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House oversight committee hears testimony on Osprey crashes

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The Committee on Oversight and Accountability held a hearing Wednesday addressing recent incidents with the Osprey V-22 tiltrotor, a military aircraft with a history of fatal crashes.

A crash in November 2023 killed eight service members in a training exercise off the coast of Japan. Since 2022, 20 service members have been killed by Osprey malfunctions, adding on to an already lengthy history of fatalities. Since 2000, 54 US service members have been killed in V-22 crashes.

This oversight hearing is the first comprehensive review done on the V-22.

The Osprey is a tiltrotor aircraft used to transport Marines and cargo. Its large rotors and engines allow the aircraft to land like a helicopter but travel long distances quickly like a plane.

Recently, the V-22 has encountered a series of problems with its clutch engagement and chipping in the gearbox. The November crash was linked to chipping from the V-22’s proprotor gearbox, according to NBC. Metal chips from general wear can flake off into the engine, leading to damage or even failure.

In previous crashes, the V-22s have had problems with a “hard clutch engagement,” which can cause the aircraft to be sent into an uncontrollable roll or slide.

“Data was presented to myself that indicated that the platform experienced a catastrophic material failure that we have never seen before in the V-22 program,” Vice Admiral Carl Chebi said.

Chebi mentions that data from the Navy suggests the failure is called a “wear-out mode”.

“Over time the clutch wears out and has a higher susceptibility to slipping, which will cause a hard clutch event.”

“That has not eliminated the risk,” Chebi continued. “We are currently in testing of a follow-on design for the clutch.”

Many of the fatalities from V-22 crashes have been in training exercises as opposed to combat, leading many to wonder about the quality of the V-22.

“We train like we fight,” said Chebi. “We train in very realistic environments. We want our aircrew to train in that environment.”

The V-22 has a mishap rate of 4.1 for every 100,000 flight hours, which is above the overall average mishap rate for all other platforms. A platform is the specific vehicles or facilities which host and use equipment that has a particular military or intelligence task that is needed in the field.

“The overall mishap rate across all platforms for the V-22 is 4.1. The Marine Corps is slightly higher than the overall mishap rate, the Air Force is higher than the mishap rate, the Navy’s is slightly lower,” said Chebi.

Congress attempted to acquire results from a safety investigation on the V-22 but was refused access.

“The Committee has requested numerous documents and information from the Department, but has been met with recalcitrance,” said subcommittee Chairman Glenn Grothman.

“It remains important to protect the safety privilege for those who participate in those safety investigations, to ensure that the members who participate in them have the maximum amount of opportunity to know that the information they provide in the investigations will remain confidential,” said Peter Belk, principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense.

V-22 was returned to restricted flight status in March 2024, and has safely flown over 7,000 hours since. Investigations into the safety of the V-22 are ongoing, as are design upgrades.

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