Osprey will not try for Search-and-Rescue role

V-22 bows out of U.S. CSAR-X competition

Defense News via USAF AIM Points:

The V-22 Osprey tiltrotor developed by Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing will not be a competitor in the U.S. Air Force’s CSAR-X combat search-and-rescue aircraft program, company officials said Oct. 20.

“After thorough review of the revised Air Force request for proposal, it was clear that the CSAR-X program’s requirements and funding profile did not call for the advanced speed and range offered by the V-22 Osprey, and instead leaned toward capabilities found in more traditional helicopter-type aircraft,” Bob Kenney, vice president of Boeing’s V-22 joint program, said in a statement released Oct. 20.

I received an email last night wondering what I thought about the V-22 Osprey. Basically, I think it’s a fine idea that hasn’t been worth the effort and cost. When all is said and done, helicopters are going to be able to do almost everything the V-22 can at a fraction of the cost and without new prodcedures and thinking that are required for any new program.

While helicopters are inherently dangerous, no one can really argue that the V-22 is any safer. As I often do, I’d argue that we should definitely incorporate a small number of V-22s into the arsenal, if only to give them a workout in the real world and learn lessons for later generations of vehicles. If some special Osprey units are put together to take advantage of the vehicle, that would make sense. But to jump in headfirst and become too dependant upon them would be a major mistake.


  1. I agree that the Osprey may eventually work as planned, but 3 decades of developement? Sheesh! I believe its already hurt our helicopter industry, with so few new orders in that time span, but maybe the military is finally seeing its mistake. Maybe.

  2. The sad thing is that after all the travails of the first twenty years of development – crashes, thumbfingered project management, lies, staged tests and fudged reselts – the last five years have been much better. Complete redesigns of troubled components (hydraulics, flight control software,) and efficient and honest testing, and better management, the Osprey was rescued from the grave. I now think that the V-22 is a viable vehicle. Safety is important, but it’s not the only consideration in a military vehicle. The Harrier’s safety record is worse than most helicopters, but it was an acceptable combat aircraft because of its unique capabilities. The Marines championed that plane, and the Osprey too. Once the Ospreys start entering service in numbers, they will provide essential capabilities, especially since most of the Marines medium lift helicopters are ancient. I think that if the Osprey proves itself over the next few years (and I think it will – remember how the Blackhawk used to be called the ‘Crashhawk?’) We might see a follow on four rotor version – something with the speed and cargo capacity of a C130 with the VTOL capability of a helicopter. (Stability issues would probably be less of a problem with a four rotor vehicle than with a two rotor vehicle.)

  3. I guess only time will tell. The rotorcraft industry -in general- seems to be too heavily dependent on the cyclical ordering of new airframes from world militaries to be truly competitive. That’s why (IMHO) the European rotorcraft manufacturers generally have generationally more modern airframes than their American couterparts. Thanks for the follow-up, M.

  4. I took issue with your V-22 analysis and thought I would throw some points out there as well. V-22 vs. Heli max performance: Yes, its true that for a great many missions, helicopters can match or even exceed the V-22 performance envelope (e.g. shorter range, less time sensitive missions). However, in combat scenarios, tactics are often dictated by max performance of equipment not the lower end. The longer range and speed of the V-22, forces a paradigm shift in many common battlefield scenarios, and impacts support and logistics. The range and speed means that, say for a amphibious landing, the air-support ships can be placed much farther out to sea. This means in turn that enemy will need longer range missiles to be able to strike back, while we can perhaps have less brown-water ships or at least decrease risk exposure. On land, more speed and range can mean S fewer air support bases, access to more targets, and the ability do more missions. Refueling can give helicopters range (when its possible to refuel), but they can’t give them speed. Keeping lots of tankers, and having tankers go on missions, especially in combat zones can also ad a lot of hidden cost to a mission as well. Cost vs. Capability ‘While helicopters are inherently dangerous’ – This is not really a meaningful statement, it could be said fixed-wing or even ships are inherently dangerous too. While accidents per flight hour can be compared, in a military setting the aircraft’s combat survivability and its impact on a logistics structure can be equally important to lives lost. (I.E. loose 2 V-22s on a long-range mission, or have a forward helicopter support base wiped out). The core issue is what capabilities are being offered for a given price. Weather we become dependent on them, or if they are ‘expensive’, is immaterial to what capability is offered. It could be said we are dependent on various missiles systems, on satellite communication, or aircraft carriers. What we are really dependent on it seems are a need to complete a mission or task. The V-22 light transport capabilities place it well beyond the current generation of transports for a range of missions. More limited testing is not what is needed when there has been so much of that already. Small vs. Large deployment The key to the V-22 ‘justifying’ itself, 50 odd years of making the tilt-concept practical, billions of dollars, lives lost in development, is a deployment large enough that the full impact its higher capabilities on the logistical and combat structure can finally be realized.

