Ward Carroll: V-22 Whistleblower?

With apologies to the entire rap community: If your former flack is talking smack, your program might be really whack.

Ward Carroll is the former public affairs officer for the V-22 development program. He is now editorial proprietor of my old employer Military.com and one of the leading lights of DefenseTech.org.

Here’s what he has to say today about the V-22:

"In the first three years of fleet V-22 operations, the Marines will suffer six Class A flight mishaps with the Osprey. And here’s how:

- Although VMMT-204, the Osprey RAG, is up and running, the pilots training there are relatively senior compared to other RAGs. Eventually true "nuggets" will make their way to the fleet and they will do "nugget" things.

- The test pilots (both active duty and civilian) did amazing work during the High Rate of Descent (HROD) phase of developmental test at NAS Patuxent River back in 2002 and 2003. They validated the V-22′s vortex ring state (VRS) envelope. (DT readers will remember that VRS was what caused an Osprey to crash near Marana, Arizona back in 2000, killing 19 Marines.) Improvements have been made in the vertical speed displays and aural warning systems. But the fact remains that – while there are no "unknown unknowns" about VRS and that there is a buffer between the operational rate of descent limit of 800 feet per minute and where VRS occurs – the rate at which the V-22 develops a high rate of descent is unique to the V-22. Basically, the crew has to hawk the VSI gauge constantly during a descent. A moment’s inattention can result in the VSI getting out of hand. (The test pilots actually had an inadvertant VRS entry during HROD testing because they got distracted for a second.) So imagine junior pilots during high op-tempo periods (deployed) at night, on goggles, and operating with not enough sleep (never happens if you follow NATOPS, right?) Yes, this is a training issue in that crews can be taught to watch the VSI readout on the display, but in spite of the comprehensive understanding Osprey crews have of the phenomenon (thanks to the Developmental Test Team at Pax River), somebody’s going to be tired and distracted (and maybe under fire) and will enter VRS close to the ground. The outcome won’t be good.

- It’s unclear at this point whether or not VMM-263 will self-deploy or embark on an amphib like most USMC assault support aircraft. If they conduct sustained flight ops from an LHA or LHD, again, we will see nuggets do nugget-like things. Somebody will fly into the water while on final approach; somebody will plant one against the deck edge. And I guarantee you these things will happen at night or in bad weather.

- Ospreys will operate as multi-ships, so there’s a high likelihood of a midair. Once again, when it occurs it’ll be at night.

- An Osprey will be lost due to controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).

- An Osprey will have an engine failure (or fire) and be forced into an extended transit to get to somewhere safe to land. During the transit the interconnect drive shaft will fail. (The one true test of the interconnect drive shaft was very early in the program’s history. The mechanism failed grossly.)

- The Osprey has survivability features like self-sealing tanks and composite structures that will allow the airplane to take hits and keep on going. However, one of the other features of a composite fuselage is bullets don’t bounce off, they pass through like a hot knife through butter. The airplane may survive an encounter with small arms fire, but Marines flying in back might not. Another prediction: Just like the Humvee, the Marines will "up-armor" V-22s in time. They didn’t do it to date because that would’ve kept the airplane from attaining its Key Performance Parameters (payload, range, etc.) during OPEVAL.

So that equals six lost aircraft (seven if you believe the midair will result in the loss of both Ospreys).

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