WASHINGTON - The V-22 Osprey’s deadliest accident stemmed partly from “undeniably intense” pressure to show progress for the new tilt-rotor aircraft, according to the U.S. Marine Corps commandant.
“As I reflect on the mishap I cannot ignore the charged atmosphere into which the pilots flew that night, carrying on their shoulders a critically important program,” Gen. James Amos wrote two lawmakers in a look back at the crash in 2000 that killed 19 Marines. “I believe they were eager to vindicate a revolutionary technology.”
While the accident happened more than 13 years ago, the lessons cited in the December letter, obtained by Bloomberg News under the Freedom of Information Act, may apply to similar pressures the military is under today to prove the value of new weapons such as Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship in a time of defense budget cuts.
“I remember well the aches and pains of the V-22 program,” Amos said at a Rand Corp. conference in January, when asked to compare the V-22 with the Marine version of the F-35 that the service is trying to declare ready for combat as soon as July 2015. “We are not going to repeat those” issues, said Amos, who was assistant deputy commandant for aviation and involved in overseeing the V-22 in 2000.
The Osprey can take off and land like a helicopter, and its propellers tilt forward so it can fly like an airplane. After early years of setbacks and accidents, the aircraft built by Boeing Co. and Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter unit served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress has appropriated $41.5 billion toward a $55 billion program to build 460 of the V-22s.
The letter from Amos was addressed to U.S. Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md. They’ve championed the cause of the widows of the two pilots who died in the 2000 crash. The women, who live in the lawmakers’ districts, have long fought the notion that their husbands were at fault.