  5. Steve: Your analysis is far better than mine. I didn’t mean to analyze, just to toss my personal thoughts out there. I may have nits to pick over a few things, but I agree with you in principle on everything except the ‘Small vs. Large deployment’, and even there it’s mostly because I don’t see what’s been done so far as a deployment. Testing, no matter how realistic, is testing. Example: I’m an admitted Stryker fan. But I wanted the Stryker deployed to Iraq immediately to make sure it worked as advertised and to see it in action in the real world before we became too committed to switching large numbers of units over. The fact is that the commitment to change had already been made, but the lessons learned so far are invaluable. I think (for nearly any program) that sort of approach is usually going to be the best one if we’re honestly open-minded about the lessons learned and willing to incorporate changes based upon them. Especially ‘revolutionary’-scale changes. No amount of testing and training, even ‘NTC’ or ‘Top Gun’ style training, is going to be as realistic as the real-world. I understand the economies of scale, but if justification can only be made by going in to the hilt, I’m concerned. Thanks greatly for your comments.

  6. Buckethead: Yes, there’s no doubt that a lot of the V-22’s ‘rep’ is based on earlier times. In fact, I argued a few times with Airborne Combat Engineer a few times in favor of the V-22, or at least giving it a chance based upon it’s current capabilities and not condemning it based upon its history. I also try to make sure people remember that the M2 Bradley was, for a long time, a ‘death trap’. Today, the Stryker is a ‘death trap’ because it’s not as well armored as the Bradley. Very soon we’ll all be hearing how the new Marine EFV ‘is no Stryker, that’s for sure’.

  7. I am normally a big supporter of smaller scale combat testing before full scale deployments- there are many examples that bore out that logic. The amount of trouble and that can be saved is often immense- say like what didn’t happen with M60A2. With the V-22, I had considered even the few hundred or so that are currently planned to be only limited test for what amounts to a never before fielded aircraft type. I guess you have a real point though, that a more limited combat fielding of say, a few dozen is still worth it in the interim (provided the lessons learned are actually applied). Thanks for replying, and, of course, thanks for MO!

  8. There is a forty year old technology that got abandoned in the face of similar short termism about ‘we already have adequate helicopters that already got developed’. That was the Fairey Rotodyne, which had a number of military orders in the pipeline when it got cancelled because of concerns about noise levels – it was fully functional by the time the project stopped. It transitioned cleanly and safely between helicopter, autogyro and fixed wing modes. It probably has greater potential than the Osprey, and further development wouldn’t be completely from scratch, just recovering lost ground.

  9. V-22 Safe or Not? The V-22 cannot autorotate if engine power fails, unlike the helicopter; it also does not have the lift from its wings to perform an emergency, no power landing. The bottom line is, if its engines are going to fail, you will crash and you are going to die with it. This is the main reason the aircraft has not been brought into service. It is a good concept, but for a military enviroment, where a small piece of shrapnel, or simply the operating conditions it works in, makes the engines highly prone to failure. The reason why military aircraft fail is mainly not because of poor maintenance, but because of the operating conditions.

  10. Vstress: A engine failure requires both engines to fail, even if what you say about not being able to auto rotate is true (which IFAIK may not be correct). The ability to perform a soft landing is a mute point for large chunk of military helicopter operations anyway, as military helicopters usually fly to low to actually take advantage of this effect. A total power failure (all engines) in most aircraft in a large variety of situations usually means a crash and burn, at least for the passengers without ejection seats. What your saying about shrapnel, I think is only half-correct. Also, in terms of taking fire, the V-22 has past various survivability milestones for ground fire, as do helicopters. Its not really significantly more or less vulnerable in that situation (depending on the particular type). I like your assertion about not failing due to poor maintenance, but I disagree with the follow on. Many military aircraft failures are indeed due to operation conditions, but part failures, design problems, etc. also are big issue. The military tends to push the absolute limits in terms of flight hours for airframe. Take the F-14 of recent, there were restrictions on it going supersonic during normal operations after a couple were lost doing so. The airframes could no longer be guaranteed to handle the strain. Coming back to operation conditions, this, like I said I do agree with. However, this is where the V-22 really excels- it can put itself in a different, safer, operating environment. (e.g. higher, farther away) Also, I would point to my earlier post talking about how the V-22 can result in a lower total risk for a force structure in a region. (such as less air bases, or ships farther out to sea). In this case, even if the V-22 was more dangerous to fly in, which it may be per flight hour, it could still be worth it because your going to be able so save more lives overall.

