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The V-22 Osprey and the iPod

by John Reed on September 22, 2011

RIDLEY PARK, Pa. — The V-22 Osprey is getting an extra 20-knots of speed and more than 1,00-pounds of lift power without any hardware changes, Boeing officials revealed this week.

Instead, engineers simply updated the tiltrotor’s software, boosting the Osprey’s max cruising speed to 260 knots, according to Bull Sunick, Boeing’s V-22 business development manager. A similar software upgrade will soon tweak propeller angles to give it an additional 1,000-pounds of power when in a hover.

The V-22 is “the iPod, if you will, of rotorcraft in that we were able to improve our [airspeed] to 260 knots through a flight control software upgrade,” Sunick told DT after a tour of Boeing’s V-22 assembly line here (hence the Instagram photo I took). “You go home, you synch your iPod and you get the new software on there — we kinda do the same with the airplane, it’s all ones and zeros…it was through a software drop. A new version came out, kinda like your new iPod software and boom, no new engines no new drivetrain.”

This was just after he’d finished reminding me of how an Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 had  performed one of the tiltrotor’s very first combat search and rescue missions nearly one year before USMC MV-22s rescued the pilot of that F-15E Strike Eagle that crashed in Libya last March.

(Boeing brought a bunch of reporters up to Ridley Park for the 50th anniversary celebration of the CH-47 Chinook’s first flight yesterday, DT was given a tour the nearby Osprey line afterward.)

On June 1, 2010 a helo carrying 32 people went down during a special operations raid near Kunduz in Northeast Afghanistan. A severe dust storm and the Hindu Kush mountain range foiled attempts by other helos to reach the stranded crew and passengers who were under small arms and mortar fire. Two CV-22s from the 8th Special Operations Squadron launched out of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan within two hours of being alerted and flew 400-miles straight to the site — over the 15,000-foot mountains and through “very low visibility”  – and back to Kandahar with the 32 stranded troops in less than four hours.

“There was a mountain range in between” the American bases at Bagram and Kandahar “so conventional rotorcraft would have had to snake through the valleys and whatnot,” said Sunick. “V-22 flew over them. The guys went up, they went on oxygen, went over the mountains, went direct as the crow flies and then when they were coming close the weather was extremely bad, I think they had less than a quarter-mile visibility. Now you’ve got your [terrain following radar] sniffing things out for you, giving you a clear picture and so the guys were able to go in there. It was a hot LZ, they were under fire, they landed, picked all they guys up — 32 folks crammed in the back of the airplane — and they got out of Dodge and made it back.”

Now, the V-22 had its share of development problems [nightmares, at times] and it’s still working through problems with fine sand wearing down engine parts faster than engineers would like and it’s mission ready rates when deployed are roughly 70 percent. Still,  you can’t argue that the speed and ranges at which the bird flies combined with its VTOL abilities make it invaluable for missions like this.

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