SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — An emergency landing by a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey seems likely to further inflame opposition to deployment of the helicopter-plane hybrids to Japan, even though no one was injured.
Marine Corps officials said the incident Monday afternoon came during a routine training flight. The crew landed the tilt-rotor aircraft as a “precautionary” measure at Wilmington International Airport in North Carolina, about 50 miles from its home base at Marine Corps Air Station New River.
Corps officials said the cause was not yet known. Japanese media reported the pilot was in full control as he set down after reporting drive-shaft trouble.
“At no time during the precautionary landing was there any danger to the community in North Carolina,” Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Eric Flanagan wrote in an email response to Stars and Stripes queries. “The MV-22 is a highly-capable aircraft with an excellent safety record.”
But many Japanese citizens living near Marine Corps air stations Iwakuni and Futenma on Okinawa, where the aircraft will soon be conducting operations, already had concerns about the Osprey before the latest incident.
An Osprey crash in Morocco in April killed two Marines, and a crash in Florida in June injured an entire crew. For the Japanese, those incidents carried echoes of a 2004 crash by a Sea Stallion into Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the Futenma base in a densely populated urban area.
Anti-Osprey protests on Okinawa have drawn thousands and sparked political resolutions against the aircraft’s deployment.
Despite the opposition, Marine officials said the controversial aircraft will arrive later this month by ship in Iwakuni. From there, the 24 Ospreys will deploy to Futenma in the fall.
They will be grounded there until reports from the two crashes earlier this year are complete and provided to the government of Japan, although they will continue to fly elsewhere in the world.
With an increased range, speed, carrying capacity and even cruising elevation in combat, the Ospreys have been lauded for saving the lives of both troops and civilians. But the recent incidents have cast a shadow on the their achievements, such as the rescue of a downed American pilot in Libya and five years of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The V-22 can take off or land vertically on a short runway like a helicopter, but its tilt-rotor also allows it to operate like a plane, and it folds up while parked on a Navy ship at sea. It was developed by Boeing and Textron Co.’s Bell Helicopter unit and came at a cost of $22 billion — and 30 lives in three crashes over its 25-year development — according to Richard Whittle, former Washington and Pentagon correspondent for The Dallas Morning News and author of “The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey.”
They Ospreys are operated by the Marine Corps and the Air Force only, although there are plans for the Navy to receive 48 MV-22s for fleet logistic support and search and rescue, according to the Bell Helicopter website.