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19 Mar 02. The Bell-Boeing aerospace team, was given a fillip on Tuesday with the announcement of an award for a new tranche of the troubled Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The Team has been awarded a $770m contract to build 11 MV-22 “Osprey” military helicopters in a test program for the troubled tilt-rotor aircraft, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Work on the helicopters is expected to be completed in 2005 by the Bell
Helicopter division of Textron Inc. (NYSE:TXT – news) and Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA –
news) in a planned $40bn program that has been hit by fatal training

The Pentagon decided last year to continue low-rate production of the aircraft
for development purposes, but to conduct a two-year testing program to determine
if the Marine Corps will finally buy as many as 360 Ospreys.

MV-22s were involved in two fatal training crashes two years ago that killed 23

Defense Undersecretary Pete Aldridge, the head of Pentagon acquisition programs,
said in December that he had serious questions about the Osprey but the only way
to prove the case was to put it back into a final, tough test program.
Several Marine Corps officers were found in dereliction of duty last year in
connection with falsified maintenance records in the MV-22 development program.
But the corps insisted that those records were not the cause of the crashes.
Aldridge said the new intense testing program will explore low-speed hover
conditions, such as landing when the propellers blow up dust and other debris.
The testing will also include combat maneuverability and storage conditions
aboard ships.

If changes are required, they would be made on the small number of Ospreys which
have been built.

In addition to the Marine Corps, as many 100 additional Ospreys could be bought
by elite Special Operations and other U.S. forces if the helicopter proves itself.

Osprey has survived again after an attempt by members in the Clinton administration to kill the project. Sources suggest that the main cause of the problems resulting in the fatal crashes was the wish to get the aircraft into service at any costs prior to possible cancellation. Now that another reprieve has been granted the aircraft can proceed into full service with the backing of a full test programme and certification.

One possible customer for the aircraft remains the Royal marines for the Sea King Commando replacement and the Royal Navy for the FOAEW CVF requirement.

This announcement will please UK companies such as TRW Aerospace, Smiths and Rolls-Royce who are major suppliers to the project.

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