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Richard Whittle, author of the newly published The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey, told Danger Room, “No one’s ever claimed the Osprey was invulnerable, and since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the U.S. has lost more than 300 rotorcraft there and in Iraq from various causes in crashes that killed nearly 500 people.” But, Whittle added: “If the cause was aerodynamic — if this Osprey lost its engines for some reason and was trying to autorotate to a landing, meaning float down on the cushion of lift even unpowered rotors can provide — then the critics who warned that this was a fatal weakness in the Osprey are going to be able to say ‘I told you so.”
His staff finally admitted that five fairly new MV-22s had been scrapped, even though no mishap reports were ever filed. Others damaged by mishaps were parked and reclassified as "Ground Instruction Aircraft", like the two pictured. The "Block A" V-22s used by the pilot training squadron are less than 8 years old, yet they are in such bad shape that a program to rebuild them has begun. Current production is a year behind schedule, with the last of FY2008 funded aircraft now being delivered.
Since 1983, when the government handed Bell Helicopters its first contract for a transport that could take off and land like a helicopter but fly like an airplane, the Osprey has cost taxpayers $54 billion, killed 30 people, been grounded several times, endured horrible publicity and survived the wrath of Dick Cheney. Yet it's still around.
Whittle had covered the aircraft's development for 20 years. "Flying in the Osprey was like nothing else," he writes. "Its power and speed and novelty made the ride exhilarating." For $54 billion, I would hope so.
One of the lessons of Whittle's book is that no one misses a chance to swim in the giant pool of money and power that is the nation's capital, where the defense industry is the biggest fish of all.
As long as Marines in combat are happy with the Osprey, we might as well be happy too. Of course, even if the Marines weren't happy, something tells me the dream machine would still find a way to fly.