After a crash near Japan that killed eight US Air Force Special Operations Command members, the US military has grounded all of its V-22 Osprey aircraft. Naval Air Systems Command issued a statement: “Preliminary investigations indicate that a possible materiel failure may have caused the mishap. However, the cause is not known at this time.” Six of the dead airmen were recovered from the wreckage.
The “stand-down”, for V-22 operations, also followed the request from Japan to stop the Osprey flight due to safety concerns and a lack of transparency about the ongoing safety investigation.
Hirokazu Matsuno, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said in his daily morning news conference on Friday that the United States had not provided enough information about the safety of Osprey helicopters or their flight operations, despite the Japanese government’s requests. Matsuno said, “We are concerned about what’s going on.”
Matsuno reiterated the Japanese government’s official notification that it had sent to the U.S. Government asking for a halt to Osprey flights in Japan except for SAR operations until the U.S. could confirm the safety.
The Osprey was a revolutionary aircraft, which promised to dominate maritime operations. Around two-thirds of the population of the globe is within the V-22’s combat range. With the promise, came adversity. During development, the aircraft was plagued by mechanical failures and engineering problems. It has earned the reputation of being a dangerous aircraft, whether deservedly so or not. This perception comes from the fact that when an Osprey crash occurs, it seems like there are fatalities. When an Osprey crash occurred during testing in 2000, for example, 19 Marines died. Since 2007, the V-22 has been fully operational. There have been 12 accidents and 33 deaths.
Statistically, the V-22 safety record is similar to that of the USMC, even without the body count.
On the website of the U.S. Marine Corps Okinawa introducing MV-22 Osprey, it states “The MV-22 Osprey is safe. It has had a Class-A mishap rate since 2010 of 3.27 per 100,000 flight hours. This is on par with the other Marine Corps Aviation platforms.”
According to a report published in 2023, after MV-22s crashed into California’s desert in 2022 killing five crew, the 10-year mishap rate of the MV-22 was 3.16 per 100,000 hours. The USMC aviation accident average is 3.1. This includes aircraft like the AV-8B F/A-18A-C F-35B CH-53E and KC-130J. The MV-22’s safety record is not better than the USMC averages.
The V-22 is not immune to bad luck.
The accident that occurred last week in the waters near the island of Yakushima in southern Japan was the latest of a string of deadly crashes involving the aircraft. Three months earlier, three American Marines were killed in Australia during a training drill.
Nine Marines died in two accidents last year. Five Marines were killed in a June Osprey crash near Glamis (California) during a training exercise. A second Osprey crashed in Beiarn in Norway killing all four people on board.
The New York Times has secretly linked this crash with the V-22 crash that occurred on Melville Island in Australia on June 8, 2022, and killed three Marines.
Ospreys have had problems with “hard clutch engagement,” where the clutch slips suddenly before reengaging.
V-22s have crashed for many reasons. It is reasonable to assume that the NYT had a reason to bring this problem to light. The USAF was aware of the “hard clutch engagement”. Air Force Special Operations Command grounded its Osprey Fleet in August 2022 and cleared it to fly again after two weeks of replacing all clutches.
If the NYT’s report is accurate, we need to ask hard questions about the accident investigation and the solution taken.
This “safety stop-down” is not a political sham. The crash summaries show that the mechanical flaws that brought down one V-22 usually affect the entire fleet…they have just not had enough time to fail catastrophically.