Air Force Grounds Entire Special Ops Osprey Fleet Over Mechanical Issue

osprey

Air Force Special Operations Command, or AFSOC, announced Tuesday, August 16 that it would ground all 52 of its CV-22 Osprey aircraft, which it uses to fly special operations missions. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Skiver.

The Air Force grounded its fleet of CV-22 Ospreys, the service’s frontline aircraft for inserting and recovering special operations forces, after two troubling mechanical failures in six weeks.

Breaking Defense first reported the decision by Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, who ordered that all 52 Ospreys be stood down indefinitely on Tuesday, Aug. 16.

“Since 2017 there have been four incidents involving hard clutch engagement during flight,” AFSOC spokeswoman Lt. Col. Becky Heyse said in a statement.

Heyse did not detail the nature of the mechanical issue or whether crew were in danger on any of the flights.

Joint SF team participate in exercise Emerald Warrior 2018

Members of a Special Forces team move together out of a US Air Force CV-22 Osprey Feb. 26, 2018, at Melrose Air Force Range, New Mexico. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Cupit.

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Cupit.

Ospreys are the Air Force’s battlefield transportation aircraft for special operations teams and missions. In February, a pair of Ospreys appeared to make a secret trip into Poland to collect the American ambassador to Ukraine and staff.

Uniquely, ospreys fly using a tilt-rotor system that allows them to travel long distances at high speed like airplanes but hover and land vertically like helicopters.

The clutch assembly in an Osprey connects an engine to the propeller. An unexpected clutch engagement could cause both engine damage and loss of thrust during flight, which in turn could cause a crash, depending on the reaction of the crew and the status of the Osprey’s other engine.

MC-130J Commando II Flyover for Mi Amigo 75th Anniversary

A US Air Force CV-22 Osprey from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, performs a flyover during the Mi Amigo 75th Anniversary flypast event on Feb. 22, 2019, at Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, United Kingdom. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima.

US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima.

According to Defense News, at least some of the previous clutch incidents ruined both the engines and other areas of the propeller systems, pushing them to the level of a Class-A mishap, the most serious classification in the Air Force for accidents that cause more than $2.5 million in damage.

Heyse did not put a timeline on when the Ospreys would return to flight or whether the fleet would need major repairs.

“AFSOC staff will work with the Joint Program Office and industry partners to fully understand this issue and develop risk control measures to mitigate the likelihood of catastrophic outcomes,” Heyse said.

The Osprey is used by the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. The Navy and Marines did not respond to emails from Coffee or Die regarding their fleets.

At least two Ospreys have suffered fatal crashes in 2022. In March, four Marines died in a crash Norway. That crash was determined to be fault of pilot error in unfamiliar mountains. In June, a crash on a desert range in California killed five Marines.

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Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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