The Air Force is still unsure of the cause of the Osprey mechanical problem that grounded the plane

The Air Force special operations chief said he was concerned about a mechanical problem on the service’s fleet of CV-22 Ospreys that caused sudden emergency landings, saying the root cause did not been identified.

Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, told reporters Tuesday night at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber ​​conference that the service knows that a hard clutch engagement, a problem where power builds up in one of the two engines on the aircraft, is happening. But he said experts don’t know why this is happening.

“I’m unhappy with the progress we’re making…” Slife said. “We may not know why this is happening, but we do know what is happening.”

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In mid-August, Air Force Special Operations Command ordered all of their Ospreys to stop flying after recording four hard clutch engagements, or HCEs, since 2017. None of those incidents happened. is produced in combat environments, and none of them have been fatal, according to Slife. .

An AFSOC official told at the time of the stoppage that hard clutch engagement “causes the engine [system] transfer all the power to one of the [two] engines to keep the Osprey aloft.”

Slife told reporters on Tuesday he ordered the Ospreys to stop flying last month after realizing the command had not done enough in the past to address the issue.

“I was like, ‘What would I say to myself after a fatal crash, and we found out the reason was the clutch issue?'” Slife said. “‘Would I look back and say I did all I could do today?’ I couldn’t answer in the affirmative.”

Although the root cause of the problem was still unidentified, he cleared the fleet two weeks later, in early September.

Since the August 16 shutdown, Air Force Special Operations Command V-22 crews have participated in briefings to better understand and learn how to handle hard clutch engagement incidents.

Additionally, AFSOC’s CV-22 maintainers “perform spot checks to verify Air Force Maintenance Information System data and compare it to components that are physically installed on the aircraft. “, AFSOC said in a statement.

Slife told reporters on Tuesday that it plans to “impose a time change requirement on these clutches”, which means parts will be swapped on planes at regular intervals whether or not the platform has met. problems. He added that most of the incidents happened around the middle of their lifespan.

The Osprey is a revolutionary but controversial military aircraft. It combines the vertical takeoff and landing capabilities of a traditional helicopter with the long range of a turboprop aircraft.

A total of 15 accidents involving hard clutch engagement have occurred in the Army since the program began in 1991; four of them happened with the Air Force, and the others with the Marine Corps, which also flies the Osprey.

Unlike the Air Force, the Marine Corps did not ground the plane after identifying the problem. The branch said its pilots have been trained to respond to hard clutch issues when they arise.

“It’s common knowledge with the fleet,” the Marine Corps said last month. “Just doing hover checks greatly reduces exposure to this incident.”

Air Force Special Operations has begun to focus on teaching pilots post-withdrawal risk mitigation techniques, but the ultimate goal “remains to identify the root cause of the HCE and find and implement implements a hardware solution,” according to a statement released earlier this month.

One of the Air Force’s CV-22 Ospreys has been stranded in a remote nature reserve in Norway since last month after the crew suffered a hard clutch engagement and had to make an emergency landing.

Slife said the plane is only 80 meters from the water’s edge. The plan is to bring in a barge with a crane to retrieve the Osprey, then bring it to an airfield for inspection and repair.

“It’s almost done and here in the next few days, probably next week, we’ll probably put it back together,” Slife said.

Hard clutch engagements are costly and potentially fatal accidents. A pilot who spoke with on condition of anonymity earlier this month detailed a 2017 Osprey incident that caused more than $5 million in damage to the plane. Both engines and five gearboxes needed to be replaced, along with nearly a dozen other components. It took a crew of six, working 12-hour days, 45 days to fix the plane, according to an Air Force report.

— Thomas Novelly can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: He “blew everything up”. Osprey crash shows danger of clutch trouble as services continue to fly

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