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Friday, August 1, 2008

Heard in the Hallways: The Bonds That Hold The V-22 Team Together

The Bell Helicopter-Boeing team that produces the V-22 Osprey for the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force is enjoying good times.

A second Marine squadron is deployed to Iraq and is supporting combat operations there. The Air Force is increasing the number of CV-22s its special forces will use, doubling from five to 10 the number of aircraft it wants in the first year of a multi-year contract and adding to deliveries in subsequent years.

Bell and Boeing are tweaking how they divide the work of producing Ospreys. Boeing has taken over integration of the empennages Vought Aircraft Industries makes for the V-22. (The partners are wrestling with how to transport mated nose-cabin sections to Amarillo from Boeing’s Philadelphia factory. The modified Boeing C-97 "Super Guppy" used for that work is down for maintenance. The Ospreys-in-waiting will have to be shipped by road or rail, but don’t easily fit under all overpasses.)

With such routine problems occupying them, and the common foe of a skeptical Congress, media and Pentagon quieted by the onset of uneventful field operations, what’s next for the partners? A bit of intra-team tension, of course.

Asked if the Rolls-Royce AE1007C Liberty engines on the V-22 really need to be replaced, a top Boeing official was emphatic that the Marines think so. The question was prompted by program officials’ complaints earlier this year that Rolls’ support was lacking.

But why, given the fact that the aircraft is fielded and relatively trouble-free, would the program risk the turmoil of an engine change? "That engine was really slapped on the V-22, and has never been a good fit," this team player said.

Whether that’s true or not, "we’re not going to replace the engine," an old Naval Air Systems Command hand told Rotor & Wing. "Why would we open that can of worms?"

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