CV-22B Osprey Crash: Lost In Accidents Several Times, US Finally Manages To Retrieve Black Box Of The Tiltrotor

With its data still intact, the United States Air Force (USAF) has retrieved the flight data recorder from a CV-22B Osprey that crashed off the coast of Japan in late November. This could offer crucial hints to investigators regarding the cause of the tragic accident.

The V-22 Osprey crashed into the water off the coast of western Japan on November 29 while it was on a routine flight training. The tilt-rotor fell off the island of Yakushima, killing all eight military personnel from the Air Force Special Operations Command onboard the aircraft, even though rescue efforts began immediately.

As tragic as the fatal Osprey crash was, the recovery of the black box, which went unscathed, is significant. It has been touted as the most important aspect of the accident investigation, as several black boxes from previous Osprey crashes did not survive the accidents. The investigation into the recent crash would be bolstered in a big way now.

According to the Air Force, the recorder is now being transferred to a lab for data retrieval, and it will likely take several weeks for the data to be analyzed. 

In early December, the US and Japanese divers also managed to discover wreckage and remains of crew members from a US Air Force Osprey aircraft. Most of Osprey’s wreckage was successfully recovered from the ocean floor by the Navy salvage ship USNS Salvor, which then transported it to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni for examination.

Within a few days of the crash, the Air Force was able to conclude that the deaths were caused by a material failure or something going wrong with the aircraft rather than a crew error. The incident was the latest in a long string of crashes documented through the years, with some resulting in major fatalities. Several sets of investigations have taken place over the years.

Days after the crash, the US military announced that it was grounding its fleet of V-22 Osprey aircraft after the crash the previous week. On its part, Japan grounded its tiny fleet of tilt-rotor aircraft just a day after the fatal accident.

CMV-22B Osprey
CMV-22B Osprey

The critics in Japan and several military watchers across the world have claimed that the Osprey, which was built by Bell Helicopter and Boeing (BA.N), is prone to mishaps. However, the governments of the United States and Japan have constantly attempted to dispute the assertion.

“Preliminary investigation information indicates a potential materiel failure caused the mishap, but the underlying cause of the failure is unknown at this time,” US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) said in a statement earlier, as the service came under the scanner for continuing to use the aircraft despite its tragic history replete with crashes.

With the black box or the sound recorders found intact now, the actual investigation would take off. The Marine Corps, which primarily flies the tilt-rotor aircraft, said that certain Osprey flights may be authorized in an emergency in the weeks following the disaster.

However, the remainder of the fleet, which includes the Ospreys that transport White House personnel, continues to be grounded. 

US Osprey Is Important But Has Safety Concerns

The Osprey is a unique multirole combat aircraft that combines the vertical performance of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft using tiltrotor technology. It can take off, land, and hover like a helicopter with its rotors in a vertical position.

Over the last several years, Osprey crashes have claimed the lives of over 50 US servicemen, with 20 of those deaths occurring in four crashes that happened in less than two years. In the weeks that followed the November crash, the remains of seven of the eight crew members were found by divers.

Over calls that the aircraft should be phased out due to the recurrent safety concerns, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said at a press briefing last year that “we do certainty have confidence in the Osprey.” Singh also emphasized that “each incident undergoes its investigation” and that she would refrain from “applying a sweeping broad stroke across every incident linking them together.”

Two weeks after Sabrina Singh’s emphatic show of commitment to this tragedy-stricken aircraft, unidentified US officials stated that they remain confident in the CV-22 Osprey despite the previous deadly crashes, some of which have been connected to an enigmatic, enduring mechanical issue. Additionally, they made it clear that the USAF, which uses the aircraft for unique tasks, is still fully committed to it.

File Image: US Marine MV-22 August 2017 crash in Australia

The Marine Corps is well known for having its Marines land on beaches in times of conflict, but in this day and age, it is difficult, particularly with China and other rivals. Now that potential foes have strong beach defenses, getting ships close enough to the coast to deploy personnel using military landing boats or civilian helicopters is impractical. This is where the importance of the Osprey is held up by its backers.

It enables amphibious ships to launch a long-range assault on the beach by allowing them to stay at sea for hundreds of kilometers. The combat utility and range of these tiltrotors are two of its major assets.

However, in light of these recurring accidents, things may be taking a different turn. For instance, a congressional oversight committee has also started a probe into the Osprey program amid calls for its decommissioning.

It mainly began with Japan, a key US ally, voicing its anxieties in the immediate aftermath of the incident in November. At the time, Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara requested that all non-emergency Osprey flights over its territory be halted until the safety of the particular aircraft type could be verified, citing concerns expressed by the general public. 

He made no effort to hide his displeasure about the Pentagon seemingly grounding only the Osprey variant involved in the tragedy while other variants were still being flown in Japan, despite his request to its US partners. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno called the incident “deeply regrettable” as it caused “great anxiety to people” in the region where it happened.

Soon after these remarks, Washington unconditionally grounded its entire Osprey fleet, barring emergency operations. The US military wasn’t just responding to the recent catastrophic aircraft crash off the coast of Japan when it made the unprecedented decision to ground its whole fleet of V-22 Ospreys.

Within its brief existence, the aircraft has experienced a plethora of issues and resultant crashes that you can read about here.