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The V-22 Osprey - A Flying Shame
September 27, 2007 3:01 PM   Subscribe

The V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft is going to combat. The aircraft cannot autorotate to safe landing if it loses power in helicopter mode, and has only a rearward facing gun. previously
posted by exogenous (55 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Presumably, the rearward-facing gun is part of the exit strategy.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:08 PM on September 27, 2007 [7 favorites]


Good post. I live near an AFB that has a contingent of these deathtraps, and I'm terrified that one of them is going to drop like a stone into my back yard someday.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:14 PM on September 27, 2007


The aircraft cannot autorotate to safe landing if it loses power in helicopter mode

Did you see the stubby wings on that thing? It can't glide to a landing, either. Unsafe in any mode.
posted by IronLizard at 3:16 PM on September 27, 2007


I can't wait to hear the nicknames the Marines on the ground invent for that freak of an aircraft.
posted by Nahum Tate at 3:19 PM on September 27, 2007


It's not really a combat vehicle though. It's for carrying troops and materials. In that role it carries more, flies faster, and has greater range than the 'copters that it is replacing (CH-46E, CH-53A/D, MH-53J and MH-60G). They aren't that heavily armed either.
posted by BeerFilter at 3:20 PM on September 27, 2007


FAS site on the osprey, with many extra links at the bottom of the article. Global security has some different, things to say about the aircraft, including expected missions and threats to those missions.
posted by garlic at 3:23 PM on September 27, 2007


When I worked in defcon, this thing was widely regarded as a depressing and embarassing project to work on.
posted by phrontist at 3:24 PM on September 27, 2007


Yeah, but Sea Knights aren't notorious for crashing all the damn time, either.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:24 PM on September 27, 2007


You go to war with the hybrid fixed-wing/helicopter contraptions you have, not the hybrid fixed-wing/helicopter contraptions you want.
posted by geoff. at 3:25 PM on September 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


(and, iirc, some engineers thought it could be made to auto rotate)
posted by phrontist at 3:25 PM on September 27, 2007


It's not really a combat vehicle though. It's for carrying troops and materials.

I've heard it proposed as a method for taking troops directly into combat, which IMHO is a combat role, if not a shooting one.

Actually in the light of that a rear facing gun makes the most sense, since that's where the hatch the troops emerge from is.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on September 27, 2007


If it can't back up and it kills our soldiers, I hope they nickname it the Flying Rumsfeld.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:31 PM on September 27, 2007 [9 favorites]


So it's a Spathi Eluder.
posted by shmegegge at 3:33 PM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell from this, typical chinooks did not have guns larger than 7.62mm.
posted by garlic at 3:37 PM on September 27, 2007


Such a cool idea, though...
posted by mr_roboto at 3:45 PM on September 27, 2007


It certainly looks cool in video games.
posted by Artw at 3:48 PM on September 27, 2007


It's a fantastic unit in Dai Senryaku VII.
posted by pompomtom at 3:54 PM on September 27, 2007


It's radical new technology, of course it's going to have teething problems. Last I read a couple of months ago, they had all been ironed out, and it carries more further and faster than anything equivalent. And its safety will be proven the hard way, but there's no reason to believe it is unsafe.

It really doesn't need to be heavily armed for its intended role.
posted by wilful at 3:56 PM on September 27, 2007


Good grief, I remember when I lived in Dallas in the late 1980s hearing about the controversy over the V-22 on TV. I can't believe that's exactly 20 years later and this thing is just now making it into service. This needs to be under "white elephant" in Wikipedia.
posted by rolypolyman at 4:01 PM on September 27, 2007


I think the general dislike for this aircraft stems from the problems that it has had in the past (several of which lead to the death of all aboard.)

Supposedly, these issues have been corrected, but it won't make any difference in the perception. Because of the problems with early models of the M16 in Vietnam, the reputation of the gun was tarnished, and it took decades for people to realize that it wasn't a complete piece of junk.

This thing could do everything it is supposed to do and more and it will still take years for people to feel safe flying in one.
posted by quin at 4:06 PM on September 27, 2007


wilful: "It's radical new technology, of course it's going to have teething problems..."