  11. I would imagine it would be worth having some V-22s simply for those situations where no other aircraft can perform the mission. If it’s less good, for some reason (safety, whatever) for other missions which can be performed by helicopters or other, use the other option. If it’s the only option to get the job done, use it. Can we take what we learned from the V-22 and make a new design which is better?

  12. I remember the Rotodyne – well, not personally, but I read about it. I also seem to remember that there was talk about an x-rotor craft that would have filled the role of the RAH-66 Commanche. It had four fat rotor blades that could lock in place for high speed flight. I don’t think that anyone had plans for a cargo version, at all. On another note, what Steve said about capabilities got me thinking a bit. If we don’t have the Osprey, we need something that has similar performance. We have committed to the development of a fast, highly mobile, precision, lethal, netcentric, blah, blah, blah, force. Whether that foce uses strykers, m113s, or my nephew’s moped, the bottleneck in the deployment is not exactly the weight of the transported vehicle, but the capabilities of the transport. The helicopter is inherently limited in speed, and will never have the airlift capabilities of fixed wing aircraft. (Or of airships – go Walrus!) Moving toward something like the Osprey or a larger follow-on gives us the ability to rapidly deploy larger numbers of troops farther. (Faster speeds also mean more lift to a given location, even if the nominal cargo capacity is the same for two vehicles.) If we’re going to have a smaller force, better guns isn’t enough. We need to be able to move not just a few troops, but all of them very, very fast.

  13. The V-22 is nice- I have some issues with its deployability in groups. The bird has some serious draft issues the prevent multiple birds from landing/operating in close proximity. Given its complex mechanicals and extreme operating conditions, corrosion is going to be a major factor. Steping back though – advances in tech are rendering alot of its functions redundant. For example GPS guided air drops could replace many of its cargo functions. Personally, I think a hummer based ducted fan UAV that can carry about 300- 500 lbs of cargo would be more effective. (Basically it would enable the creation of a GPS unmanned mobile resupply function) Think of just in time resupply chain.

  14. Steve: In regards to the engine failure, yes I do not think there would be a 2 engine failure, clearly even one engine failing is terrible, I understand that it has the crossdrive transmission, but this leaves terrible strain on the second engine. If anything, anything whatsoever were to go wrong with this aircraft it would be tragic, unlike with most aircraft certain failures can be survivable. Simply talk about a bird strike on one propeller blade, causing induced vibration in one engine. The V-22 by the way most likely will not fly too low to the earth simply due to the higher operating speeds, along with the increased workload on the pilot for simply flying the V-22 in comparison with a helicopter. You have to remember that the V-22, due to the large rotors, means that the ailerons are much more ineffective, and simply the wing does not have very large area, meaning that the wing loading is very high- meaning very low manoverability using the aircraft surfaces. The only way this aircraft can manouvre well is using thrust vectoring… and this now verges into rotorcraft aeromechanics. Rotorcraft aeromechanics is incredibly complex, yes, I am studying it this year, I know.

  15. Vstress, I think you’re underestimating the tragicness of helicopter crashes a bit – at low altitude, an engine failure in a helicopter is usually going to kill everyone on board, and no one is going to be able to eject. James, I don’t think we’ll be able to get ducted fan vehicles working – we’ve been trying for a long time. But I do think you’re on the right track with the uav idea. That is, in fact, a really cool idea. We’ve made helicopter recon uavs, and there’s no reason they couldn’t be scaled up. For purely cargo missions, a swarm of unmanned cargo uavs could keep forward deployed troops resupplied with no risk to pilots. Put the troops on Ospreys or whatever, and set up a supply chain of uavs. There are few flying functions that won’t eventually be done by robots, and cargo is one of the obvious ones. (At least in retrospect.)