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U.S. Military Grounds Entire V-22 Osprey Fleet Amid Lingering Safety Concerns

by Anna

In response to ongoing safety concerns and a recent fatal crash off the coast of Japan, the U.S. military has taken the unprecedented step of grounding its entire fleet of V-22 Ospreys. Despite being hailed as a “game-changing assault support platform,” the Osprey’s unique tiltrotor design has been plagued by mechanical issues throughout its short history.

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The Osprey, capable of taking off and landing like a helicopter while tilting its propellers horizontally for airplane-like flight, has been a critical asset for the U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force Special Operations Command, and the Navy. However, a preliminary investigation into the recent crash, which claimed the lives of eight Air Force Special Operations Command service members, suggests a materiel failure rather than crew error.

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This recent incident is not isolated, as the Osprey program has faced persistent questions about a mechanical problem with the clutch that has troubled it for over a decade. One major concern involves the clutch’s propensity to wear out faster than anticipated, leading to instances of hard clutch engagement (HCE). HCE events create power spikes that can result in uncontrolled rolls or slides, posing a serious threat to the aircraft and its crew.

The grounding follows a history of incidents, with over 50 troops losing their lives during testing and training flights over the program’s lifespan. In July, the Marine Corps attributed one of the fatal crashes to the fleet-wide issue of HCE, acknowledging the long-standing problem without a definitive fix.

The Osprey’s safety record has prompted skepticism from experts, including Rex Rivolo, a retired Air Force pilot and former Pentagon analyst, who previously expressed concerns about the aircraft’s safety. Rivolo commended the decision to ground the fleet, emphasizing the necessity given the gravity of the situation.

Notably, the Japanese government, the only international partner operating the Osprey, had already grounded its fleet after the November 29 crash.

In addition to the clutch-related challenges, a whistleblower lawsuit involving Boeing, one of the Osprey’s manufacturers, raised questions about the uniform molecular bonding of composite parts. The lawsuit alleged that Boeing falsified records certifying adherence to Pentagon standards, affecting over 80 Ospreys delivered between 2007 and 2018.

While the investigation into the recent crash continues, the V-22 Joint Program Office, responsible for the aircraft’s development, highlighted progress in identifying the cause of HCE. The joint government and industry team are exploring a leading theory involving partial engagement of clutches installed for an extended period, although a definitive root cause is yet to be determined.

As the military works to address these safety concerns, the grounding of the Osprey fleet raises questions about its impact on operations, training, and readiness. With ongoing investigations and the need for improvements in flight control system software and drivetrain component material strength, the Osprey’s future remains uncertain, and the military faces the challenge of ensuring the safety and reliability of this critical aircraft.

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