RALEIGH, N.C. — The Marines have deployed to Iraq the first combat squadron of V-22 Ospreys, the tilt-rotor aircraft that spent decades in development due in part to a series of mechanical failures and fatal crashes.
The Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 and 10 Ospreys left Monday from New River Air Station next to Camp Lejeune aboard the USS Wasp, Marine Maj. Eric Dent said. A typical Osprey squadron has roughly 200 Marines.
The Osprey is built by Bell Helicopter Textron in partnership with Boeing Helicopters.
Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Conway said in April the squadron would deploy to Al-Asad Airfield, the second largest air base in Iraq located more than 100 miles west of Baghdad.
The squadron, dubbed the “Thunder Chickens,” includes 20 pilots and is to spend around seven months ferrying troops, supplies and cargo, Dent said.
The Osprey takes off vertically like a helicopter and flies like a plane. It flies faster and farther than helicopters.
Development of the aircraft was set back by two fatal crashes in 2000, one in Arizona that killed all 19 Marines aboard and another in Jacksonville that killed four.
In February, the fleet of 40-plus Ospreys at New River was grounded for several days after a faulty chip was discovered in a new Osprey being tested in Texas. The circuit lets three flight control computers back up each other.
The military plans to eventually operate 458 Ospreys, with 360 for the Marine Corps and the others used by the Navy and Air Force, Dent said.
He defended the safety of the Osprey, which has cost billions of dollars to develop. Dent said the aircraft had “one of the most extensive technical and programmatic reviews in the history of aircraft development.
“Since the aircraft resumed full flight operations more than six years ago, air crews have logged more than 27,000 safe flight hours,” he said.
The time and cost for developing the Osprey could have been better spent on less-expensive aircraft, such as helicopters, said Lawrence Korb, a defense analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington D.C.
Each Osprey costs about $100 million when factoring in research and development expenses, he said.
“The question is, could you have gotten more sooner if you could have gone to another type of plane,” he said.