U.S. Marines assigned to the Aviation Combat Element, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and Sailors assigned to the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) conduct MV-22 Osprey flight operations in the Atlantic Ocean, July 11, 2022.

U.S. Marines assigned to the Aviation Combat Element, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and Sailors assigned to the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) conduct MV-22 Osprey flight operations in the Atlantic Ocean, July 11, 2022. U.S. Marine Corps / Sgt. Armando Elizalde

Marine Ospreys Still Flying, Despite AFSOC Stand Down

Marine Corps says it has known about the hard clutch issue for 12 years, and is trained on how to respond to the failure.

The Marine Corps will keep operating their Osprey tiltrotor aircraft despite Air Force Special Operations Command’s decision to ground all their Ospreys because of safety concerns with the aircraft’s clutch.

AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Jim Slife directed the standdown of the CV-22 Fleet Tuesday “due to an increased number of safety incidents,” according to a command statement. “Since 2017, there have been four incidents involving hard clutch engagement during flight, with two occurring in the past six weeks.”

The AFSOC safety standdown was first reported by Breaking Defense. Variants of the V-22 Osprey are flown by the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy.

The Marine Corps has known about the hard clutch issue since 2010, “and as such, we have trained our pilots to react with the appropriate emergency control measures should the issue arise during flight,” Marine Corps spokesman Maj. James Stenger said in a statement Thursday.

The issue usually occurs almost immediately after take-off, so Marine pilots conduct a “hover check” with the aircraft to look over their instruments before proceeding with the flight, a defense official told reporters Thursday.

“By simply doing hover checks, that is a significant risk mitigation to this particular failure mode on the V-22,” the defense official said.

The Marine Corps and AFSOC said they are working with the Joint Program Office and “industry partners” to fix the clutch problem. “Ultimately, the goal is to determine a viable long term materiel solution," according to the AFSOC statement.

Finding a materiel fix has been a “priority” for the program office and industry, said the defense official, who added that he is not an “expert” on why a solution has not been identified in the 12 years the problem has been known.

Amy Behrman, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Systems Command, said in a statement Thursday that the command and the V-22 Joint Program Office have been working with manufacturer Bell-Boeing on the clutch issue.

“While [the] root cause remains under investigation, we are implementing additional risk mitigation controls to ensure the safety of our service members,” she said. “The program office continues to communicate and collaborate with all V-22 customers, including allied partners.”

While a materiel fix for the direct cause of the failure is a long-term solution, the defense official said near-term solutions are also being developed, such as additional alert indicators in the cockpit and engine improvements.

The Marine Corps said the Air Force “employs the V-22 platform differently than the Marine Corps,” according to a fact sheet released with the service’s statement. 

However, in light of the Air Force’s decision to ground its fleet, the Marine Corps is reiterating those safety procedures to crews, officials said.

“The deputy commandant for aviation [Lt. Gen. Michael Cederholm] has also issued interim guidance to the Fleet Marine Forces, implementing a procedure to help in the early recognition of a pending hard clutch engagement,” Stenger said.

The Navy’s variant, the CMV-22, reached initial operational capability last December, and the service will continue to fly the aircraft.

“All Navy CMV-22 Osprey units continue to conduct operations throughout the fleet. We are aware of the issues affecting the U.S. Air Force CV-22 fleet and are closely monitoring our CMV-22 aircraft for similar occurrences,” Cmdr. Zachary Harrell, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces, said in an email Wednesday.

The Marine Corps has more than 533,000 flight hours with the MV-22 “without a single catastrophic event [attributed] to this hazard,” Stenger said. Of the 15 related incidents within the V-22 program, 10 involved Marine Corps variants and did not result in any injuries, officials said. The Navy’s CMV-22 has not had this failure, according to the defense official.

When the failure happened previously, the Marines have sometimes replaced a gearbox, an engine, or both, the defense official said.

The MV-22 community has had two deadly crashes this year. In March, an Osprey crash in Norway during Exercise Cold Response 2022 killed four Marines. On Monday, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing announced the completion of the investigation into the crash, and cited pilot error as the cause.

In June, a MV-22 crashed in Southern California during a training flight, killing five Marines. The investigation into that crash is not yet complete.