Since when does 25 years old = radical and new?
posted by octothorpe at 4:07 PM on September 27, 2007


After 20 years in development you'd think they would have leapfrogged the Osprey and just gone straight to jetpacks.
posted by PenDevil at 4:08 PM on September 27, 2007


Flying the thing is plenty dangerous all by itself - it's not as if getting shot at while flying in it is going to be that much worse.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:17 PM on September 27, 2007


Actually octothorpe, in the aircraft industry 25 years is nothing. The F22 Raptor (Also know as the Advanced Tactical Fighter and currently considered pretty cutting edge) was first conceptualized in 1981, prototyped between 1986 and 1991, and finally built and delivered in 2003.
posted by quin at 4:20 PM on September 27, 2007


I remember attending a Bell presentation as an aeronautic engineering graduate student back in...uh...around 1994. The Bell guy was enthusing about how a civilian version of the V-22 was going to revolutionise the rotorcraft market with much lower costs than competing helicopters.

Trouble was, in the same symposium there had just been another presentation by a civilian helicopter user where he had explained how insurance makes up a very large chunk of their operating costs. I pointed that out to the Bell guy, wondering how they were going to convince the insurance companies that a civilian V-22 would be a lower risk that conventional choppers. He answered that they were "working on it".

I guess they must be still working on it...
posted by Skeptic at 4:20 PM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


While it's a wonderful looking aircraft, and I am sure the "wrist" section between wing and turbo-crop motor is armoured, I would not want to be transitioning to hover mode in that thing in a firefight, with a gun-mounted utility or RPG taking shots at chewing one of those stubby little wings off.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 4:22 PM on September 27, 2007


Because of the problems with early models of the M16 in Vietnam, the reputation of the gun was tarnished, and it took decades for people to realize that it wasn't a complete piece of junk.

The current M4/M16 isn't a complete piece of junk?

That'll be news to the folks at NPR who recently did a hit piece on the rifle, quoting all sorts of masculine types who were let down at rather inconvenient times.

That'll be news to the guy who designed the M16 and has admitted publically that it's got problems, and whose proposed design improvements have been rejected by military establishment.

That'll be news to Heckler & Koch, who recently designed an all new receiver section for the M4/M16 weapon systems that eliminates all reliability problems and maintains compatibility with the barrels, stocks, sights, auxiliary munitions launchers and myriad of other accessories.

Just coz expectations have been lowered and work-arounds have been devised doesn't mean that, fundamentally, the M4/M16 is still a piece of junk. Not quite as bad as the SA80, but still a piece of shit.
posted by randomstriker at 4:36 PM on September 27, 2007


Proposed European version of V-22.
posted by Brian B. at 5:05 PM on September 27, 2007


Actually randomstriker, the H&K M416 is near and dear to my heart.

But I think you'll find if you look at the facts, that many of the 'problems' that were associated with the early M16 were based around the fact that they were issuing it to soldiers and telling them nonsense like, it never needed to be cleaned, and other crap like that. There was a bunch of hype, and the gun, unsurprisingly, didn't live up to it.

The modern variants like the M4 have many improvements that make it a much more capable weapon, though not so much that H&K couldn't find ways to make it better. To be fair though, their engineering department is made up of a bunch of brilliant people.
posted by quin at 5:08 PM on September 27, 2007


It can't glide to a landing, either.
FWIW the Time article says if "a V‑22 loses power while flying like an airplane, it should be able to glide to a rough but survivable belly-flop landing." Sounds believable to me, though I bet the glide ratio is horrendous.
posted by exogenous at 5:29 PM on September 27, 2007


Something I've always wondered about this thing: where does the pilot sit? Traditionally, airplane pilots sit on the left and helicopter pilots sit on the right. Looking at the cockpit, it seems like the pilot would sit right, since that's where the collective is. Copilot's going to have a hell of a time controlling that thing if the pilot gets incapacitated, though.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:01 PM on September 27, 2007


(Also, it's ugly as sin. Reminds me of this monstrosity.)
posted by backseatpilot at 6:03 PM on September 27, 2007


Maybe the collective can swing over to the left, like the old Bonanza swing-over yoke.
posted by tss at 6:31 PM on September 27, 2007


It's a troubled aircraft program in peacetime, under ideal conditions. Taking it to war is inviting trouble.

The cynic in me thinks: Maybe they're taking it into combat to showcase its many weaknesses, thus justifying a new, exciting, less troubled program, and a shot in the arm to the MI Complex.

Oh, and the wasted $. Our $. And lives. Our lives.

I sure hope it's just confidence in the program that's at the root of this decision.
posted by SaintCynr at 6:33 PM on September 27, 2007


Oh lord politics and war profiteering all bundled into one deathtrap.

