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ARLINTON, Va. — When Gen. Bryan Brown parachutes Friday out of an MV-22 Osprey, it’ll be of his own volition.

Brown, commanding general of Special Operations Command, will be joined by other top officials in an orientation of the once-troubled tilt-rotor aircraft program, including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper, who will revert to his days of flight as he co-pilots one of the Osprey flights at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.

Rounding out the passenger list is Air Force Secretary James Roche and Thomas O’Connell, assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict, who will be take separate orientation flights to learn more about the aircraft.

“It’s important to them to familiarize themselves with the aircraft,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Caldwell said of Roche’s and Jumper’s desires to fly in the aircraft. “They haven’t had a chance to fly on it before and this gives them an opportunity to see it first-hand and have a better idea of how they want to carry on with the program in the future.”

In August 2000, a Marine Corps Osprey crashed during a training flight in Arizona, killing its 19 passengers. Another crashed in December that same year in North Carolina, killing four Marines and bringing the testing program to a halt. But since the MV-22 return to flight in May 2002, the aircrafts have more than 1,740 safe and incident-free flight hours, Campbell said.

The Marine Corps has not taken any steps crews would not ordinarily take to prepare for the flights, even if it’s for the Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff and other high-ranking officials, said Corps spokesman Capt. Jerome Bryant.

The MV-22 has tilt-rotor capabilities that let it take off and land vertically like a helicopter, but fly like a fixed-wing airplane. It is being built by Boeing’s helicopter division and Bell Helicopter Textron.

The Air Force wants 50 Ospreys for special operations missions, and the Marine Corps intends to buy 360 to replace its aging fleet of CH-53D Sea Stallion and CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters as its primary troop transporter. The Navy might buy about 50.

Putting top leaders into the aircraft “puts a glowing endorsement on the program itself if they’re willing to do something like that,” said J. Joseph, a retired Marine Corps colonel with 20,000 flight hours in aircraft ranging from general aviation to high performance military and air carrier aircraft, including 22 years of experience in aviation accident analysis and reconstruction. He currently is a commercial airline pilot.

“The testing program has gone on long enough. I think this is a prudent move,” said Joseph, who never has flown the Osprey, but has followed closely the program, especially after a Marine Corps pilot friend was killed in initial testing about 10 years ago.

“The program has faced a number of setbacks. It’s complicated new technology, but the Marine Corps has put it’s best foot forward and done a good job on its testing program,” Joseph said.

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride for the program, which got started in 1989 and twice faced cancellation, first because of the program’s high costs, and again because of the 2000 fatal crashes.

But Marine Corps leaders especially have remained steadfast in keeping the program alive, maintaining that the technology is sound and proven, and the Corps needs the versatile aircraft.

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