Murphy's Law: Not A True Widow Maker Yet

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July 16, 2012: The U.S. Marine Corps recently completed the investigation of the crash of one of their MV-22B "Osprey" tilt-rotor aircraft last April. The investigators concluded that the crash occurred (from an altitude of 17 meters/50 feet) because of pilot error. Both pilots survived, as did the black box (but not the two crewmen in the back). The specific error was in turning the aircraft, while hovering, while there was a strong tail wind. MV-22 pilots are taught not to do this but there was not much vegetation outside the aircraft for the pilots to see (and note the presence of a 35 kilometers an hour tailwind). Despite this accident, the MV-22 has had a below above accident rate. Despite that, the MV-22 is difficult to fly. As pilots like to say, it is not a forgiving aircraft. Such aircraft are often described as "widow makers" but the V-22 doesn't have enough accidents to qualify. The marines try to cope by constantly making improvements in the aircraft flight controls and pilot training.

Earlier this year the marines received the first "Block C" version of the MV-22. This version has better weather radar, improved cabin climate control, better anti-missile defenses, and flat screen displays in the cockpit and cabin that show what external cameras see from different positions on the exterior of the aircraft ("improved situational awareness"). All this is important for an aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, then speeds away like a fixed wing aircraft.

Some 160 V-22 "Osprey" aircraft are in service, most with the marines as the MV-22. The other user is SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which uses the slightly different CV-22. Since it entered service five years ago V-22s have flown over 140,000 hours. The 27 ton MV-22B cruises at 445 kilometers an hour and its endurance is about 3.5 hours per sortie. The MV-22B can carry up to 32 troops or nine tons of cargo.

While users of the V-22 are happy with their unique hybrid, the accountants are less pleased. Last year it was revealed that the V-22 readiness (ready for action) rate was consistently less than the 82 percent that the manufacturer had promised. The problem was that, despite being a wonderful feat of engineering that is now capable of serving in a combat zone, the V-22 is very mechanically complex and very expensive, as well as being difficult to keep operational. This is only the latest problem the V-22 has had with costs and reliability.

Since the V-22 entered service the estimated lifetime cost of operating the aircraft has increased 64 percent to $121.5 billion. Although with the major user, the U.S. Marine Corps, MV-22s have an excellent safety and reliability record, they are very expensive (over $116 million each).

 

 


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