After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in November 2013, some of the first rescue and relief aircraft to arrive on the scene included four MV-22 Ospreys operated by the U.S. Marine Corps as part of Operation Damayan. The unique qualities of the tilt-rotor aircraft, including range, cargo space and VTOL ability, made it an ideal choice for delivering supplies to hard-hit areas that were difficult, if not impossible, to access by other means.
Just one month later, the Air Force’s oldest Osprey (a CV-22), originally built as a preproduction aircraft for the U.S. Navy, would enter retirement at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The Osprey had been used exclusively in flight tests, but between its posts at Edwards Air Force Base in 2005, and later with the 413th Flight Test Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., it completed more than 600 test missions.
Given its record in both humanitarian and war efforts, it’s tempting to view the aircraft as a success story. But that belies its controversial history. In 1986 the Department of Defense awarded a contract to a joint development team from Bell Helicopter and Boeing Helicopter, with a budget of about $2.5 billion, for the V-22 program. Within just two years that budget had ballooned to more than $30 billion. Various performance issues combined with budget battles have plagued its history as well, prolonging development. Ultimately, flight tests wouldn’t begin until 1997, with the Marine Corps taking its first fleet in December 2005 and the Air Force receiving its first examples in 2006.
As recently as June 2013, the Department of Defense awarded contracts to the Bell-Boeing team calling for about 100 additional Ospreys, most going to the Marine Corps and due in September 2019.