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hit with a sudden loss of lift. The problem occurs because the rotors churn the air so thoroughly that the blades of the rotor lose their ability to “grip” the air, and provide lift. Helicopter pilots have been dealing with vortex ring state ever since the machines were invented. Pilots found that their machines, even operating at full power, could suddenly fall several dozen, or even several hundred feet, with little warning. With helicopters, this problem can be overcome fairly easily. The pilot tilts the machine forward and flies out of the disturbed air column. If the pilot is too close to the ground to recover from vortex ring state, then the helicopter hits the ground. It hits hard, but the helicopter tends to stay upright and therefore, can land on its landing gear. That’s not the case with the V-22. In the V-22, vortex ring state usually affects one rotor or the other, not both. That’s bad. If one of the machine’s rotors suddenly cannot provide lifting power and the other rotor continues to provide lift, then the V-22 likes to roll over on its side or on its back, positions that are not conducive to safe flying, particularly if the earth is nearby. The DOD’s 2001 report on the V-22 said this “asymmetric vortex ring state” poses a “higher risk of adverse outcome if it happens at low altitude \(wing-first impact for the tilt-rotor vs. In this case, “adverse outcome” often means a smoldering ruin filled with dead people. Bell and the Pentagon claim that they have solved the problem with vortex ring state. But many critics of the aircraft say otherwise. The V-22’s excessive the problems created by vortex ring state. “They can’t get away from the problem of vortex ring state,” says Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, a vocal gadfly who worked inside the Defense Department for 34 years before retiring in mid-2003. Spinney’s expertise was in tactical aircraft development and he gained a name for himself by throwing budgetary grenades at wasteful defense spending projects. Spinney insists that the V-22 is doomed by the problem of vortex ring state. “It’s physics,” says Spinney. “They can’t fix it. End of story.” Spinney isn’t the only critic. Ivan Eland, a defense analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, has called the V-22 a “prime example of a failed defense acquisition system…. The Pentagon protects certain companies and manages what it euphemistically calls competition as rampant politics [and] pork projects.” Perhaps the most dogged analysis of the V-22 has been done by a retired Air Force colonel named Harry Dunn. Now living in Virginia, Dunn heads a group of aviators and engineers known as the “red ribbon panel.” Dunn, a former helicopter pilot, has been investigating the aircraft for more than three years. The V-22 is “a crippled albatross, which will continue killing” unless it is stopped, says Dunn. A key problem is the V-22’s inability to perform what pilots call “autorotation”that’s the ability of helicopters to glide to the earth in an emergency. If a helicopter’s engine fails or gets damaged by enemy fire, it can often land safely because as the helicopter descends, its rotor blades continue spinning. The spinning blades create lift, which slows the aircraft’s descent. The V-22’s design effec tively prevents autorotation. That means that if the engines on a V-22 fail due to mishap or enemy action while hovering at low altitude, all of the occupants of the aircraft are much more likely to die. From the outset, the Marines, Bell, and Boeing have taken the attitude of “let’s build the thing and then fix it later,” says Dunn. While Dunn and other Pentagon insiders fight the V-22 program, Bell and Boeing are working the halls of Congress. In 2000 \(the last year for which figures are readily availWashington than Textron. That year, Textron spent nearly $4.7 million on its lobby effort. According to the Center for Public Integrity, between 1997 and 2000, Textron spent $17.5 million lobbying members of Congress. Boeing was spending huge amounts of money, too. In 2000, Boeing spent $8.2 million on lobbyingmore than any other defense contractor. That year, the company ranked number 14 among all companies lobbying that year and had 28 different lobby firms working in Washington. Those firms were in addition to 17 of Boeing’s in-house lobbyists. Between 1997 and 2000, Boeing spent almost $34.5 million on lobbying. The lobbying appears to be paying off. Despite the fatal crashes, despite ongoing flight problems, despite the fact that the V-22 cannot carry a full load of 24 battle-ready soldiers, the airplane continues to get enormous amounts of taxpayer money. In his 2004 defense budget, the biggest since the end of the Cold War, President George W. Bush plans to spend another $1.1 billion to build 11 more V-22’s. The money continues to flow despite astounding cost increases. In 1987, the Pentagon assumed it would purchase 913 V-22s at a cost of about $33.2 billion. The following year, the U.S. Army backed out of the V-22 program and the number of V-22s to be built declined to just over 600. By December of 2001, according to figures from the General Accounting Office, the number of aircraft had shrunk to 458 but the total cost of the program had increased to $42.6 billion. That means that the price per copy of the V-22 has gone from about $36 million in the early days of the program to about $100 million. It’s a good thing the V-22 doesn’t have toilet seats, or it might get really expensive. Everest Riccioni, a retired Air Force colonel, is another V-22 critic. An aeronautical engineer, he was one of the midwives of the F-16, widely acknowledged as perhaps the best fighter aircraft ever built. In a study paid for by the Air Force, Riccioni found that the V-22 would be far less capable than the Marines were claiming and that the Corps was having trouble maintaining and keeping the V-22s ready to fly. Perhaps his most important finding was that a conventional, modern helicopter would be three times more cost-effective than the V-22. He also predicted that despite its love of the V-22, the Marine Corps “must inevitably buy a fleet of modern helicopters to make up for the Osprey’s many operational defects and shortcomings.” Texas’s senior U.S. Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, doesn’t see any defects in the V-22. Hutchison may be the most pow -continued on page 18 6/18/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11