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Osprey Aircraft To Take Off In Iraq

The V-22 Osprey takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter, but then flies like a plane.
by Fanny Carrier
Washington (AFP) April 13, 2007
The US Osprey aircraft is to spread its wings for the first time in Iraq from September despite suffering fatal accidents and serious setbacks during development, officials said Friday. Thanks to its revolutionary design with two tilting sets of rotors mounted on its wings, the V-22 Osprey takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter, but then flies like a plane.

First conceived some 20 years ago, the Osprey has been plagued by numerous setbacks and had several accidents which have claimed about 30 lives.

In 1992, seven people were killed when a prototype model crashed, and in 2000 23 people died in two separate accidents which effectively grounded the project for several years.

But now military commanders say it has overcome difficulties such as faults with the hydraulic system, an aerodynamic imbalance on landing as well as computer problems.

It will be "truly a historic day for your Marine Corps," said the commander of the Marine Corps, General James Conway, referring to the deployment of the aircraft in Iraq.

"The quantum leap in technology that this aircraft will bring to the fight has been a road marked by some setbacks, lots of sacrifices, and the success of these Marines standing before you today."

The Marines are planning to acquire some 360 of the aircraft, which cost more than 70 million dollars each, but which they believe can fly higher, faster and farther than their aging CH-46 helicopters which date from the Vietnam War.

Conway stressed that a squadron of specialized Marines would be deployed in Al-Asad in Iraq from September to fly the aircraft, which can carry up to 24 Marines and their equipment.

"We've gone through a very deliberate process to ensure that operationally, logistically, that the squadron and the aircraft is ready to deploy," added Lieutenant General John Castellaw, deputy commander for aviation.

"It's been through extensive operational testing and evaluation, and it is our fervent feeling that this aircraft is the most capable, survivable aircraft that we carry our most important weapon system in, which is the Marine or rifleman, and that we will successfully introduce this aircraft in combat."

The aircraft, jointly built by Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing, can fly higher than helicopters well out of range of most missiles fired from the ground as well as small arms fire.

"We have is an aircraft that goes twice as fast. It goes three times as far. And it is the most survivable by about six or seven times of what the aircraft it replaces is," said Castellaw, adding it could get "above the threat."

Ten US helicopters -- including two operated by private security firms -- have now come down in Iraq since January 20, most of them to hostile fire.

Castellaw said that from his own experience he had found the Osprey which has a "primary mission is to take Marines into combat" was "powerful and agile."

"I flown the V-22. And I have taken it and used it in a tactical manner, how we would employ it," he said.

The Marine Corps already has 46 of the aircraft which they have been using for training purposes, and from next year they hope that two squadrons a year will be able to move from CH-46 helicopters to the Osprey with the transition to be complete by 2018.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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