The drive to find international customers for the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor continues, prompting four U.S. Marine Corps MV-22s to make a transatlantic trip to fly displays and demonstrations here at Farnborough and at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairford last weekend. Aircraft for export could easily be slotted into the expected second American multi-year buy, Col. Greg Masiello, joint V-22 program manager, U.S. Naval Air Systems command, said here at the Farnborough International airshow yesterday. He did not identify potential customers, but serious interest from Canada, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been reported.
Masiello sought to offset the Osprey’s high sticker price by describing its multi-mission capabilities and superior performance. “This is an airplane–not a helicopter–that can fly at 282 knots as well as hover. Affordability is relative. U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command [AFSOC] is replacing a fleet of over 100 various aircraft with 50 Ospreys,” he said.
The V-22 has done humanitarian relief, search and rescue, cargo delivery to a variety of warships, and VIP transport. AFSOC “is doing a lot of behind-the-scenes; direct-action, time-sensitive target missions,” with the five aircraft that it deployed operationally in May 2011, Masiello added.
He described a notable long-range medevac mission test flown on June 6. This was a nonstop 11.5-hour roundtrip from Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico with the aid of in-flight refueling. The CV-22 flew to a position off the U.S. East Coast, where the nuclear submarine U.S.S. Wyoming surfaced as if to offload a seriously ill sailor. Arriving overhead exactly on time, the CV-22 hovered and lowered a hoist for the evacuation.
Fourteen V-22s are slated to replace the CH-46s that fly support missions for HMX-1, the U.S. presidential transport squadrons. Bell Boeing officials have suggested that the tilt-rotor could also replace the VH-3s used to transport the U.S. President himself. They are also pitching the V-22 as a replacement for the U.S. Navy’s C-2 Greyhound carrier on board delivery (COD) aircraft. Ospreys could deliver direct to smaller ships.
Other future applications could include aerial and ground refueling of other aircraft, and an ISR/C2 version. Both of these would use roll-on, roll-off palletized mission kits. Bell Boeing and Thales UK studied a version that could deploy an AEW and ISR radar in similar articulating fashion to the UK’s existing Sea King surveillance helicopters, as their replacement. “But the UK indicated their preference for a solution based on the EH.101 Merlin helicopter, even though we offered six times the coverage,” a Bell Boeing official told AIN recently.
Masiello reported that the U.S. Marine Corps still intends to buy 350 MV-22s, and AFSOC 50 CV-22s. The U.S. Navy wants 48. A five-year performance-based logistics contract is being negotiated.
“The cost per flying hour is trending down well,” the Bell Boeing official told AIN. Masiello noted that Ospreys have been continuously deployed on operations since 2007 by the Marine Corps. “We don’t ‘baby’ it…it’s been shot at,” he said.
Despite the recent crash of an AFSOC aircraft on a training mission, Masiello said the Osprey’s poor safety reputation was behind it. “The hydraulics and the wiring were completely redesigned after the early accidents. It’s perfectly safe. I would fly my family in it,” he added.