Pity the volunteers who get stuck on that coffin.
posted by Max Power at 6:41 PM on September 27, 2007


Sometimes it goes boom.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:13 PM on September 27, 2007


"While it's a wonderful looking aircraft, and I am sure the "wrist" section between wing and turbo-crop motor is armoured, I would not want to be transitioning to hover mode in that thing in a firefight, with a gun-mounted utility or RPG taking shots at chewing one of those stubby little wings off."

That's an argument you can make about helicopters too, though, all that weight essentially hanging from a single metal pole.

I do have a fondness for this aircraft, ever since the days of LHX attack chopper.
posted by tomble at 7:18 PM on September 27, 2007


True, tombie. My thoughts were, if somehow the single rotor of a standard helicopter comes off, you are dropping down and forwards, in most cases... from less than 20 ft or so, probably survivable, depending on speed. And if the rotor is non-functioning but still attached, the copter auto-rotates... not a pleasant time, but you can survive from significantly higher up. Finally, on a helicopter, in most cases, the rotor is a lot closer to the body of the craft - there's no obvious weak spot, as there is with the Osprey.

The Osprey doesn't auto-rotate, as the article mentions. If you take out one rotor, the other, presumably, still functions... meaning all of a sudden the the vehicle is trying to go in whatever direction the surviving rotor is pointing. (I don't see the possibility of flying it on just one rotor, as you can with some planes... the horizontal base is just too short, but just long enough to set up some severe torque).
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:04 PM on September 27, 2007


The Osprey was a real engineering long-shot. The fact that it's being deployed in combat is shameful to say the least...

If you want a hybrid helicopter/plane, then my money would be on the X-Wing (yes, I know it has issues too; but damn if it doesn't look coool).
posted by costas at 8:18 PM on September 27, 2007


Why the V-22 Osprey is Unsafe.
posted by Brian B. at 8:26 PM on September 27, 2007


I used to work in military acquisition, and the Osprey is a textbook example of how not to do acquisition. In the Air Force circles where I worked it was indeed the subject of much derision, and deservedly so.

A few years back I thought the project was finally going to piddle out and die, but of course 9/11/Iraq/Terrorism changed everything.
posted by chlorus at 8:31 PM on September 27, 2007


Everybody in the world knows that the V-22 is a silly-looking deathtrap. The damn thing has this unfortunate tendency to tear itself apart at the slightest opportunity. Yeah, that'll go over really well when the bullets start flying.

Wanna know why it really got the green light?


~20 billion dollars to Texas-based defense contractors, and about 90 million dollars per unit with roughly 500 units already ordered.

The V-22, like so many other defense projects, is really nothing but a complex money-laundering device. Its a way to transfer hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of politically connected corporations and their executives.

Its funny: we pass resolutions in the UN against "corrupt kleptocracies" while Uncle Sam is the biggest, sickest most corrupt kleptomaniac on Earth.
posted by Avenger at 9:12 PM on September 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


Jesus, Schoolgirl Report, that video makes my heart skip a beat.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:06 PM on September 27, 2007


I do have a fondness for this aircraft, ever since the days of LHX attack chopper.

Me too.

And just to put it on the record, I was a damn good Osprey Pilot.
posted by mattoxic at 11:03 PM on September 27, 2007


I have experience of attacking these things, it took about 5-6 hits with an RPG to take them down, they were surprisingly tough. Oh hang on, that was Half-Life.
posted by hnnrs at 2:22 AM on September 28, 2007


I can't wait to hear the nicknames the Marines on the ground invent for that freak of an aircraft.

Back in the 1970s, when the USMC was evaluating the V/STOL Harrier tactical aircraft for adoption in its air wings, there were some spectacular crashes as Marine aviators struggled to learn the intricacies of transitioning between level and vertical flight. So eventually there was a nasty joke going around MCAS Cherry Point:

Little boy walking down the street with his hand in his mom's, and suddenly they hear a noise and look up -- it's a Harrier flying over.

