The USAF has lost its first CV-22 Osprey in an operational crash.
One of the revolutionary tilt-rotor aircraft, assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) went down yesterday in eastern Afghanistan's Zabul province. Three Air Force members died in the crash, along with a civilian contractor. Other personnel aboard the aircraft were reportedly injured, according to a military spokesman.
The names of the dead have not been released, and the Air Force has not revealed how many other individuals were on the Osprey when it went down. The aircraft and crew were assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing, based at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Cause of the crash is under investigation.
Crews from the Hurlburt unit have been operating the Osprey since 2006 and (prior to Thursday's crash) accumulated over 8,000 flight hours without a serious mishap. The Air Force uses the CV-22 for the long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resuppy of special forces teams. Given those assignments, it's highly likely that the Osprey was on a special ops support mission when it went down, near the provincial capital of Qalat.
Thursday's crash is likely to raise new questions about the aircraft's safety record, but that may be unfair. While the Marine Corps suffered three fatal accidents during the Osprey's development, but the aircraft's safety record has been solid in recent years. Since 2007, Marine Corps Osprey crews have logged more than 5,000 hours in Iraq without a major mishap, and the Corps has also deployed V-22s to Afghanistan in recent months, again without incident.
The fatal accident came as the Osprey fleet begins to achieve a degree of operational maturity. Last month, noted airpower analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute suggested the V/CV-22 fleet was ready to take on new roles, for other branches of the military. Some of those missions include combat search-and rescue for the Air Force (our existing fleet of HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters is getting long in the tooth); ship-board resupply for the Navy (the Osprey can land on a wider variety of ships than the C-2 Greyhound) and medical evacuation for the Army.
With its ability to take-off and land like a helicopter, then cruise at 300 knots, the Osprey is faster than rotary-wing aircraft, with a far greater range. But nagging concerns about safety (and the Osprey's $68 million price tag) make it a tough sell for the Army, Navy and potential foreign customers.
But then again, acquiring a revolutionary capability means taking risks--both financially and operationally.