DT friend and Osprey investigative reporter for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram Bob Cox sent me an alarming note today. Turns out a V-22 at New River caught fire in the nacelle a month ago and no one seemed to catch it until now (yep, not until after the $10 billion contract award for 167 new MV-22s). According to Bob's investigation, this isn't a new problem.
And it looks like there's still more concern about an oil cooling system that's malfunctioning, risking gear box damage.
From the Star-Telegram's Sky Talk blog:
Just two weeks prior to that award, yet another Osprey operated by Marines in North Carolina suffered an engine nacelle fire, a recurring problem. The good folks at Amarillo.com backed into the story a few days ago with a nice story on a local Marine who had to be hospitalized for inhaling too much fire suppressant while extinguishing the blaze.
No word yet on the degree of damage to the aircraft, which was apparently on ground at the time preparing to take off. A similar fire a few months ago, that broke out in flight and required an emergency landing in the middle of nowhere, essentially destroyed the engine nacelle -- the compartment on the end of the wing that contains the jet turbine engine -- and left the wing itself in very bad shape, according to both Marine and Bell sources.
The Marines have had a number of these fires over the last couple of years but fortunately none have caused a crash. No word on whether there have been any fires involving V-22s in Iraq, which were the first to have a nacelle fire prevention fix installed. What happens is hydraulic and other flammable fluids leak inside the nacelle and then get ignited by hot engine components.
The Marines have acknowledged that the Osprey's reliability in Iraq (and stateside) continues to be less than desired and now have said the aircraft's engines are wearing way too fast. Then this week we learned of another significant problem that has popped up in Iraq.
It seems that the oil cooling system that supplies both a generator and one of the tilt-rotor gearboxes has a nasty tendency to go bad, allowing temperatures to rise to levels that could damage the gear box components. On four occasions V-22s at forward bases were grounded until repairs could be made. generators aboard the aircraft has a problem with its oil cooling system.
An internal Marine memorandum says it has been very fortunate that the cooling system hasn't failed in flight and forced a flight crew to make an emergency landing in hostile territory. The memo says the oil cooling system is lasting just 25 percent of its expected life.
All I can say is that when I spoke with maintainers, pilots, crew chiefs and squadron officials in Iraq, nothing like this came up. They mentioned slip ring failures and avionics hiccups from the fine dust, but nothing as alarming as nacelle fires and oil cooling system failures.
And a Marine spokesman told me the fire on March 14 happened because someone neglected to remove an engine intake cover. I should have more on this later.
So, thanks again to Bob Cox for the head's up.