Navy approves plane-helicopter hybrid is to fly

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Navy certified as "operationally suitable" a hybrid helicopter-airplane known as the MV-22 Osprey.

The decision announced Friday after eight months of evaluation clears the way for a Navy decision to begin full production of the controversial Boeing aircraft to be flown mainly by the Marine Corps.

Eventually the Marines hope to field 360 Ospreys with a price tag of $36 billion.

The Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like an airplane, had a setback in April when one crashed during an Arizona evaluation flight and killed all 19 Marines aboard. An investigation determined the aircraft had no mechanical flaw and blamed the accident mainly on human error.

The few Ospreys produced for the testing and evaluation period that began in November were grounded for two months after the crash. Flights resumed in June but were halted again briefly in late August and early September while relatively minor mechanical problems were resolved.

The Osprey is built by Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron.

The Marines hope to have their first squadron of Ospreys ready for use next year.

Critics question whether the Osprey is safe and worth the price. The Marines consider it crucial to their future because it is intended to replace their fleet of aging and less capable troop-carrying helicopters.

Friday’s certification by the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Command called the aircraft suitable for land-based operations but said more testing would be needed to certify it ready for sea-based duty.

Modifications to the Osprey’s system for folding and stowing its tiltrotors and wings aboard ship require further testing and evaluation at sea. That is expected to be completed by Nov. 15, the Navy said.

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