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Thursday, July 26, 2012
Team to study MV-22 engine-out procedure
By AYAKO MIE
While the U.S. proceeds with maintenance checks on the 12 MV-22 Ospreys at the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture, a special government team to verify the safety of the airplane-helicopter hybrid was launched Wednesday.
A central point of the panel's efforts will be determining the transport aircraft's ability to autorotate and make a successful emergency landing in helicopter mode.
Autorotation is a technique used to make an emergency landing when a helicopter's engines fail. Airflow causes the blades to rotate and their pitch and speed can be varied for a controlled descent.
Some experts claim the Osprey is not capable of this maneuver, increasing safety concerns over the planned contentious deployment of the aircraft in Okinawa, where antimilitary sentiment is strong.
Based on U.S. assurances, the Japanese government has claimed the Osprey is capable of autorotation. But the panel, consisting of officials from the Defense, Foreign and transport ministries, will try to confirm this independently, as well as look into other safety issues.
"It is most important that the Japanese people understand the safety of the Osprey," Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said at the beginning of the panel's first meeting. "I want you to conduct the most objective analysis based on technical and scientific expertise for the Japanese people."
The 16-member special team, headed by Tetsuro Kuroe, deputy director general of the Defense Policy Bureau, was launched amid growing concern over the tilt-rotor aircraft.
The aircraft suffered two severe crashes in a three-month period this year, and the team members are likely to go to the United States once the U.S. compiles final reports on the accidents in Morocco and Florida. The Florida report is due by next Tuesday, while the Morocco investigation should wrap up by the end of August.
At the panel meeting, Defense Ministry officials said they are asking the U.S. to let the team run Osprey computer simulations to check if it can autorotate in helicopter mode.
The U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa said in an email to the The Japan Times that "the MV-22 can use autorotative properties in a power-out situation."
In addition, the marines claimed the MV-22 can make "a survivable power-out landing" without relying on autorotation, and the chances of an Osprey losing both engines in helicopter mode are "extremely remote" given the redundancy of crucial systems.
There are other unanswered questions on the aircraft's safety features.
On July 18, the Washington-based news organization Inside Defense reported that the cockpit voice recorder has not been enabled on any MV-22B, including the aircraft that crashed in Morocco and Florida, quoting Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh. The Marine Corps in Okinawa has not confirmed this information. Voice recorders are crucial for investigating crashes, much like flight data recorders.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's administration is stepping up efforts to alleviate public concerns by holding a meeting Thursday of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee.
Japan is likely to push the U.S. to review the Osprey's six planned low-altitude flight routes, including one from the Tohoku region down to the Amami Islands, south of Kyushu, as well as adopt more stringent safety measures once the Osprey is deployed to Okinawa, currently scheduled for October.
Morimoto will make his first visit to the U.S. on Aug. 3 and is scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Aug. 4 to discuss the Osprey deployment and the long-standing relocation of the Futenma base. Morimoto is also likely to ride in an Osprey during his visit, something he has said he wants to do.