (see Boeing technical stats).  It's newer cousin, the CH-47F, has a payload of 16,000 lbs. 

*This is an estimate for the redesigned V-22 with greater empty weight.  

*The Marines plan to upgrade and overhaul only 111 of their 165 CH-53Es due to funding shortages caused by the V-22 program.  In fact, funding for this SLEP has been continually delayed as the V-22 swallows up more funds each year.

Wing Induced Rotor Stall

     The fundamental flaw with the V-22 is that its tiltrotor design can cause a wing induced rotor stall.  This is unique to tiltrotors and the cause of what the V-22 program calls "vortex ring state".  As a tiltrotor descends vertically, each wing pushes the airflow away from half its rotor.  The faster it descends, the greater the vacuum the wings create resulting in less lift.  As the pilots maneuver a V-22, they may shift the airflow causing one rotor to lose so much lift that it literally falls and flips the aircraft over.

      This is what occurred to the V-22 during the April 2000 crash.  The JAG investigation concluded the pilots erred by descending too fast.  However, it's likely the pilots could not slow their descent even by applying full power.  This probably surprised the pilots because they were carrying 15 combat-equipped Marines, or about 4000 lbs more weight than during testing.  Therefore, when the V-22 begins high rate of descent tests next Spring, it must carry 4000 lbs of deadweight to simulate a combat assault.  Actually, since the program continues making false claims the V-22 can fit 24 combat equipped Marines into a cabin 40% smaller than the CH-46E, it should carry 6000 lbs internally.  This extra weight can cause a wing induced rotor stall to occur even at moderate rates of descent. 

      This happened to the Corps' most experienced V-22 pilots during the April 2000 crash.  How many times will it happen to younger pilots who must fly in formations, in bad weather, and may be distracted by radio chatter and even anti-aircraft fire?  A helicopter cannot flip over from a minor pilot error.  All four V-22 crashes were the result of a total loss of control which led to the complete destruction of the aircraft.  This fundamental problem makes the V-22 unsafe to fly, especially for use as an assault transport.  V-22 pilots have developed a technique to regain control should a V-22 begin to roll over.  A change in the nacelle angles of as little as 15 degrees is enough to recover and regain power, however, the aircraft must be at least 2000 feet off the deck to allow time to regain control.  This will be of no use to V-22s approaching a landing zone, especially if they fly below 1000 feet  the entire mission to avoid anti-aircraft systems.

     This also explains why the program has avoided lifting heavy objects externally.  Ideally, the V-22 makes a "non-hover landing" where it glides onto a hard surface for a rolling stop to utilize the lift from its wings and to keep solid airflow under its rotors.  However, external cargo must be set down vertically.  As a V-22 descends with external cargo, the wings begin to disrupt airflow and reduce performance.  A V-22 carrying near its maximum load and descending vertically can easily lose enough lift to plunge to the ground.  As a result, many experts have concluded that a "tiltwing" is much better since the wing also tilts to avoid wing induced airflow disruptions.  This is also why Boeing has no plans for a commercial tiltrotor and is working on a new VTOL canard wing design where the entire wing can also spin like a big helicopter blade.  Meanwhile, the V-22 is stuck with dangerous and poor performing tiltrotors.

Deck Pig and Fuel Hog 

     As we noted last year, since the V-22 is as large as a CH-53E, the Corps will be unable to operate a composite MEU squadron with 12 V-22s from each flattop amphibious ship as it now does with CH-46Es.  Ships must limit the amount of weight up on the flight deck for stability reasons.  The Corps would probably be limited to a mix of 4 CH-53Es with 7 V-22s, whereas it could carry 4 CH-53Es and 14 MH-60S instead.  This was confirmed by the Center for Naval Analysis in its recent 26-page report "Marine Corps Operations in Afghanistan: Key Themes and Implications for Transformation".  This Marine Corps funded study also noted the V-22 burns twice as much fuel as the CH-46E, so it would have been a hindrance at Camp Rhino where all fuel was flown in by KC-130 tankers.  Burning twice as much fuel will also greatly increase operating costs for Marine Corps squadrons.

