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Osprey makes emergency landing as Marine Corps awaits production approval

In this story:

Troubled history

Politics causes turbulence


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just a week or two before the Pentagon's expected announcement on whether it will approve the Marine Corps request to buy 360 of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft, Marine officials announced Thursday that one of the hybrid helicopter-airplanes made an emergency landing in North Carolina.

A spokesman said the flight crew was making a final approach to the Wilmington International Airport when a cockpit-warning light illuminated. The crew completed an uneventful landing, and there were no injuries or damage to property.

Hours before that incident, the Marine Corps' top officer said he was confident the Defense Department would give the green light to full-scale production of the tilt-rotor aircraft, which are expected to replace the Corps' Vietnam-era fleet of transport helicopters.

"I'm confident it should be approved, and I've seen nothing to lead me to believe that it won't," Gen. James Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a brief interview with The Associated Press.

Troubled history

The Ospreys' primary use will be moving U.S. troops in and out of military hot spots and conducting civilian rescue operations.

But the V-22 has had problems since it first was tested in December of 1991.

Last August: All V-22s were grounded for a drive shaft problem.

In April, an accident blamed on pilot error killed 19 Marines during a night landing in Arizona.

1992: An Osprey crashed during a demonstration flight in Quantico, Virginia. Seven people were killed when an engine caught fire as the craft began to hover. Faulty design was blamed.

1991: An Osprey crashed at the New Castle County Airport in Delaware about three minutes into its maiden flight. The crash was blamed on gyro problems. Neither pilot was hurt.

Earlier this month, an internal review faulted the tilt-rotor plane for its high maintenance requirements. The report by the Pentagon's top civilian overseer of weapons testing concluded that, as of now, the V-22 is not reliable enough for combat operations.

The Marine Corps vigorously defends the revolutionary aircraft -- which hovers like a helicopter and flies like a plane -- arguing that maintenance problems are a short-term result of a normal shortage of spare parts and trained mechanics.

"Any new airframe at this point or any new system is going to be high-maintenance," said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James Amos, the assistant deputy commandant for Marine Corps aviation. "And why would that be? Because, first of all, there's a real lack of experience in maintaining this."

The Marine Corps is desperate for the V-22 to replace aging Vietnam-era CH-46 helicopters. In evaluation flights, the V-22 showed it could fly twice as fast, five times as far, and lift three-times as much as the CH-46.

"I don't agree that the V-22 is a troubled program," said Amos. "I think the V-22 is a maturing program right now, and I think it's probably realistically where it should be in its maturity."

Politics causes turbulence

Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney killed the V-22 when he was defense secretary back in 1992, only to see it revived by the Clinton administration the following year.

While confident the program is no longer in danger, the Marines are hoping approval for full production will come from the Navy in a week or two, before the next president takes office.

But Marine officials insist the decision has nothing to do with politics. They argue that the sooner they get the V-22, the sooner they can stop spending money to keep their aging helicopter fleet aloft.

If the $36 billion order is approved, Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron will produce the Ospreys.

-- Rachel Gibson (, December 02, 2000

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