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Ospreys to be sent to Okinawa, but will not fly for now

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 29, 2012

The Department of Defense said Friday that it is going ahead with the deployment of the MV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey on Okinawa, but in deference to Japanese concerns over the aircraft’s safety record, no flight operations will take place until investigations of two recent crashes are finished.

In a news release announcing the move, the DOD praised the Osprey’s “excellent” safety record and said preliminary investigations of both crashes — on April 11 in Morocco and June 13 in Florida — found no reason to ground the aircraft, which has surpassed 115,000 flight hours. The flight ban applies only to Okinawa, home to the III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“The United States will continue uninterrupted flight operations of the MV-22 and CV-22 elsewhere around the world, including over the continental United States,” the statement said.

Okinawa residents have protested the Osprey’s deployment, expressing concerns about flights over densely populated areas. The prefectural government has passed two resolutions opposing the aircraft over the past year, citing safety risks.

“The Department of Defense, including senior U.S. Air Force leaders, stands behind the CV-22’s reliability and is convinced that the aircraft is safe for operations,” the DOD statement said. “Basing the Osprey in Okinawa will significantly strengthen the United States’ ability to provide for the defense of Japan, perform humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and fulfill other alliance roles.”

The Osprey is a cross between a helicopter and a long-range aircraft with tilt-rotor engines that provide vertical or short-runway takeoff and landing capabilities. It has been touted as a replacement for the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters on Okinawa. The Ospreys will arrive at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni for unloading in late July.

Two Marines were killed and two others seriously injured in the April crash during a training flight in Morocco. The DOD statement said a preliminary Marine investigation found the aircraft did not suffer from a mechanical or material failure.

The June crash during a training flight at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida injured all five of the crew. The Defense statement said the preliminary review of the incident “has not uncovered any information which would preclude the continued operation of the aircraft.”

Results of both preliminary reports have been shared with the Japanese government. The DOD statement said it expects final reports will be handed over to Tokyo in August.

The Osprey was criticized during development for its high maintenance needs and poor reliability. A crash during a test run killed seven crewmembers and passengers in 1992, and 23 Marines died in two separate incidents in 2000. The Morocco crash was the first deadly Osprey incident since 2010.

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