      Some V-22 supporters had suggested the V-22s were ideal in Afghanistan because they can fly higher.  This is true, but they cannot land higher because of their smaller rotors.  In addition, several helicopters were damaged while landing in "brownouts" from swirling sand and dust caused by their downwash.  The smaller V-22 rotors produce three times more downwash, so the problem would have been much greater.  In fact, the V-22 has never been fully tested at "unimproved sites", and the program suggested in its April 2002 Congressional report that this can be avoided with "non-hover landings".

Deck Roll Problem Ignored

      The roll of a ship or gusts from nearby aircraft can cause a V-22 on ship to tilt over on the deck and squash sailors and Marines nearby.  A NAVAIR report by Kurt Long -pdf states this danger is "VERY significant" and "...could prohibit ALL shipboard ops."  The V-22 program office recently decided this problem, which they call "roll perturbations", can be fixed with software.  How?  I can only assume that the engines will be revved up automatically to keep it from teetering over.  That will continually knock down ground crews with unpredictable blasts of downwash, and doesn't work when the engines are shut off.

Evading the Gun Issue

      Our May report revealed the V-22 will fly unarmed because of the difficulty in adding a defensive machine gun as promised.  The redesign plan was to delay adding the gun until FY2008.  This criticism had some impact:

Inside the Navy, September 30, 2002

Osprey to get firepower sooner

     In the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, special forces aboard Marine Corps helicopters often had to shoot at al Qaeda and Taliban fighters on the ground as the helicopters exited "hot zones." That realization is stirring the Marines to rethink, accelerate and expand long-deferred plans to arm V-22 Osprey tiltrotors with defensive weapons.

    "One of the things we've been asked to look at from headquarters is to put an interim gun in sooner," Marine Corps Col. Dan Schultz, the Osprey program manger, told Inside the Navy in a brief interview last week. Unlike previous plans to mount a three-barreled .50 caliber turreted machine gun under the front of each Osprey, the interim gun would go in the rear, near the ramp that opens to let troops enter and exit. In addition to the new ramp gun effort, the program has been directed to study putting guns on both sides of the aircraft's cabin.

     The original plan for a a chin mounted gun was dropped because it was heavy and couldn't be fired effectively by the co-pilot.  The odd idea of a gun mounted on the rear ramp is under consideration, yet it impedes personnel egress and doesn't allow a vehicle to easily drive off.   Moreover, a formation of V-22s approaching a landing zone can provide no suppressive fires if all guns are pointed to the rear.  As a result, side mounted guns are gaining favor, so long as the problem of very limited fields of fire due to the wings and rotors is ignored.  Whatever awkward system is adopted, V-22s will be heavily dependent on Cobra attack helicopter escorts, so they will have to fly as slow as helicopters and negate their only advantage.  In contrast, the MH-60S can carry various machine guns and mount rocket pods or up to 16 Hellfire missiles for attack missions.

     The gun study linked above also noted another problem with the Osprey's unique tandem rotor design.  As the tiltrotor nears the ground, the downwash from the two rotors swirl debris up toward the fuselage. This is so bad that any gun on the V-22 must include a side bag to catch shell casings as they fall, lest they are thrown back up at the fuselage.  This implies that V-22s landing at unimproved sites may pelt themselves with rocks and other debris.

High Rate of Descent Tests

     Despite the outrageous cost and poor lift performance, the biggest problem with the V-22 is its lack of stability which can lead to total destruction of the aircraft.  V-22s will wait until next Spring to conduct high rate of descent tests to see if they can match assault helicopter performance.  In a Crucial Test  three years ago, seven times during 21 high-altitude test flights at the Navy's Patuxent River air base, a V-22 suddenly began to roll when it was flown in an assault mode like the craft involved in the Arizona crash.  In one case, a V-22 reached an 84-degree bank, its wings nearly perpendicular to the ground, according to a Bell/Boeing presentation to the Pentagon's "Blue Ribbon Panel," which investigated the aircraft after the 2000 accidents.  A Pentagon source familiar with the V-22 testing says the aircraft lost 2000 feet of altitude before pilots regained control - a margin for error that would not exist in a low altitude military operation.  Since the V-22 already failed high rate of descent tests and recent modifications did not address this fatal flaw, the results of the current tests should be similar, assuming they are fully disclosed.  

