Osprey crash shows how dangerous Marine aviation can be

The Dec. 13 crash of a MV-22B Osprey off the coast of Okinawa is the eighth involving this plane – and the fourth since the plane was introduced into service in 2007. Over its lengthy R&D process and its operational career, 39 people have been killed in accidents involving the V-22 Osprey.

Sounds bad, right?

Well, the Osprey is not the first revolutionary aircraft to have high-profile crashes. The top American ace of World War II, Richard Bong, was killed while carrying out a test flight of a Lockheed YP-80, America’s first operational jet fighter.

The top American ace of the Korean War, Joseph McConnell, died when the F-86H he was flying crashed.

That said, the V-22 came close to cancellation numerous times during the 1990s, and killing it was a priority of then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. He failed, and the United States got a game-changing aircraft.

combat-search-and-rescue-CERTEX - Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel

(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brandon Maldonado)

It should be noted that most of the 39 fatalities happened during the R&D phase of the Osprey program.

A 1992 crash near Quantico Marine Corps Base took the lives of several personnel, according to a report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The July 2000 crash was the worst, with 19 Marines killed when the V-22 they were on crashed during a simulated night assault mission. According to an article in the September 2004 issue of Proceedings, the Osprey involved crashed due to a phenomenon known as “vortex ring state.”

The December 2000 Osprey crash that killed all four on board had a more mundane cause. The plane suffered a failure in its hydraulic system, causing the tiltrotor to start an uncontrolled descent.

Wired.com reported in 2005 that a software glitch caused the plane to reset on each of the eight occasions that the crew tried to reset the Primary Flight Control System. The Osprey’s 1,600-foot fall ended in a forest.

Since entering service in July 2007, the Osprey’s track record has been much stronger.

Counting the most recent crash, there have been four Osprey accidents in the nine years and four months the V-22 has been operational. Two of those crashes, one in April 2010 that involved a special operations CV-22 in Afghanistan and an MV-22 in Morocco that crashed in April 2012, killed six personnel.

The crashes in December 2012 and the one earlier this week, resulted in no fatalities.

Three other personnel died in accidents: A Marine died in October 2014 when a life preserver failed, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. In May 2015, a fire after an Osprey “went down” killed two Marines per an Associated Press report.

mv-22b osprey casualty evacuation drill

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon Maldonado

Despite the recent incidents, the V-22 has been remarkably safe, particularly in combat.

None have been lost to enemy fire, a distinction that many helicopters cannot boast. The CH-53 series of helicopters, saw over 200 personnel killed in crashes by the time of a 1990 Los Angeles Times report, which came 15 years before a January 2005 crash that killed 31 personnel.

The BBC reported at the time that the helicopter was on a mission near Rutbah, Iraq.

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