U.S. Air Force Lukewarm on Tiltrotor

 - May 6, 2008, 6:20 AM

Even as the design was subjected to a grueling series of tests intended to determine its very future, an additional $1.5 billion in funding was approved last month for procurement of another 20 Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors. The money came as a previously awarded fixed-price-incentive-fee, cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, as the Pentagon calls it, a deal intended to result in another nine MV-22 Ospreys in both the current and following fiscal years. Two more combat search-and-rescue-configured CV-22 Ospreys will go to the U.S. Air Force for further evaluation and testing. The 20 new Ospreys will be delivered beginning in September 2004 and October 2005. Meanwhile, the tiltrotor got low marks from Air Force Secretary James Roche last month following tests that reportedly left Air Force pilots doubtful of its utility as a rescue aircraft. Describing the MV-22, Roche said it was a “very, very complicated aircraft,” while describing his own point of view on the Osprey as “agnostic.”

“We can see how our Air Force special forces could benefit from an aircraft that could do what the V-22 does, traveling the speed that it does,” Roche said in a Pentagon interview. “Combat search-and-rescue is another question.” Critics of the basic Osprey design have long decried the fact that the raw engine exhaust blasts downward from the Osprey’s main rotor system to a point directly underneath the aircraft, where rescue workers and those being rescued would be standing. The other Osprey mission, placing special forces troops on station quickly and easily, would probably be well within the Osprey’s capabilities, Roche said.