        However, the 12-23-02 issue of "Aviation Week" revealed that high rate of descent tests will not begin until mid-Spring.  The current phase limits test pilots to 800 feet per minute, which will test nothing.  The February 2002 issue of Armed Forces Journal, explains: "since the V-22 has asymmetric rotors on its wing tips, if one of them encounters the vortex ring state phenomenon before the other, the aircraft will be inclined to roll over.  That's one of the reasons why V-22s are presently limited to a rate of descent of less than 800 feet per minute.  While that would be adequate for a commercial operation, it's far short of what the military needs -- several thousand feet per minute -- during tactical insertions."  This was hidden in an article about Optical Air Data Systems, where Phil Rogers  describes his efforts to develop a low forward airspeed indicator for the V-22 program. 

     There is no doubt the V-22 is very unstable at high rates of descent, but the V-22 program manager thinks that pilot training, a newly invented "low ultrasonic low airspeed sensor", and a warning device like a "seat shaker" can prevent pilots from accidentally causing one rotor to stall and the V-22 to immediately roll over because of its tandem rotor design.  However, pilots are often distracted for the same reasons you may allow your car to drift out of its lane while driving.  If a pilot makes an error while flying a helicopter, it may result in a hard landing, even if he encounters a vortex ring stall; which is extremely rare with large rotors.  However, an error by a V-22 pilot, or even minor damage to a rotor gearbox, can cause an immediate loss of control where the aircraft flips over and everyone dies. 

     To hide these problems, the test program will avoid them, as it did in the past.  Instead, it has announced it will disprove handling problems, noted by "critics", by flying a V-22 around flattop amphibious ships with one rotor off the deck.  There is no doubt a V-22 pilot can perform this task if he is aware a rotor imbalance is about to occur, like during a test.  The danger arises when pilots are distracted by other aircraft, radio chatter, cockpit commotion, rain, or fog while the imbalance among the rotors occurs.  This will surprise pilots as the V-22 begins to roll.  A report on the V-22 sea trials by V-22 test pilot LtCol John Rudzis mentions this danger: "A left seat landing under relative winds over deck of 355 deg relative and twenty-five knots resulted in a roll excursion of thirty-seven degrees angle of bank while only ten feet above the deck level. Only that the left rotor was over the water and full power had been applied to initiate a climb, prevented the nacelle or rotor from impacting the ship. Further testing in these conditions was suspended until this event could be thoroughly investigated." 

Mean Flight Hours Between Failures

     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?  Press leaks revealed the Corps first V-22 squadron could keep only 5-6 of its 10 new Ospreys mission ready during 2000, a much lower rate than the Corps 35-year old CH-46 helicopters.  This is 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.

     Since testing resumed in May 2002 with upgraded V-22s, the fully staffed V-22 team has been unable to meet the new (lower) objective of 1.2 mean flight hours between failures.  The Bell-Boeing team claims the V-22 can self-deploy long ranges by loading a supplemental fuel tank in its cargo bay and aerial refuel, just like the CH-53E.  However, helicopters rarely attempt extremely long-range missions over water because there is nowhere to land should a problem arise.  With a mechanical problem every 1.2 hours of flight time, no sane commander will routinely send his $120 million V-22s across oceans.

The Criminal Conspiracy Continues

     There is no doubt the V-22 is fundamentally unsafe and exorbitantly expensive.  It has become the greatest scandal in US military history, but is kept alive by the Marine Corps' political machine described in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.  If the FBI would begin a probe, it will find ample evidence of fraud and racketeering.  This environment is so demoralizing that the Corps is refusing to allow Marines to leave the program.  Retired Air Force helicopter pilot Colonel Harry Dunn has studied the V-22 program for over two years and consulted with numerous other rotorcraft experts about the tiltrotor's fundamental flaws.  He became so angry at the waste and likelihood of further deaths from this program that he recently sent an open letter to President Bush demanding action.  

     While discussing when the Osprey will be fixed, a Marine Cobra pilot mentioned this on-line report from "Inside Defense":

"According to one former Boeing employee, interviewed on background last week, the prime contractor's early approach to the program was, “We've got to sell this son-of-a-***** first; we'll fix it later.”  Hydraulics problems and other failures were quietly put on a back burner for years in the confidence the government would pay to fix them later on, under “engineering change proposals,” this source said. One Boeing test pilot resigned in late 1992, citing just such problems in the company's V-22 program. “We promote the 'good old boy' who's been there the longest and will follow the mold,” states the pilot in a Dec. 15, 1992, resignation letter, obtained by ITP."

