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The Defense Department said Monday it has no intention of scaling back its use of the tilt-rotor Osprey hybrid airplane-helicopter after a Marine was killed and 21 others were injured in a crash at Bellows Air Force Base, Hawaii.
The crash revived concerns over the safety of the aircraft, which had a troubled development that included at least 30 deaths in testing accidents. Takeshi Onaga, governor of Okinawa in southern Japan — where the U.S. has 24 Ospreys stationed, with plans for 10 more by 2017 — on Monday demanded that Osprey flights be suspended until the cause of Sunday's crash can be determined, Japan's Kyodo news service reported.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan's Cabinet secretary, was more measured at a news conference Monday, saying the government had asked the U.S. to keep it apprised of the investigation.
"The government intends to steadily assert its stance to the U.S. side that maximum care should be taken with regard to safety," he said.
The V-22 Osprey, built by Boeing Co. and the Bell Helicopter unit of Textron Inc., is officially neither a chopper nor a plane. It's what's called a VTOL — a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft with short takeoff and landing capability.
The Pentagon says the Osprey has had seven so-called hull-loss accidents with a total of 37 deaths in its history. Four of them, causing 30 of the 37 deaths, occurred during testing from 1991 to 2000. Most notable were two crashes of test flights in 2000 in which 23 Marines were killed.
During that period, the aircraft came under intense congressional attack for its safety record and cost. But Boeing and Bell subsequently built in multiple redundant backup systems to monitor its engine and computers, and since the Osprey's official deployment in 2007, it has been a workhorse of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are in use in the U.S. earthquake relief mission in Nepal.
The helicopter that crashed last week in Nepal, killing six Marines and two Nepalese service members, wasn't an Osprey.
"I can tell you that MV-22s [the Marines' version of the Osprey] have been a very reliable aircraft," Capt. Alex Lim, a spokesman for the Marine Corps, told NBC station KHNL of Honolulu. "They're very reliable tilt-rotor aircraft."
Steve Warren, a senior Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters Monday in Washington that "it's too soon to really raise questions" about the Osprey's safety. He said there are "no plans to adjust our flight operations in Japan" or anywhere else.
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