Pentagon-ordered panel says Osprey can continue – but not ready for use |

Pentagon-ordered panel says Osprey can continue – but not ready for use


ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) – A Pentagon-appointed panel recommended the Marine Corps’ troubled V-22 Osprey program continue but with ”bare minimum” production because of serious concerns about the aircraft’s safety and design.

The panel agreed Wednesday that the Osprey was the best aircraft suited for Marine missions but plans to advise the Pentagon the aircraft needs various repairs and redesign work before it can return to flight.

”The V-22 is probably the best answer available,” panel member Norman Augustine said. ”It’s not ready today, though, for operational use – not close to it.”

The panel will brief Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on the recommendations, which came after the second of two public hearings, on Tuesday.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James L. Jones, said he shared the concerns expressed by the panel and that the service will closely examine the recommendations.

”Although there are many issues to be resolved, I am encouraged by the panel’s recommendation to pursue further development and fielding of the V-22,” Jones said in a statement. ”This is a capability our nation needs to meet the operational requirements of the 21st century.”

The Osprey has the unique ability to take off like a helicopter, rotate its propellers 90 degrees and fly like an airplane. The Marine Corps hopes to use the Ospreys to replace an aging fleet of helicopters.

Although original plans called for the production of more than 450 Osprey, only eight have been built so far – and all were grounded after a Dec. 11 crash in North Carolina that killed four Marines. The accident was one of two fatal crashes that put the fate of the aircraft program in jeopardy. The other crash killed 19 Marines on April 8, 2000, during a training exercise outside Tucson, Ariz.

The panel also considered whether to cancel the Osprey program and start from scratch but decided the option would be too expensive.

”This airplane can do the job, and can be made to work,” said panel chairman John Dailey, a retired Marine general.

But he agreed with Augustine that production should be dramatically slashed while changes are made to the Osprey’s design, training and safety.

Among the problems cited were a software glitch in the aircraft’s computer software and a need to redesign inside the plane’s engine casing, where mechanics have found hydraulic problems. The plane also most go through more rigorous testing before it can be considered for day-to-day use.

”By any standard, I would describe this as a troubled program,” Augustine said. ”Four crashes and 23 lives lost. That’s a troubled program.”

The panel plans to publish its final report on the Web on April 30, a day before the Senate and House Armed Services committees are scheduled to hold hearings on the findings.

At a separate news conference, the wives of several Marines killed in Osprey crashes called on the government to bar the aircraft from making any flights until all safety problems are addressed. They said they were ”reasonably satisfied” with the panel’s recommendation.

Connie Gruber said the panel’s findings have exonerated the crewmen from blame.

”From what we heard today, how could their names not be cleared?” she said. Gruber also urged Congress to pay heed to the panel’s recommendations and stay focused ”without regard to cost or politics.”

The Osprey is built by Textron’s Bell Helicopters unit and Boeing Co. An attorney representing 14 of the victims’ families said he planned to file a lawsuit, charging the contractors failed to admit problems it found with the aircraft and relay them to the Marines.

The Council for a Livable World, a frequent critic of the Osprey and other Pentagon programs, said the Osprey program should be killed.

”The Osprey’s numerous technical problems show that nothing short of a complete redesign of the aircraft, which is prohibitively expensive, will fix these problems,” said John Isaacs, the organization’s president.

Vice President Dick Cheney tried to cancel the Osprey program while he was defense secretary during the administration of President Bush’s father, but Congress overturned his decision.

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