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The Osprey's never-ending P.R. problem

On Wednesday, as it does like clockwork every few weeks, the New York Times editorial page called for DoD to eliminate the V-22 Osprey. In a get-tough writeup about how the Obama administration must make big cuts to the defense budget, the editors wrote this: "Eliminating the Marine Corps’ costly and accident-prone V-22 Osprey vertical take off and landing aircraft would save another $10 billion to $12 billion." The Times editorial board has been far from the only voice to target the Osprey this year; it has been in the crosshairs of white paper after white paper on the budget situation.

But as commentators and opinion-makers have continued to despise what they call an unsafe aircraft, military officials say the Osprey is meeting or exceeding all their needs. The Marine Corps and Air Force hit 100,000 hours of Osprey flight last month, and according to safety records quoted by Boeing, the Osprey has the lowest rate of Class A mishaps of any Marine rotary-wing aircraft in the past 10 years. (But beware: As we've learned, DoD statistics can mean anything you want.) This month, Marine Corps Ospreys made their longest-ever flights, covering some 2,800 miles from Afghanistan to Souda Bay, Crete, where they went on to rejoin the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge. Anecdotally, many troops love the Osprey -- it has become just another airplane in the war zone.

And yet the V-22 still carries a stigma from the decades it took to develop, as well as the infamous 2000 crash that killed 19 Marines. A decade later, many people prefer to continue viewing the Osprey as a dangerous experiment, rather than an operational aircraft that has flown thousands of missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere. Compared to the aircraft it replaced -- the Marines' legendary, leaky old CH-46 Sea Knight -- the Osprey may have to serve decades more before it can be accepted in its own right.

What do you think -- is all the skepticism justified given the Osprey's checkered past and unconventional nature? Or should people start cutting the big birds some slack?

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