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Wednesday May 10, 2000

Marines Declare Osprey Aircraft Safe

WASHINGTON, USA ( AP ) - One month after the MV-22 Osprey crash that killed 19 Marines in Arizona, the Marines are ready to resume flying the hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like an airplane.

``I feel confident we can put them back in the air,'' Gen. James L. Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, said in an interview Tuesday. ``Everything appears to have been working normally'' at the time of the accident.

Jones said families of the 19 victims, as well as members of Congress, have been told that investigators have found no evidence of mechanical, engineering or structural flaws in the Osprey.

``We see no problems whatsoever with the aircraft,'' Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle, told a news conference.

An early model Osprey used for experimental flight was expected to fly from Nova Scotia to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., today - the first Osprey flight since the accident April 8. Two test-model Ospreys will be used to simulate some of the circumstances of the fatal accident, in order to validate the investigators' findings, and later this month the full Osprey fleet will return to flight, Jones said.

McCorkle said investigators have concluded that the crash was caused by a loss of aerodynamic lift that forced the aircraft into a fatal nose dive as it was about to land.

For reasons that are not yet clear, the Osprey - with a crew of four plus 15 Marines as passengers - descended too rapidly toward a small airport at Marana, Ariz., McCorkle said. It was descending at more than 1,000 feet per minute, he said, compared to the maximum recommended rate of 800 feet per minute.

As the pilot executed an angle bank of between 5 and 15 degrees right at about 280 feet off the ground at about 8 p.m. local time, the aircraft encountered an aerodynamic phenomenon known as ``power settling,'' and four seconds later it nose-dived into the ground. McCorkle said this condition was similar to an engine stall and seemed to be related to the excessive rate of descent, a slow forward airspeed and the banking maneuver.

McCorkle said the ``power settling'' problem was not unique to the Osprey, and that pilots are trained to avoid it.

Both Jones and McCorkle said investigators were not yet prepared to ascribe the accident to pilot error. They said more study was needed. McCorkle said colleagues of the pilot, Maj. John A. Brow, of California, Md., have told investigators that Brow was an exceptionally talented pilot with more than 3,700 hours of flight time.

``We have found no structural or design flaws that would preclude safe flight operations and we maintain complete faith in the safety of the V-22,'' McCorkle said. Investigators are still studying whether the proximity of another Osprey, which landed about 300 feet ahead of the one that crashed, played a role.

The crash was the worst aviation disaster for the Marines since 22 were killed in a helicopter crash in South Korea in 1989.

As a gesture of confidence in the aircraft's airworthiness, Jones said he and Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Ryan plan to be passengers aboard the first Osprey to return to operational flight. Although the Osprey is being produced mainly for the Marines, the Air Force plans to buy some for special operations.

The manufacturers - Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron - are due to deliver 11 Ospreys to the Marines this year. Eventually the Marines are to field 360 of them to replace the Corps' Vietnam-era CH-46 helicopters as the primary means of transporting troops into combat from ships offshore.

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