Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Marines Want Companion for Osprey

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the Marines are interested in an armed tilt-rotor escort for the V-22 Osprey.
The Marine Corps' top aviation officer has asked Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. to study arming its executive jet-sized BA609 tilt-rotor aircraft as an escort for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor troop transport.

The request by Lt. Gen. Michael Hough, deputy commandant for aviation, is a striking vote of confidence in the V-22 and in the future of tilt-rotor aircraft. The V-22 program was nearly canceled after two crashes in 2000 killed 23 Marines.

"I would have done this earlier, but I didn't even know if I had a V-22," Gen. Hough said, referring to the Osprey's near-cancellation.
Per the report, this could potentially result in millions of dollars for Bell Helicopter. However, with the checkered story of the Osprey's development, I predict this will be a rather interesting approval process.
The V-22 and the BA609 both use wingtip rotors to take off and land like helicopters. But they tilt their rotors forward to fly like airplanes, giving them far greater speed and range than helicopters. Critics still regard the revolutionary method of flight as highly risky.

Much work would have to be done, and many hurdles cleared, before Bell could produce an armed BA609 derivative.

The gunship would have to be designed, approved by the Pentagon, funded by Congress, prototyped and tested.

There is no guarantee any of that will happen.

But Gen. Hough said the V-22 will need some type of armed escort to carry Marines into combat zones, and only a tilt-rotor will do. Helicopters are too slow for the job, and jets are too fast.


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