An inside view of the difficult birth of a tactical vehicle that, at least for a time, was a defense contractor’s dream and a politician’s terror.
Dallas Morning News Pentagon correspondent Whittle has been tracking the story of the V-22 Osprey, a “tiltrotor” aircraft—“called that because it tilts two giant rotors on its wingtips upward to take off and land and swivels them forward to fly fast”—since the machine first hit the planning table. Developed at the cost of many Marine lives, victims of numerous crashes during the testing phase, the Osprey program was, by 2000, billions of dollars over budget and nearly a decade behind schedule. Worse, one Marine commander was alleged to have told the technicians under his command to lie about the myriad mechanical problems that emerged in its experimental stages. Bound up in a web of deception, politics and the full weight of the military-industrial complex, the Osprey’s debut in the Iraq War more than 25 years after the program’s initiation, by the author’s view, was entirely appropriate—the two fit each other as “a project sold for a mission one deemed existential, a venture begun under the influence of a dream that soon became a nightmare.” Yet, for all its problems and despite considerable odds, including some conniving by rival helicopter manufacturers and entanglements with the ever-combative Dick Cheney, the high command saw the Osprey as essential to the survival of the Marine Corps, which, given the paucity of opportunities for seaborne invasions of distant shores, found its ability to insert fighters quickly and deeply into enemy territory irresistible. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with key players, including frontline soldiers and contractors at all levels of operation, Whittle skillfully depicts the evolution of the aircraft from drawing board to reality.
A military version of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine (1981)—with, much higher casualties, of course.