The now infamous hearing earlier this week that culminated in Rep. Edolphus Towns declaring, "Halt production on the V-22" (and even better yet, "It's time to put the Osprey out of its misery") put the V-22 controversy back on the map.
But what's being said in the GAO report as well as accusations being made by Rex Rivolo are not new. What the Oversight Committee seems more angry about than the technical deficiencies of the aircraft is the fact that the Marines didn't cough up the after-action reports on the V-22 when asked. The first deployment was pretty closely monitored. And deputy commandant of aviation, Lt. Gen. George Trautman, has been open about everything from low mission capability rates to underperforming engines.
According to a source on the Hill, who attempted to get copies of those reports himself, the Marines were far less forthcoming with details on the second and third deployments than they were on the first. And Congress does NOT like being left in the dark.
The first time Towns called an Oversight hearing, he dismissed the panel angrily after finding out the information he asked for had not been provided him.
As far as the accusations of operational deficiencies go, I talked to Major Scott Trail at Pax River on Wednesday. I wanted to hear from him (he's the V-22 Department Head at Air Test & Evaluation) what some of the technical challenges really are.
High altitude does erode payload capability on the V-22, Trail said, but altitude has that affect on every helicopter. Because the V-22 is both aircraft and helo, its design (small diameter rotors) inherently means it carries a smaller load. The tradeoff is worth it, Trail said. "You can get there faster, but there is a performance decrement" compared with conventional helicopters. On the plus side, the V-22 does not suffer from retreating blade stall like a helicopter battling thin air. The aircraft auto-programs the nacelles forward to prevent the condition. "Even with a tradeoff in high altitude performance due to high disk loading and flapping limitations, the ability to fly like an airplane on every mission is well worth the design tradeoff for the few mission where the aircraft must fly at very high altitudes," Trail said.
By the way, the Air Force trains its CV-22 pilots at Kirtland AFB, which has a field elevation between 6,000 and 9,000 feet density altitude.
Trail said upgrade work on the V-22 includes some new software, being released this summer, that will increase the aircraft's max level flight airspeed from 250 knots to 270 knots. Also on the horizon, a software modification that may help increase the aircraft's lifting power by hundreds of pounds at sea level.