Not Without My Osprey!

One ugly but amazing bird. (Shutterstock photo)

One ugly but amazing bird.
(Shutterstock photo)

The Air Force can’t get enough V-22 Osprey tiltrotor transports to meet its SAR needs:

Manufacturered by Boeing and Bell/Textron, the Osprey has also become a core asset of the Air Force Special Operations Command, which is building to a fleet objective of 50 airframes in the CV-22B configuration. The command uses Osprey for secret missions such as inserting and extracting special operators behind enemy lines. Like the Marines, Air Force special operators have discovered over time that the unique combination of features provided by tilt-rotor technology creates opportunities that would not have been feasible in the past. For instance, the large compartment size of the CV-22B — it can carry up to 32 warfighters — has allowed medics to perform surgery en route from combat.

Recognizing that some future search-and-rescue missions might be too challenging for the HH-60, the Air Force last year began studying how tilt-rotors could be included in the mix of aircraft used to retrieve downed pilots. Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh opined that conventional copters might be best suited to some rescue scenarios, while only a tilt-rotor could accomplish others. The CV-22B’s are housed in a different command than the search-and-rescue helicopters, so there are organizational issues that need to be considered in implementing a mixed fleet.

The bigger issue, though, is how many more Ospreys will be needed if they routinely take on rescue missions, and where the money will come from.

I used to be a doubter about the Osprey. I didn’t doubt the eventual efficacy of tiltrotor aircraft generally, which seemed to be an inevitability. But the Osprey itself was so over budget, so behind schedule, and had so many teething issues that for a while there it looked like the best bet was to cancel it and start over with a clean sheet.

And now the Air Force and Marines (Navy, too, IIRC) can’t get enough of them.

There may be a broader lesson in there.