Friday, June 08, 2007

Where the Marines lead: The Air Force follows!

The head of US Air Force Special Operations Command gave a strong endorsement for the special operations variant of the V-22 Osprey, saying it's as safe to fly as a commercial airliner.

Calling the CV-22 "a wonderful airplane," Lt. Gen. Mike Wooley said his command is confident the hybrid aircraft has emerged from its troubled history of crashes and fatalities and will deliver a "transformational leap" to commandos for their covert missions.

"The thing that we're excited about that the airplane brings to the fight is speed and range," Wooley said in Washington last month. "When you really get down to it, that's what the Air Force does: bring speed and range to the fight."

Controversy swirled around the Osprey program for years after two crashes in 2000 killed 23 Marines. The deadly incidents grounded the transport and sent the program back to the drawing board, forcing the Air Force and Navy - which is buying the Osprey to replace a portion of its search and rescue helicopter fleet - to mute their enthusiasm for the new transport.

But citing the Air Force's checkered history converting from a prop-driven aircraft fleet to jets, Wooley brushed aside the Osprey's past problems, saying the Navy and Marine Corps had worked out the kinks over the past several years of re-engineering.

"It's no different from jumping on a 777, an AC-130 or a CV-22 - something could slip, break or come loose at any time," he added. "But that's the aviation business."

The Marine Corps - which is purchasing the MV-22 to replace its fleet of Vietnam-era CH-46 Sea Knight transports - announced April 16 it planned to deploy the first operational Osprey squadron to Iraq in September. The announcement surprised critics of the program who speculated the Corps would send the Osprey on a lower-profile assignment.

Air Force spec ops pilots should get their first operational CV-22s by 2009, filling out the 50 aircraft buy in 2018. But that's not soon enough for Wooley who said the delay is "my biggest concern with that airplane." The AFSOC CV-22 will employ four crewmembers, adding a flight engineer to the mix. The Corps uses a three-man crew during its operations.

"Our machines are pretty dang complicated," Wooley admitted. "But they're pretty dang complicated because we designed them." He said the complexity of the flight systems needed for spec ops missions demanded the extra manpower "because there's a lot going on in the cockpit" and was not an indication that the Osprey was any more difficult to fly than other conventional transports.

The AFSOC version of the Osprey may also differ from the Corps' MV-22 by incorporating a chin-mounted gun - a modification the Air Force requested. The Corps will use a .50 cal machine gun mounted on the Osprey's loading ramp for fire suppression in a hot landing zone.

Wooley will send an Air Force team with the Marine squadron heading to Iraq this fall to learn what he can from the first deployment in hopes of making AFSOC's eventual stint in the combat zone error-free.

"We want to be there to learn those lessons the same time the Marines learn theirs."



Anonymous said...

Damn! Wrong one!

Anonymous said...

... Calling the CV-22 "a wonderful airplane," Lt. Gen. Mike Wooley ...

A fellow shareholder, perhaps?