Bell says V-22 incident is 'nonevent'

 - August 11, 2008, 9:44 AM
The history of the Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey military tiltrotor is that of the rankest of Hollywood cliffhangers. Program cancellation, program restarts, tragic crashes, technical flaws, mistakes in manufacturing and even high-level cover-ups of program problems and resultant scandals have drawn out the remarkable aircraft’s development program well past its initial goals (when first unveiled in 1988, plans called for the first operational Osprey squadrons to have been in service for two years by now).

Now nearing the end of an almost two-year-long additional flight-test and approval program, and closing in on production approval, a V-22 participating on a training flight at the U.S. Marine base in Quantico, Va., was forced to make an emergency landing August 4 when one of its three hydraulic systems failed. No one was hurt and there was no subsequent damage reported. A Bell spokesman dismissed the incident as a “a nonevent, a nonstory,” but it wasn’t seen that way by some senior Pentagon officials, who pressed for more answers. Examination revealed the hydraulic line had recently been serviced without replacement of a required anti-
vibration clamp.

While Bell pointed out that this made the flaw a “human-factors error and not a design problem,” critics of the V-22 said that the distinction was lost on them and called for further flight test. While all this was going on, oversight of the Osprey program went from USMC Col. Dan Schultz to USAF Col. Craig Olson. Olson, who has been the deputy program manager for the last year-and-a-half, is the first Air Force officer to be assigned as Osprey program manager, a reflection of that service’s renewed interest in the V-22 as a combat search-and-rescue aircraft.

While the turnover was cited at first as evidence of turmoil within the program, the Pentagon was quick to point out that Olson’s promotion had been scheduled some months before.