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The Case for the V-22

His F-15E Eagle suffering mechanical failure, the pilot ejected, parachuting into war torn Libya.


January 30, 2012
By Peter Pigott

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His F-15E Eagle suffering mechanical failure, the pilot ejected, parachuting into war torn Libya. He landed amid a field of winter wheat, 24 miles east of Benghazi. For the United States, the fear was that the pilot would be captured by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and a repeat of the Somalia “Blackhawk Down” humiliation would ensue. But before the enemy could arrive, two Marine MV-22s from the USS Kearsarge covered the 140 miles from the aircraft carrier in about 45 minutes and brought the pilot to safety. It was a dramatic example of what the V-22 Osprey was capable of.

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The V-22 Osprey blends in one platform the high-speed, long-range, long-endurance capability of fixed-wing aircraft with the manoeuvrability and vertical flight capabilities of rotary aircraft. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)


 

The Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) indefatigable De Havilland Buffalos were to be retired almost 20 years ago and now cost $20 million in annual maintenance just to keep in the air. Once the RCAF’s tactical transports, in 1975 the De Havilland Buffalos have been retasked for search and rescue (SAR) duties. Today, there are only six CC-115s flying – all with 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 19 Wing, CFB Comox on Vancouver Island. Their SAR territory stretches from the Arctic to the U.S. border, from the Rockies to 1,200 kilometres offshore. Defence Minister Peter MacKay has said that there are no plans to keep the Buffalos in the air after 2015. Like their animal namesakes, the CC-115s are soon to disappear from the Canadian landscape.

There had been two main contenders in the Fixed Wing SAR (FWSAR) competition – the Spanish built EADS/CASA C-295 and the Italian (Alenia) C-27J Spartan – until Bell Boeing introduced its V-22 Osprey as a potential Buffalo replacement. On Nov. 23, 2010, when representatives from all three manufacturers extolled their aircraft before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on National Defence, Bob Carrese, executive director of business development for the CV-22 program, talked about the tilt rotor.

Canada has seen tilt rotors before. In 1964, Canadair designed and manufactured the CL-84 Dynavert, a V/STOL turbine tilt-wing monoplane. Designated by the Canadian Forces as the CX-131, four experimental models were built in Montreal between 1964 and 1972. The company and the Canadian government tried hard to interest the U.S. military in the tilt rotor – even launching one off a U.S. aircraft carrier to demonstrate its SAR capabilities. But the meeting was to no avail – despite the Vietnam War and the need for V/STOL, the U.S. helicopter lobby was too strong. Without a market, Canadair abandoned the tilt rotor project in 1974, donating the models to museums.

A Versatile Platform
Simply put, the V-22 Osprey blends in one platform the high-speed, long-range, long-endurance capability of fixed-wing aircraft with the manoeuvrability and vertical flight capabilities of rotary aircraft.

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Bell/Boeing are delivering more than 400 V-22 Osprey aircraft to the U.S. military.
(Photo courtesy of Boeing)


 

It can achieve this because it’s a fixed-wing aircraft with prop rotors at each wingtip that function as both propellers and rotors. The prop rotors, along with the engines and gearboxes, are mounted in nacelles that rotate from a vertical position in the hovering mode to a horizontal position in the airplane mode.

The V-22 takes off vertically and, once airborne, the nacelles (engine and prop-rotor group) on each wing rotate into a forward position and it morphs into a turboprop aircraft. With those two rotors, unlike military helicopters whose top speeds are 140 to 175 miles per hour, the V-22 can cruise at 290 miles per hour – a speed essential for search and rescue, especially in the high Arctic.

