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Wednesday December 13, 2000

Marines Ground Osprey Fleet

WASHINGTON, USA ( AP ) - The Marine Corps' chief of aviation says the crash of an MV-22 Osprey in North Carolina should not be a ``show stopper'' for the troubled $40 billion program. It appears increasingly likely, however, that it will be up to the next administration to decide whether to build a full fleet.

The Marines now plan to buy 360 over the next 14 years to replace aging helicopters. Three of the first 15 delivered - including prototypes and experimental models - have been involved in fatal crashes, including two this year that reduced the fleet of operational models from 10 to eight.
Four Marines were killed in the crash Monday several miles from Marine Corps Air Station New River, near Jacksonville, N.C. The four bodies remained at the scene Wednesday morning. The $43 million aircraft burst into flames upon crashing in a heavily wooded area.
The Pentagon grounded the aircraft, and Defense Secretary William Cohen planned to appoint a panel of outside experts to review Osprey performance, cost and safety issues.
The tilt-rotor Osprey takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like an airplane. Built by Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron, it is a linchpin of the Marine Corps' aviation future. The Air Force also plans to buy 50 of the aircraft, which have the potential to be adapted for a wide variety of missions.
Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle, head of Marine Corps aviation, told a Pentagon news conference that the Osprey had been conducting night landing practices and was returning to New River when the pilot issued a distress call at 7:27 p.m. That was the last word from the Osprey before it crashed about seven miles from the base.
``Whatever is wrong with it - or if there was something wrong with it that caused this accident - we plan on finding out what it was and fixing it,'' the three-star general said. He said a flight data recorder had been recovered intact, but there was no immediate indication of what caused the accident.
McCorkle said he remained confident in the Osprey, despite the second fatal crash this year.
``I don't think this will be a show-stopper,'' he said, referring to the possibility of the program being canceled.
The Marine Corps already has spent $10 billion on the program.
If George W. Bush is the next president, he will bring to Washington the man who tried unsuccessfully to cancel the Osprey program billions of dollars ago - Dick Cheney, who scratched the Osprey from the Pentagon budget shortly after he became secretary of defense in 1989. Congress put it back.
The Navy Department, which has responsibility for naval as well as Marine Corps programs, had been expected to make a final decision this month whether to approve moving the Osprey into full-rate production. On Tuesday, the day after the Osprey crash, the Marines asked that a decision be put off indefinitely.
The Marines had hoped to get the go-ahead for full-rate production this year and to field the first operational squadron next year.
Defense Secretary William Cohen, a supporter of the Osprey, is going to appoint a panel of technical experts to review the entire Osprey program, spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Tuesday. The review will focus on safety, performance and cost issues in light of Monday's crash and other issues.
Lt. Col. Keith M. Sweaney, 42, of Richmond, Va., the pilot of the Osprey that crashed Monday, was to become commander of the first Osprey squadron. He was chief of the Osprey testing program and had recently briefed top Marine Corps and Navy leaders on the aircraft's performance and suitability.
The three other victims were identified as Maj. Michael L. Murphy, 38, originally of Blauvelt, N.Y. and most recently of Wilmington, N.C.; Staff Sgt. Avely W. Runnels, 25, of Morven, Ga.; and Sgt. Jason A. Buyck, 24, of Sodus, N.Y.
Before becoming a test pilot for the Osprey, Murphy spent three years as one of the pilots flying President Clinton on the Marine One helicopter.
In April, an Osprey crashed in Arizona, killing all 19 Marines aboard. That stirred questions among the victims' families and in Congress about the Osprey's safety. The aircraft were grounded until June, and this fall, after more testing and evaluation, the Marines declared the aircraft to be ``operationally suitable.''
At a news conference Tuesday, McCorkle, the Marine Corps aviation chief, expressed sympathy for the families of the latest victims.
He said the accident investigation board will be headed by a general officer - a more senior official than normal - indicating the seriousness of the problem.
``We want to make sure everyone knows that this is not `business as usual,''' McCorkle told reporters. ``This program is very, very important to the Marine Corps, to me and I think to the nation, and we're going to work very hard to find out what happened.''

US Marines delay MV-22 production after crash

WASHINGTON , USA ( Reuters, Dec.12 ) - The U.S. Marine Corps on Tuesday grounded its revolutionary MV-22 aircraft and postponed next week's planned decision on full-scale production after Monday's fatal crash of one of the planes in North Carolina.

``The program is in trouble,'' Marine Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle said in delaying a potential $30 billion program after this year's second fatal training crash of a tilt-rotor MV-22, built jointly by Boeing Co. and Textron Inc.
But McCorkle stressed to reporters that corps leaders, including commanding Gen. James Jones, had faith in the safety of the hybrid airplane-helicopter despite Monday's night's crash near Jacksonville, N.C., which killed all four crewmen aboard after the pilot broadcast a ``Mayday'' call for help.
An Arizona crash of another MV-22 -- which takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like a regular airplane -- killed all 19 marines aboard last April. That was blamed on human error.
``We don't know yet what caused the crash,'' McCorkle told a Pentagon news conference. But he said the MV-22 was twice as good as the CH-46 Vietnam-era troop-carrying helicopters it was designed to replace.
"``I don't think this will be a show-stopper,'' said the general, who is deputy Marine commandant in charge of aviation. ``This program is very, very important to the Marine Corps and the nation ... we don't plan on doing without it.''
The Navy and Marine Corps had planned to make a decision as early as Dec. 21 on whether to go ahead with full-scale production of the MV-22 despite a recent Pentagon report that criticized maintenance and potential escalating cost of the aircraft.

LONG-RANGE VALUE

That initial production contract would be worth up to $1 billion for 20 aircraft. But the long-range value of production could be $30 billion including sales to the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force Special Operations.
McCorkle said Marine Commandant Jones asked Navy acquisition officials on Tuesday morning to indefinitely delay the ``Milestone Three'' decision on proceeding with full-scale production.
A total of 10 test versions of the MV-22 have been delivered to the Marine Corps and two of those have crashed.
Monday night's accident occurred during a training mission, McCorkle said, adding that the aircraft was flying on instruments and was returning to Marine Corps New River Air Station when it went down seven miles (11 km) north of the base in the southeastern part of North Carolina.
Officials at Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon identified the four crewmen as Lt. Col. Keith M. Sweaney, 42, from Richmond, Va.; Maj. Michael L. Murphy, 38, from Blauvelt, N.Y.; Staff Sgt. Avely W. Runnels, 25, from Morven, Ga.; and Sgt. Jason A. Buyck, 24, from Sodus, N.Y.
The aircraft belonged to the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204 based at New River.
McCorkle said Sweaney was one of the best and most experienced pilots in the Corps.
``If I flew with anyone in the Marine Corps, I would rather be with him,'' the general said.

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