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Three MV-22Bs with VMM-164 Knightriders fly formation in the desert in California. Now a decade into its service with the U.S. Marine Corps, the MV-22B has proven the value of the tiltrotor concept. Skip Robinson Photo

U.S. Military lifts grounding of V-22, but full return to operation may take months

By Oliver Johnson | March 8, 2024

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 54 seconds.

The U.S. Military’s fleet of Bell Boeing V-22 Ospreys is to return to the sky for the first time in more than three months, after the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) deemed the type safe for flight.

However, a return to full operational capability may not happen until the summer, as aircrews and maintainers work to rebuild proficiency with the type and incorporate new safety protocols.

The prolonged grounding had impacted all services’ V-22s. It was imposed by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) Dec. 6, 2023, following the fatal crash of a U.S. Air Force CV-22 off Yakushima, Japan, on Nov. 29, in which eight service members died.

After a preliminary investigation indicated a materiel failure of a V-22 component, NAVAIR grounded the fleet while it completed a thorough review of the incident, and put in place risk mitigation controls to allow safe operations to resume.

“This decision follows a meticulous and data-driven approach prioritizing the safety of our aircrews,” a NAVAIR statement explaining the return to flight stated.

The command said the review and return to flight plan involved coordination from key senior leaders across the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force, and it said this collaboration will continue.

“Maintenance and procedural changes have been implemented to address the materiel failure that allow for a safe return to flight,” the statement said. “The U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force will each execute their return to flight plans according to service specific guidelines.”

NAVAIR said the V-22 plays an integral role in supporting the U.S.’s defense, “and returning these vital assets to flight is critical to supporting our nation’s interests.”

The Marine Corps said it is now enacting a plan to return all 17 MV-22 squadrons to full capability, with revisions to the flight manual in place.

It said it is employing a “three-phased approach” to the return to service, which begins with a focus on regaining basic flight currency, rebuilding unit’s instructor cadres, and achieving proficiency in core and basic skill training for pilots and aircrew.

Following this, squadrons will gain proficiency in basic and advanced mission sets, and then conduct pre-deployment training for their next assigned missions.

“The second and third phases of this plan will vary in length, and some units will extend into the late spring or early summer of 2024 before they return to operational capability,” the Marine Corps said in a press release.

“We are flying the Osprey again because our airworthiness authority cleared it for flight, because we trust our well-established operational risk management procedures, and most of all because we trust our professional pilots, aircrew and maintainers to safely get this combat-proven aircraft back into the fight,” said Lt. Gen. Bradford J. Gering, Deputy Commandant for Marine Corps Aviation. 

Following NAVAIR’s announcement of the V-22’s return to flight, AFSOC said it would also implement a multi-phased return to service.

The first phase will include ground and simulator training and refining by-squadron training plans to implement new safety protocols.

The second phase is a multi-month program for aircrew and maintainers to regain basic currency before expanding to full mission proficiency.

“While maintainers have remained engaged conducting maintenance necessary to sustain the CV-22 during the standdown, they will receive training in line with the maintenance protocols directed by the NAVAIR return to fly bulletin,” said an AFSOC statement.

“Each squadron will progress through this phase at different speeds based a variety of factors including maintenance requirements for aircraft, experience level of personnel in the squadron and weather impact to flight schedules.”

The third phase will include a full resumption of operations.

“This phased approach affords AFSOC the time required to maximize opportunities to learn as much as possible from the Safety Investigation Board and Accident Investigation Board to mitigate risk to our aircrew, maintainers, and joint partners,” the AFSOC statement continued.

The investigation into the crash is ongoing.

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