V-22 Osprey grounded after flaw found in gear performance

JACKSONVILLE, N.C., 21 January 2005. The Marine Corps has suspended flights of the experimental tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft after officials discovered that the coating of a crucial part is wearing off faster than expected, the military said Thursday.

JACKSONVILLE, N.C., 21 January 2005. The Marine Corps has suspended flights of the experimental tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft after officials discovered that the coating of a crucial part is wearing off faster than expected, the military said Thursday.

Osprey flights were put on "operational pause" Tuesday, but could resume next week, said spokeswoman Capt. Marisol Zammit of Marine Corps Air Station New River, home to the only Marine squadron that is testing Ospreys. The squadron is awaiting new parts and a new Osprey built with an improved gearbox.

The problem is that the thin, chrome coating on an "input quill" -- a part within the gearbox that transfers power to the rotors -- flakes off, forcing mechanics to replace the boxes.

In six instances, worn equipment has caused a warning light to come on inside the aircraft that indicates a problem with its gearbox, military officials said.

"We changed a couple in December, and we are down to zero in our supply," said Col. Glenn Walters, commander of the Marine Tiltrotor Test and Evaluation Squadron 22, which has 14 of the aircraft. "You don't want to (have to) land in a field, set up tents and wait for spares."

A review of the Osprey, which can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like an airplane after its rotors shift from vertical to horizontal, is scheduled for Jan. 27, when program officials are expected to decide whether to move forward with testing.

The gearbox problem will be a consideration, but the military still expects to move into the next phase of Osprey tests in February or March, Walters said.

The new testing could be complete as early as July. The Marine Corps has ordered 360 Ospreys, the Navy 48 and the Air Force 50 for special operations. The aircraft, if approved for full production, would replace an aging fleet of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters.

The Osprey was grounded for about 18 months following a pair of crashes in 2000 that killed 19 servicemen in Arizona. Four Marines were killed in another crash that year when an Osprey went down during a training mission near Jacksonville.

By the Associated Press

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