V-22s won’t return to full flight operations until mid-2025

V-22s won’t return to full flight operations until mid-2025

The U.S. military’s fleet of V-22 Ospreys won’t be allowed to fly unrestricted missions for another year, officials said, because of still-unaddressed risks with the tiltrotor aircraft. 

“Today, we are methodically looking at material and non-material changes that we can make to allow for a full mission set without controls in place. I will not certify the V-22 to return to unrestricted flight operations until I’m satisfied we have sufficiently addressed the issues that may affect the safety of the aircraft. Based on the data that I have today, I’m expecting that this will not occur until mid-2025,” Vice Adm. Carl Chebi, head of Naval Air Systems Command, said Wednesday during a House Oversight Committee national security subcommittee hearing. 

The Pentagon grounded its entire fleet for months after a “materiel failure” caused an Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 to crash off the coast of Japan in December, killing eight airmen. It cleared all Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force V-22s to return to “restricted” flight operations in March. 

While officials did not say what kind of Osprey missions are allowed in this limited capacity, language from lawmakers in the annual defense policy bill provided some details: flights and missions have to stay within 30 minutes of a “suitable divert airfield.”

The Osprey’s clutch, a documented problem with the aircraft since 2010, is currently being redesigned. Chebi said the program has “mitigated” the clutch problems and modified procedures for the aircrew, but “we have not eliminated that risk. We will not have eliminated that risk until we have a redesigned clutch.” 

A Marine Corps investigation found that a June 2022 Osprey crash, which killed five servicemembers, was caused by a “dual hard clutch engagement” that caused the engine and the interconnect drive system to fail. 

Testing of a new, redesigned clutch system will begin soon, and the program aims to field it by mid-2025, said Gary Kurtz, the program executive officer for air anti-submarine warfare and special missions programs. 

But some lawmakers are concerned that the Osprey has returned to the air with the problematic clutch. 

If another Osprey goes down before the new clutch is implemented, “We’re done. This whole program is done. So why don’t we ground this now [and] don’t allow any other brave Marines or airmen to go down in one of these aircraft? Ground them now. We’ll bite the bullet for the next year or so until we get this clutch figured out,” Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said during the hearing. 

“I don’t believe this aircraft is safe. Nothing you’ve told me today leads me to believe that. I think it’s still a very iffy situation and I think you’ve conceded that fact,” Lynch said.  

Chebi said in his testimony that the Pentagon launched a comprehensive review of the program “to make a long-term significant improvement in the safety, availability, and affordability of the V-22. This action, which was initiated prior to the most recent mishap, is still ongoing, with improvements being implemented with immediate effect.”

Lawmakers also grilled officials about the lack of information they’ve received, and the Pentagon’s refusal to release Safety Investigation Board reports about the crashes to the committee.

Sixty-four servicemembers have died in Osprey mishaps since the plane entered service, Chebi said—including 20 servicemembers who died in four crashes in the past two years. 

Family members of a few of the troops who have died in Osprey mishaps attended the hearing on Capitol Hill, holding up pictures of their deceased loved ones behind the three Pentagon officials testifying. 

“They clearly don’t have answers still on the cause of the mishaps and why the hard clutch engagement is happening, and they don’t have a fix for it. So, in my mind, if you can’t fix it, you shouldn’t be flying it,” Alexia Collart said after the hearing. Collart’s son, Cpl. Spencer Collart, died last year in a Marine Corps V-22 crash in Australia. Alexia was joined at the hearing by her husband, Bart, and daughter Gwyneth. Gwyneth is engaged to an Osprey crew chief, who she said is somewhat worried about the safety of the aircraft, but understands the aircraft and loves flying in it. 

The Collarts said after the hearing they are still concerned with what they call “questionable” quality control with the aircraft’s components.  

“We know about the whistleblowers at Boeing on the military side too, it doesn’t get as much publicity as the commercial side, but there’s faulty parts going into these aircraft, and it’s just not fair on these families and on these men and women,” Bart Collart said. 

A recent lawsuit, filed by the families of Marines killed in a 2022 Osprey crash, alleges that the companies that built the Osprey knew the aircraft was unsafe and didn’t meet government specifications. One of the family members involved in the lawsuit, Amber Sax, flew from Sacramento to attend the hearing.

“I know it can be a very long road, but none of us are wanting to give up on this, and our voices are not going to be silenced on it,” said Sax, whose husband, Capt. John Sax, died in the crash. 

Read the full article here