Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Osprey deploys, but not without incident

A V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in flight

After 25 years, 30 lives and $20 Billion dollars, the controvercial V-22 Osprey has been depolyed to Iraq.

Living down to its reputation, even the short hop from the carrier in the gulf to the base in Iraq was troublesome. A malfunction caused one of the birds to have to set down in Jordan and parts had to be choppered back from Iraq to get it to it's destination.

On takeoff, the malfunction recurred, forcing a second set-down on Jordanian soil. Finally the problem was repaired and the Osprey made it to Asad Air Base in Western Iraq a day late.

The Osprey has a pretty iffy history, and quite frankly, the damned thing would have been scrapped a long freakin' time ago if it wasn't a source of major pork for dozens of congressional districts. (Cheney even tried to kill it when he was Secretary of Defense.)

That it is even deployed is jaw-dropping. How it was deployed is pretty definitive proof that the detractors are likely spot-on in their criticisms.

Imagine! An aircraft that costs $110 million each, and spent twenty-five years in development, deployed with no press release or announcement of any kind, in a day and age when the military needs all the feel-good stories they can muster, the long-awaited deployment is hush-hush and the media is barred from the ThunderChickens (that's the nickname of the Marine squadron that flies the birds) for the next several weeks.

The Osprey's mission will be to transport men and materiel. (In other words, it's a flying bus with a lousy safety record.) It's operation area will be the currently-restive Anbar province.

The Osprey's spotty safety record includes three crashes that killed everyone on board.

Another factor to consider is availability of parts. The thing has been in development a quarter of a century. (How many of the companies that originally supplied parts are now defunct?) This is an aircraft that would break sitting in the hangar in North Carolina - how is it going to fare in desert deployment conditions? Bell-Boeing is thinking the same way. They have squirrelled away $100 million in spare parts over the last year to be prepared for this deployment.

Mechanics have resorted to stripping parts from some to keep others ready to sortie. According to a Marine memo that circulated over the summer in advance of the deployment, Ospreys of the same generation as those deployed to Iraq are ready to fly less than 80% of the time, and had full use of their systems less than 62% of the time.

If you are a person of faith, now would probably be a good time to start petitioning your deity or deities on behalf of the Thunder Chickens.

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