The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey team is seeking a unit-cost reduction of more than $10 million as well as weight savings as the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) continues to scrutinise the programme. Meanwhile, flight testing has started to accelerate with the return to flight of the first development US Air Force CV-22 version.

Bell Boeing V-22 programme director Mike Tkach says the two companies are targeting a reduction in fly-away unit cost from $68.4 million to $58 million by 2008-09.

He adds that this is dependent on a number of factors, including the USAF and US Marine Corps committing to full rate production of an economical number of aircraft. The USMC requires 360MV-22Bs and the USAF 50 CV-22Bs. Prior to the programme's grounding in late 2000, Bell Boeing had planned a 30-a-year production rate.

A decision on accelerating from the current minimal sustainable output of 11 V-22s a year to full rate is not expected before 2005, after the completion of operational evaluation in late 2004.

This is also dependent on the Department of Defense convincing the US Congress that the programme's problems have been fixed. OSD has made it clear that cost, and not just safety and reliability, will be factors in deciding the V-22's fate.

Cost-cutting initiatives include introducing lean manufacturing and a new production facility at Boeing's Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, plant, which produces the fuselage, drawing on similar efforts implemented for the C-17 and F/A-18E/F.

It is looking at new skin materials, which would also reduce weight. Other work includes lightweight and more durable paint that will trim 27kg (60lb) and reduce the infrared signature.

A potentially large impact on cost and weight will be a decision on whether to redesign the nacelle as a clamshell for improved maintenance access. Alternatives are to add access panels and rely more on Bore scope inspections. The decision hinges on the changes made to the current Block A configuration and improving reliability, says V-22 programme manager Col Dan Schultz.

The nacelle is one of several planned Block B items due to be decided by December in a planned critical design review. Other items will include an electric rescue hoist, an interim gun and a telescopic in-flight refuelling probe.

Source: Flight International