Manufactured under a 50-50 strategic alliance between Bell Helicopter and Boeing, the V-22 Osprey was first deployed in 2007. Hampered by cost overruns in early development, Richard Whittle, the author of The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey, would write that it was labelled by the media as a freakish, accident-prone, ugly duckling. But those days are long gone. Redesigned and retested, the V-22 is now a 21st century multifaceted aircraft, no longer experimental but in full production. Bell/Boeing are delivering more than 400 V-22 Osprey aircraft to the U.S. military and have just received a $34-million contract from the U.S. Air Force to build three V-22 trainers that will include the ability to convert the rear of the V-22 into medevac configuration – a flying hospital. And in addition to the Libyan rescue described earlier, the Osprey has performed humanitarian relief missions in Honduras, Haiti, Pakistan, North Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Unlike military helicopters, whose top speeds are 140 to 175 miles per hour, the V-22 can cruise at 290 miles per hour.
(Photo courtesy of Boeing)


 

At the parliamentary hearings in 2010, Mr. Carresse described the V-22 in detail. It has a fully marinized structure and engines for continuous corrosion-resistant operations in a maritime environment; there is extensive use of composites to increase resistance to corrosion fatigue; state-of-the-art crash-worthiness features in the areas of structural design, load attenuation, passenger safety, payload retention, fire suppression, and emergency escape; triple redundant digital fly-by-wire flight controls and hydraulic systems; modern avionics with glass cockpit displays; a number of radar options to include weather, maritime search, or terrain-following and terrain avoidance; an ice protection system, which includes both anti-ice and de-ice capabilities certified into known moderate icing (most of the V-22 testing of that system has been performed in Shearwater, N.S.); and an open passenger and cargo cabin with roller rails, winch, hoist, and a rear loading ramp to provide the SAR technicians with the clearance required to safely perform all necessary ground and airborne tasks.

When the MPs asked what made the V-22 different from the C-295 and C-27J, Carresse replied that essentially it could do a lot of the same things, but unlike those aircraft, it did not require a runway. “We can operate from any place that’s large enough to hold us and that has some fuel available,” he said. “The infrastructure requirements are minimal; the crew can do whatever maintenance they need to do on the aircraft.”

Many aircraft are capable of long-range, high-speed, fixed-wing search and assist, he admitted, but only the V-22 has the ability to hover or land vertically to complete the rescue in austere environments and then transfer the rescued directly to a care facility. Its ability to operate independently of runways allows for forward basing with minimal infrastructure and because it could also be aerial-refuelled, it has virtually unlimited range or endurance.

Were there any V-22s doing only SAR right now? “We don’t have any aircraft that are solely doing search and rescue,” Carresse replied. “Our customers don’t think they can afford an aircraft that can only do one mission. All do search and rescue with this aircraft, but it’s just one of the many capabilities the aircraft brings.”

For the Canadian taxpayer, what would be the approximate cost of the V-22, another parliamentarian wanted to know? “Whatever I tell you is going to be a ballpark,” Carresse admitted. “We’re in a multi-year [sic]. That multi-year was a five-year program, and it was $10.4 billion US for 167 aircraft, so with rough math, you could kind of figure out what the flyaway cost is. That would be something comparably equipped to what we would be offering Canada, because the aircraft pretty much does everything that you’re looking for right now.”

Last August, Bell/Boeing submitted a Letter of Interest and met with members of the FWSAR Project team. The following month, at the Bell Helicopter-hosted DND Appreciation Day at Mirabel Airport, two MV-22s were on site to provide static display and orientation flights to the FWSAR Team. A few miles from where the parliamentary committee met was a tilt rotor aircraft. Displayed on the floor of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was one of the four Canadair CL-84s built. Now the roles were reversed – it was a U.S. company that was attempting to interest the Canadian military in a tilt rotor aircraft. History is nothing if not ironic.

Tiltrotor Tech
Power Plant: Two Rolls Royce-Allison AE1107C turbo shaft engines – same engine core on the CC-130J
Thrust: More than 6,200 shaft horsepower per engine
Wingspan: 84 ft., 7 in. (25.8 m)
Length: 57 ft., 4 in. (17.4 m)
Height: 22 ft., 1 in. (6.73 m)
Rotary diameter: 38 ft. (11.6 m)
Speed: 277 mph (241 kt) (cruising speed)
Ceiling: 25,000 ft. (7,620 m)
Maximum vertical Takeoff weight: 52,870 pounds
(23,982 kg)
Maximum rolling takeoff weight: 60,500 lb. (27,443 kg)
Range: 2,100 nmi with internal auxiliary fuel tanks
Payload: 24 troops (seated), 32 troops (floor loaded) or 10,000 lbs. of cargo
Crew: Four (pilot, co-pilot and two enlisted flight engineers)


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