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March 26, 2006

First Woman Osprey Pilot

Congratulations to Captain Elizabeth A. Okoreeh-Baah, USMC. She's the first woman to take on the very tricky V-22 Osprey aircraft. Good luck to her. She sounds like she has the right stuff.

Captain Elizabeth A. Okoreeh-Baah spent the first five and a half years of her career in the Marine Corps as a CH-46E “Sea Knight” pilot, but when Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-263 began transitioning to the Osprey Program while she was stationed there, she became one of the first female pilots to begin training on the controls of the tiltrotor aircraft.

. . .

“She’s going to go a long way because she never quits. She can succeed at anything she puts her mind to,” said Okoreeh-Baah’s father, Isaac K. Okoreeh-Baah Sr., a native of Ghana, North Africa. “She gets that from me, I think.”

The controversial Osprey is supposed to take off like a helicopter and then fly like an airplane by tilting its huge propellers forward.

Here's some cool video of the Osprey in action.

Before the Osprey, there was always a trade off between fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. The spinning blades of a helicopter make it inherently slower than a regular airplane, with a shorter range and a lower top altitude. But fixed wings need a runway. The Osprey gives you get the best of both worlds: the speed, range and ceiling of an airplane, plus the vertical take-off and hovering capability of a helicopter. The V-22 is designed to replace the big dual rotor CH-46 Sea Knight, which has been around since 1960.

The Osprey is controversial because the military spent a lot of money on it and then it started crashing. A lot. There was a time when the DoD wanted to cancel the program. All I know is when I tried flying my dad's computer game Osprey, I kept crashing it. So I've not always been a fan of the plane (or helicopter, or whatever).

The 1986 estimated cost of a single V-22 was about $24 million with a projected 923 to be built. The first Bush administration cancelled the project in April 1989, by which time the cost of a single craft was estimated at $35 million. However, Congress continued to allocate funding for the program in a November 1989 authorization. Throughout Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney’s tenure, he and Congress wrestled over the question of the V-22 as he felt the project would cost more than the amount appropriated. Eventually he relented, proposing that $1.5 billion be spent in fiscal years 1992 and 1993 to develop the project. The arrival of the Clinton administration into the White House in 1992 provided new support for the program.

Osprey crashes have resulted in 30 deaths. No one died in a June 11, 1991, Osprey crash, but a crash July 20, 1992, in Virginia killed three Marines and four civilians. The Osprey was grounded for 11 months after this crash. A crash in Arizona April 8, 2000, killed 19 Marines, grounding the aircraft for two months. Another crash in North Carolina Dec. 11 of the same year killed four Marines. After the December crash, the Osprey was grounded until May 29, 2002.

One of the crashes was caused by something called "vortex ring state," which happens when a helicopter descends through its own air turbulence. To correct this, Osprey pilots are supposed to descend slowly, although some say that Ospreys should be able to descend faster than conventional helicopters.

Supposedly all the bugs have been worked out. So I'll keep my fingers crossed, and hope that the Osprey lives up to its promise.

Posted by annika, Mar. 26, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: Science & Technology


My brother-in-law, a Lt. Col USMC (ret) helio pilot had a hand in the development phase of this aircraft.

He said it was frightening to fly every time and apparently all the pilots were pretty brave to take it up and happy as Hell to get it down safely.

My niece, now a full Lt. in Naval Intelligence, was stationed on a LHD (which carries a complement of helios and Ospreys) during the invasion of Iraq and did a lot of vectoring (controlling) of these. She says they have their uses but are not the pilot's favorite by a long shot.

People who fly them are among the bravest.

Posted by: shelly on Mar. 26, 2006

I agree with the courage of the pilots of military aircraft of any stripe. When I was in Thailand during the Christmas bombings I talked to a B52 pilot and he told me how hard those beasts were to fly. The only thing I could add to Shelly's opinion is that the Harrier was much more dangerous and had a huge fatality rate, as I recall something like 3 times higher than the next highest a/c. I wish my fellow marines were asked to be less couragous.

Posted by: Drake Steel on Mar. 26, 2006

The qualifications for being a Naval Aviator, which Marine wingnuts are, are very stringent. One must have good eyes, lightning reflexes, be smart enough to do the job, and be dumb enough to do the job.

I lived through both the AV-8B, and CH-53E deployments, and even personally knew some of the dead. A pretty good friend of mine was an F-18 squadron maintenance officer in the early '90s, and I remember the look of fear on his face before heading out to take a problem child out for a check ride. Shit, he had three kids. It's the old story, if it's got wings, rotors, tits, or tires, it'll give you problems.

As for the spit-tail rotor-head, I hope that neither I nor mine are customers. When in need, I don't want the bull-dyke fireman, 98 lb copette, or pilot without all the skills. One of the skills is the ego to do the job, whether you can or not, and it's not a female trait.

Posted by: Casca on Mar. 27, 2006

Interestingly enough, I was reading that they had somekind of accident with one of the MV-22's. No one was killed or injured.

Posted by: Drake Steel on Mar. 28, 2006