After a troubled history, the V-22 Osprey — half-helicopter, half-plane — has been ferrying troops and equipment across Iraq for just over a year without a major incident.
By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER, Associated Press Writer
A V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft taxies after a mission at Asad air base in western Iraqi desert Monday, Oct. 13, 2008. With its revolutionary design and to date near perfect record in Iraq, the V-22 Osprey looks very much the part of America’s next great advance in military aviation.(AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
Critics say the Osprey, which was designed to replace transport helicopters, lacks firepower for defense in heavy combat.
But pilots say the Osprey makes up for that in speed, which one of them says can take the plane “like a bat out of hell” to altitudes safe from small-arms fire.
Since arriving at this sprawling desert base in western Iraq, a dozen Ospreys have been ferrying troops and equipment at forward operating bases. One even took around Barack Obama during his tour of Iraq earlier this year.
But on only a handful of occasions has the aircraft faced any serious enemy fire.
Military officials say this is partly a result of the changing nature of the war in Iraq as well as the advantages the high-flying Osprey has over the Vietnam-era Sea Knight helicopters they will eventually replace. The Osprey also avoids day flights into Baghdad or other tasks that entail excessive risk.
“It’s not the same World War II tactics that we used to deal with, or even Vietnam tactics,” said Maj. Paul Kopacz, who led two Ospreys on a recent mission to Fallujah. “We have not been battle-tested because we aren’t going guns blazing into hot zones. Our nation is now too sensitive to the loss of soldiers to let that happen.”
The military calls the Osprey a “tilt-rotor” aircraft, because it takes off with its rotors set vertically like a helicopter and glides in the air with them thrust forward as on an airplane. The shift requires only a pull of the lever by the pilot.
The aircraft, which took over two decades to develop, has been plagued by a series of technical failures and deadly crashes — including a pair in quick succession in 2000 that killed 23 Marines and nearly scuttled the entire project.
Some skeptics have attacked the design of the plane because they feel it is too slow in descent, lacks maneuverability, kicks up too much dust and should have been delayed until designers mastered the idea of “autorotation” — which would keep the rotors spinning even if both engines are taken out.
Another issue has been the lack of firepower on the Osprey, which does not include a mounted gun on the front as once envisaged — although the Marines have placed a machine gun at the rear.