An untilted history of the tiltrotor



Richard Whittle can take a bow. His new opus, “The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey“, is not a good book. It’s a great book. Despite the strongly worded subtitle, this is no one-sided, axe-grinding, accurate-but-unfair sort of books. It is a meticulously constructed, expertly written, history about one of my favorite subjects. The balance is so even that it’s actually the source of my only quibble. Upon finishing the book, I’m disappointed that I still don’t know what lessons the author thinks we should learn about the V-22 experience. Whittle, a former Dallas Morning News reporter and one of my former neighbors in the Pentagon’s newsroom, leaves these most fundamental conclusions about the 50-year odyssey of building the “Dream Machine” to the judgment of his readers.

Check out the book on Amazon, read the review in The Washington Post, or set the DVR for Whittle’s appearance Tuesday night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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7 Responses to An untilted history of the tiltrotor

  1. jetcal1 26 April, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    I have the book on my wish list and will probably order next month when the budget allows it.
    I wonder if the aircraft was fated to mediocrity by virtue of having to fit on a shipboard elevator when folded. Hopefully that question will be answered in the book.

  2. Stephen Trimble 26 April, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    That part is answered in the book, and is aligned with your thinking. Whittle writes that Bell’s chief engineer threatened to quit after he saw the Marine Corps RFP, which defined a spec that he believed would ruin the tiltrotor concept forever. The engineer was very nearly right, wasn’t he?

  3. jetcal1 26 April, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    It was the conversation at QUAD A that got me thinking about that.
    Stirling
    SB-2C
    Now add the V-22 to the list of aircraft compromised by an official specification written by people who supposedly know what they are doing.

  4. puppethead 28 April, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    The offical specifications are usually written for a reason (even if it’s to eliminate a genuine competition – KC-X anyone?)…

    Stirling: poor design – the Canberra showed that you could go high enough to need oxygen without looking like a sailplane.

    SB2C: not much point having a carrier-based plane that can’t fit on a carrier. But then still a poor design.

    V-22: not much point having an assault carrier-based plane that can’t fit on an assault carrier. Personally I think most of the problems are due to the lack of design precedents – compare the Harrier I with the Harrier II, where experience with the former allowed the latter to be so much more effective (double the payload/range with only 24% more power, and much improved STO and especially VL handling).

  5. jetcal1 28 April, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    If you must limit the size if the envelope then expect design compromises and flaws.

    Strling/Canberra: Apples to Oranges I wonder what the difference in the power loading was between the two aircraft.

    SB2C…hmmm the Brits operated several aircraft that would not fit on elevators. It’s one thing to operate of the deck and another to be struck below to hangar bay.

    As far as the V-22 is concerned, perhaps if aircraft size had been reduced the rotors could have been proportionally correct instead of compromised.
    I do agree with your point about precedents. Especially when you consider the V-22 has been essentially redesigned over the last 10 years or so. (Too bad the envelope restricted it.)

    The USAF screwed up with the KC-X and it has become politicized. Sorry, that’s the way it is.
    But remember there were supposed to be two tanker competitions. One to replace the KC-135 and the other to replace the KC-10,

  6. puppethead 30 April, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    re: Stirling/Canberra – my point was merely that a stubby wing can go high if you really want it to.

    re: SB2C/British types – granted you can keep all your birds above deck all the time – but not by choice. The MAC (Merchant Aircraft Carrier) crews definitely didn’t maintain their Martlets and Swordfish on deck in wintry Atlantic conditions because it was more efficient than taking them below – and it’s nice to be able to shuffle your types up and down as required.

    re: V-22 – sized to be a direct replacement for the CH-46 (original capacity 25 pax – not current downgraded capacity). Basically 2 complete squads – maybe if they’d aimed for a single reinforced squad (say 17 troops) they migh have made the design job easier.

    re: KC-X – the government’s policy of forced mergers for “greater efficiency” has resulted in only a single domestic (new airframe) option – so if they want a genuine competition, then they have to
    face the possibility of a foreign company winning.

    There were actually supposed to be THREE tanker competitions – KC-X = KC-135E replacement, KC-Y for KC-135Rs, and KC-Z for KC-10s. With KC-X Mk I the USAF seemed to be starting down the single type trail – a one-size-fits-all replacement for all the legacy tankers. Sorta like the one-size-fits-all(most) F-35, H-60, etc, and the one airframer fits all (and the rest can sub-contract to them) situation already mentioned. Seems to be a pattern developing here…

    I always thought that one of the biggest advantages the US military had, and still has, is that it’s big enough that one size doesn’t have to fit all – it’s big enough to have varied fleets that each fulfil their rôles very well, rather than massive single type fleets that perform all the combined rôles in a rather mediocre fashion. They seem to be so keen to throw away this advantage of maximum practicality in favour of the accountants’ wet dream of maximum financial efficiency. Politicised? You bet your sweet patootie it is! Pity the poor grunt with all his beautifully amortised equipment – hope the savings can protect him in his next firefight.

  7. jetcal1 30 April, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    “They seem to be so keen to throw away this advantage of maximum practicality in favour of the accountants’ wet dream of maximum financial efficiency. Politicised? You bet your sweet patootie it is! Pity the poor grunt with all his beautifully amortised equipment – hope the savings can protect him in his next firefight.”

    -Well said!

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