In the most recent crash involving the military’s plagued V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, five airmen on board an Air Force special operations CV-22 were seriously injured. Their Osprey crashed during a routine training mission in the Florida panhandle last month. The latest in a long string of incidents involving the Osprey, this is the second crash within the past two months. According to military statements, the Florida crash occurred during a gunnery training mission involving two Osprey planes flying in formation. Col. Jim Slife, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at nearby Hurlburt Field, observed:
When the lead aircraft turned around in the gun pattern, they did not see their wingman behind them, so they started a brief search and found the aircraft had crashed right there on the range.
The aircraft was found located upside down on the ground, on fire, and with significant crash damage. Surprisingly, although it is built almost entirely of composite materials, the entire aircraft was not consumed in the fire. All five crewmen were hospitalized with injuries.
As has become customary in these crashes, several mishap boards will investigate and issue reports on the causes of the crash. Typically, it may be some time before the cause of the crash becomes public. A safety panel is investigating, but its findings will not be released. A separate accident investigation board will also be convened, and parts of its findings may be made public. This crash comes just two months after a Marine Corps version of the aircraft, an MV-22 Osprey, went down during a training exercise in Morocco. Two Marines were killed and two others severely injured.
Interestingly, the military put on hold its plan to deploy Marine Ospreys to a city in Japan after local officials objected because of the aircraft’s bad safety record. As we have reported in the past, this aircraft certainly has a checkered history. An Air Force CV-22 crashed in Afghanistan in April 2010, killing three service members and a civilian contractor. That crash was blamed on pilot error. Although the Ospreys officially went into service with the Marines and Air Force in 2006, our office began learning how dangerous this aircraft is when we represented the widow of a Marine killed during a crash in North Carolina in December 2000.
On December 11, 2000, during a routine training flight near a North Carolina Marine base, four Marines were killed when their MV-22 Osprey aircraft failed and crashed. At the time of that crash, approximately 30 people had already been killed in the Osprey aircraft, with most of the deaths involving Marines. Then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney suspended the program in 1991 because his administration felt the program was too expensive, that the Osprey was not a safe aircraft, and that the needs of the military were being met by other heavy-lifting helicopters.
The Clinton Administration lifted the stay on the V-22 and the Osprey was delivered to the military for operational evaluation beginning in 1999. Since that time there have been multiple crashes and deaths. The aircraft involved in our December 2000 crash was assigned to the Naval Air Station at New River, N.C. The Marines assigned to the Osprey unit were hand-picked based upon their abilities and service records. In short, they were the best of the best.
During our investigation of the crash, we learned that while the Osprey was in flight on December 11, 2000, a weakness in one of the lines supplying hydraulic pressure to the left engine catastrophically failed and ruptured. Over 30 gallons of hydraulic fluid was blown out of the ruptured line in approximately three seconds, completely emptying the primary hydraulic system. The onboard flight control computer sensed a sudden hydraulic pressure loss and provided warning lights to the pilots onboard. These pilots, who were the best in the Marine Corps, correctly pressed the re-set button several times as the warning lights continued to flash.
Unfortunately, there was a design flaw in the computer software and the aircraft ultimately crashed because of the hydraulic failure defect and the software defect. Sadly, we learned that the Osprey manufacturers and contractors had failed to test the software in combination with a failure of the hydraulic system. After the December 2000 crash, which killed the four Marines, the entire fleet of V-22 Ospreys was grounded.
Following the Osprey crashes in the early 2000 time frame, the manufacturers redesigned the Osprey in an attempt to save the program. Although some of the problems that were discovered as a result of the crashes were addressed, the recent crashes of the new design highlight the fact that this aircraft is still plagued with problems regardless of the generation or branch of the military involved. As the military works through the various mishap investigations and information becomes available, we will keep you updated. If you would like more information on the Osprey and all of the problems this aircraft has encountered, contact either Mike Andrews or Cole Portis, lawyers in our firm, who are very familiar with the Osprey problems, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com or Cole.Portis@beasleyallen.com.