Boy: "Oh, Mommy, look! It's a Harrier!"
Mom: "Quick, Johnny! Make a wish!"
posted by pax digita at 3:21 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


You guys should stick with proven technology!
posted by fingerbang at 7:17 AM on September 28, 2007


This is an interesting section out of garlic's FAS link:

In 1986 the cost of a single V-22 was estimated at $24 million, with 923 aircraft to be built. In 1989 the Bush administration cancelled the project, at which time the unit cost was estimated at $35 million, with 602 aircraft. The V-22 question caused friction between Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney and Congress throughout his tenure. DoD spent some of the money Congress appropriated to develop the aircraft, but congressional sources accused Cheney, who continued to oppose the Osprey, of violating the law by not moving ahead as Congress had directed. Cheney argued that building and testing the prototype Osprey would cost more than the amount appropriated. In the spring of 1992 several congressional supporters of the V-22 threatened to take Cheney to court over the issue. A little later, in the face of suggestions from congressional Republicans that Cheney's opposition to the Osprey was hurting President Bush's reelection campaign, especially in Texas and Pennsylvania where the aircraft would be built, Cheney relented and suggested spending $1.5 billion in fiscal years 1992 and 1993 to develop it. He made clear that he personally still opposed the Osprey and favored a less costly alternative.

The program was revived by the incoming Clinton administration, and current plans call for building 458 Ospreys for $37.3 billion, or more than $80 million apiece, with the Marines receiving 360 Ospreys, the Navy 48 and the Air Force 50. The first prototype flew in 1989. As of early 2000 three test aircraft had crashed: no one was killed in the 1991 crash, an accident in 1992 killed seven men, and the third in April 2000 killed 19 Marines.

posted by Bugg at 9:53 AM on September 28, 2007


While we're on the subject, what is the Raptor FOR exactly? I'm really uncelar as to the point of it, except it loosk real nice and directs lots of money to defence contractors.
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on September 28, 2007


I would guess that the F-22 is supposed to be an air superiority fighter that relies on stealth. Basically a tool to hold any given airspace.

except it loosk real nice and directs lots of money to defence contractors.


It does these things as well.
posted by quin at 11:36 AM on September 28, 2007


Air superiority to who?
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2007


Air superiority over Third World gomers flying semi-obsolescent 16s. Or worse, ancient F-5s. Or anything in the Soviet/Chinese inventories ('cept maybe the really late-model MiGs and Sukhoi designs).
posted by pax digita at 11:52 AM on September 28, 2007



I've read it alleged that there was some back-of-an-envelope-type artist's concept sketches of a gunship version, but for various reasons this would be a fairly problematic platform for the kinds of missions the AH-1, AH-64 and OA-10 all can perform much better.

Was any serious thought ever given during the V-22's design phase to adding underwing hardpoints (for pylons from which could hang fuel stores or weapons)? Those big rotor arcs don't give you much clearance for forward-firing missiles or rockets, and any weight and volume a gun/sensor mount and ammunition would take up would have to be centered pretty much amidships or risk screwing up the aircraft's center of gravity -- which is a bad thing to be messing with in a tilt-rotor design.

The big cargo/troop bay sort of suggests that an armed, armored version might do the stuff a Mil-24 can, but I know which one I'd rather ride into a small-arms threat.

And the ultimate "Yeah, but would YOU ride in one?" test is, would the Marine Corps consider replacing the VH-3Ds with these?
posted by pax digita at 12:04 PM on September 28, 2007


While we're on the subject, what is the Raptor FOR exactly?

Shooting down Su-37s without sweating.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:15 PM on September 28, 2007


Pax Digita's comment about Harriers is pretty apt; besides the Vertical/Short Take Off/Landing (VSTOL) capability that the two share, the original Harrier was ground-breaking technology (yeah, I know, P1127 and Kestrel came first) and operational losses were high as the various services flying the aircraft learned the hard way how to handle the aircraft in flight, particularly in the hover.

The US Marine Corps had particular problems with their aircraft after it was decided that, since the Harrier could hover, they needed Helicopter pilots to fly. Unfortunately, a lot of US Marine helicopter pilots had washed out of fast-jet training and then found themselves in incredibly difficult aircraft to fly. No disrespect intended, but most people simply aren't capable of flying a fast combat jet, and the Harrier is very difficult to fly, and very, very difficult to operate in the Hover.

That said, the Harrier has been developed further and further, and is now an incredibly successful and flexible aircraft in service with numerous countries. A vast quantity of Harrier knowledge has been carried forward into it's successor, the F-35B. Some technological steps are big, difficult and expensive - but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be taken.

By the way, as far as Autorotating is concerned - helicopters still need energy to successfully autorotate to the ground, either in the form of potential energy (height) or kinetic energy (forward speed). I'd like to see the Sea Knight autorotation envelope, I'll bet it's not too dissimilar from the Osprey's in the hover at low altitude - i.e. it doesn't.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2007


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