The Pentagon hasn’t been saying much about what’s up with the Osprey in Iraq. That could be because it doesn’t want to jinx what seems to be, after the first three months of deployment, a success story for the long-controversial tilt-rotor aircraft. (By contrast, try getting it to stop crowing about the performance of a different breed of new aerial technology, unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Reaper.) Since arriving at Al Asad Airbase last fall, the 10 MV-22 Ospreys of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 have accumulated more than 1,600 hours of flight time, carrying hundreds of passengers–from ground troops to VIPs–and thousands of pounds of cargo “without a mishap or even a close call,” according to a story last week in The Dallas Morning News.
That’s no small feat for an aircraft that critics cited time and time again for its checkered history of fatal crashes; among other things, they said, the aircraft could well fall prey to the dust it would stir up in the desert environment. Time magazine in October tarred the Osprey–which flies like both a helicopter and a fixed-wing airplane–in a cover story titled “A Flying Shame.” The Marines Corps did seem to be handling the 16-ton Osprey gingerly at first in Iraq, using it in less risky support missions, according to the Morning News story. (For the Dallas paper, this is something of a local story: Bell Helicopter Textron assembles the aircraft in Forth Worth and Amarillo.) But in December, the aircraft began to take part in combat missions. From day to day, anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent of the Ospreys are ready to fly, the paper reported.
That could be a sign of genuine and worrisome mechanical problems, or maybe just overly protective policies that keep airworthy Ospreys grounded. If all continues to go well, scores more Ospreys will be hitting the production line for eventual use by the Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force.