The US Navy plans before 16 March to enter operational evaluation (Opeval) of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor for the first time since two crashes experienced during the same phase in 2000 forced it to halt testing.

The Bell Boeing development team says USN acquisition officials on 24 February cleared the programme to enter Opeval, but that the precise start date will be established by US Marine Corps Col Glenn Walters, commanding officer of the VMX-22 test squadron at MCAS New River, North Carolina.

The eight-week evaluation period will start roughly on schedule, despite a delay scare early this year (Flight International, 18-24 January). Programme officials had to scramble to replace defective chrome coating, which was setting off cockpit emergency lights by flaking off a gearbox component and migrating into a lubricant system.

The gearbox component had to be redesigned and replaced in the eight MV-22B Block A aircraft designated for Opeval. Bell Boeing also last month delivered the final Block A aircraft needed for the evaluation to the New River site from Bell's Amarillo final-assembly plant in Texas.

The US Air Force Special Operations development programme for the CV-22 tiltrotor has also received a significant boost with the delivery of the service's third and final test asset to Edwards AFB, California on 26 February.

The aircraft – previously a stored USMC MV-22 – was modified to the CV-22 configuration in a move intended to help the USAF programme claw back a six-month schedule delay inside 18 months. The Pentagon plans to buy a total of 458 V-22s for the US armed services.

Source: Flight International