In spite of the recent Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey mishap that killed two crew chiefs and injured the pilots during the annual African Lion exercise in Morocco, PMA-275 – the V-22 program office at the Naval Air Systems Command – is bullish on the future growth of the aircraft.
During a press briefing Monday held in conjunction with the Navy League’s Sea Air Space conference, Col. Greg Masiello, the V-22 program manager at NAVAIR, said that the program of record is on track in spite of the current defense budget challenges. He also highlighted stats that he said show the tiltrotor is maturing well: He claimed that over the last two years the cost per flight hour has decreased by 13 percent (to around $10,000 compared to $4,000 for the CH-46 the Osprey replaced) and that aircraft readiness has increased by 19 percent.
Masiello said 2012 will see the total Osprey fleet (MVs and CVs) grow to 200, as well as the establishment of the first permanently forward deployed V-22 squadron in Okinawa. So far, 11 Marine Corps medium lift squadrons have transitioned from the Sea Knight to the Osprey – all of the East Coast squadrons and 75 percent of the West Coast squadrons.
Masiello also said HMX-1, the squadron charged with flying the president short distances, wants to use V-22s “in a supporting capacity” – not as the primary “white top” VIP asset, but the aircraft that flies staffers and gear in phase with the president’s movements. While the Osprey program and the prime contractors Bell and Boeing have long asserted the airplane would be perfect in the Marine One role, those charged with protecting the president have been less enthusiastic since the first and only test flight some years ago scorched the south White House lawn.
John Rader, vice president of the Bell-Boeing V-22 Program, said his “bosses said he needed to do whatever is required to keep the cost of the airplane down,” which introduced the topic of foreign military sales. Masiello allowed that the first FMS sale would take place in 2013, but he wouldn’t say what country would be buying the Osprey. Flight demos have taken place in Canada and Dubai, and the program plans on taking both a CV and an MV to England's Farnborough Air Show this summer.
Masiello wouldn’t answer any questions relating to the specifics about last week's Morocco mishap, but did allow that the powers that be had elected to continue to fly Ospreys worldwide as the investigation continues. Conventional wisdom would suggest that decision indicates something other than a system problem as a preliminary cause.