     That was over ten years ago and they still plan to sell that son-of-***** first, then hope to fix it later.  At a formal ceremony on October 31, 2002, Marine Commandant General James Jones bestowed the title "honorary Marine" on Boeing Senior Vice President Gerald Daniels for his commitment to the V-22 Osprey program.  Given the dismal performance of the V-22, seniors leaders of the Corps must be unaware of the facts.  They often repeat the myth that the V-22 can fly twice as fast helicopters and has three times their range.  The V-22 can cruise at 240 knots, while helicopters like the old CH-53E are limited to 172 knots, so its 40% faster, not 100%.  However, helicopters can descend three times faster into landing zones than the unstable V-22; which is where 91% of combat losses occur.

      The V-22 has about the same range as modern helicopters, like the new Navy MH-60S.  In those rare cases when Marines need to fly long distances for a raid, the MH-60S can be equipped with external fuel tanks and far outrange the MV-22.  The Special Operations command already operates the MH-60G "Pavehawk" (right) with a range of 445 nautical miles, almost twice the range of the V-22.  The Marine Corps' old CH-53E has twice the range of the V-22, which can be verified at the Marine Corps' own website

      The simple solution to end this mess is for the Secretary of Defense to order the Army to prepare a 10,000 lbs external load at Fort Eustis and tell the V-22 program office to send their best V-22 to pick up the load and fly it back.  This V-22 will also be required to carry extra weight internally to simulate the gun with ammo and hoist.  I suspect the V-22 will not be able to pick it up.  This will allow immediate cancellation with no penalty to the taxpayer.  Otherwise, we'll just wait for another V-22 to flip over and more "non-honorary" Marines to die.

                                      Carlton Meyer



The V-22 is robbing the Marines

Thank you for publishing this article. I was an active duty Marine Corps machinegun squad leader that refused to reenlist in Jan. 1999. My largest fear was that I would be in charge of a stick assigned to fly into battle on a V-22. As you pointed out in your article the V-22 has many fundamental flaws. As a Marine I followed the course of development of the V-22 and my concern has carried over into my civilian life. With the threat of war upon our nation. I am appalled at the reluctance to drop the V-22 from the Marine Corps budget. 

As a Marine I was continually made to do with what was there, because of the lack of funds to provide essential needs for myself and my Marines. In one instance my company was left at a secluded training area for 2 weeks longer then scheduled because the Marine Corps couldn't afford to pay for the fuel to fly us home. When we did return to our home base the civilian DOD employee's were on strike because they hadn't been paid in over a month. I would hate to think that the V-22 project could create a similar situation to our current Marine infantry forces.

In my four years in the Marine Corps I never once felt neglected. Today I find it appalling and indecent for our government to allow such an atrocity as the V-22 to continue to drive the Marine Corps into the ground.

Thank you again for providing this valuable information to the public.


Ed: Each month a new $160 million V-22 comes off the production line and is rolled into storage since its unsafe to fly.

MH-53J is Better

I'm in the USAF and work as maintainer on the MH-53M and MH-53J PAVLOW Helicopters for the past 3 years. The V-22 is a great idea Key word being "IDEA". I gotten a good look at one when they brought it around on a show and tell tour before it was grounded for the like 100th time. It is way small, I'm 5'10" and can't stand up strait inside it. I can reach out and touch both side wall at the same time. SOF troop carrying capacity is cut by 2/3 and all their toys like boats and ATVs will have to be replaced with new and smaller ones.  I as well have talked to pararescue guys, and they say the rotor wash put out by the twin rotors is so great, that it makes the fast ropes spin about like a cyclone flinging troop off. Plus when landing the engines exhaust sometimes starts ground fires.  Question what happens if the engine nacelles get stuck in the down position how does it land without doing millions upon millions of dollars worth of damage to the rotors, engines, and gear boxes? Give me a new MH-53E its the big 7 bladed 3 engined bastard with a tilted tail rotor and pylon. PAVE it out with the latest IDAS/JTIDS and a new TF/TA RADAR and both the pilots and maintainers would be happy.


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