Osprey aircraft maker sued over fatal 2022 crash

Osprey aircraft maker sued over fatal 2022 crash

Washington –

Families of four of the five Marines killed when an Osprey crashed off California in June 2022 filed a federal lawsuit Thursday alleging the aircraft’s manufacturer failed to address known mechanical failures that led to the deaths.

The Marines died after the MV-22 Osprey experienced a catastrophic mechanical failure known as a hard clutch engagement, a well-known problem in tilt-rotor aircraft that has occurred more than a dozen times since 2010.

The families name Bell Textron, Boeing and Rolls-Royce in their lawsuit. Bell assembles the Osprey in partnership with Boeing at its Amarillo, Texas, facility, while Rolls-Royce makes the Osprey’s engines.

The Osprey can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like an airplane. The military touts the aircraft as a breakthrough, able to travel long distances quickly and land at targeted locations, but it comes at a steep price: More than 50 military personnel have died in accidents aboard Ospreys since 2000.

The lawsuit alleges that the Osprey’s design was flawed and failed to meet U.S. safety standards.

The Osprey’s two engines are connected by interconnected drive shafts that run the length of the wing. At the tips of the engines, a component called a sprag clutch transfers torque, or power, from one propeller to the other, keeping both rotors spinning at the same speed. This keeps the Osprey in balance while flying. The sprag clutch is also a safety feature if one of the two engines fails. It transfers power from the working side to the failed engine, keeping both rotors spinning.

If a worn clutch slips, the system can rapidly re-engage, creating a hard clutch engagement, which can create a power spike that suddenly powers the other engine and send the Osprey into an uncontrollable roll or slide, causing it to spin out of control and leaving pilots with just seconds to save the aircraft and crew.

An investigation into the 2022 crash concluded that the dual hard-clutch actuation occurred while the Marines were conducting routine flight operations, leading to a “catastrophic, unpreventable and unexpected mechanical failure.”

The Marine Corps’ 400-page report said there was nothing the pilots could have done to prevent it and that “they had no means of recovery once the complex emergency began.”

The Osprey crashed in a remote area near Glamis, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) east of San Diego.

Five Marines were killed in the crash: the two pilots, Capt. Nicholas P. LoSapio (31) of Rockingham, New Hampshire, and Capt. John J. Sachs (33) of Placer, California, and three crew chiefs, Corporal Nathan E. Carlson (21) of Winnebago, Illinois, Corporal Seth D. Rasmuson (21) of Johnson, Wyoming, and Corporal Evan A. Strickland (19) of Valencia, New Mexico.

The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps began investigating the issue after several accidents, including a fatal crash in 2022, and determined that the clutches may be wearing out faster than expected. The Osprey program is working on redesigning parts to reduce clutch slippage.

The Marines warned in a 2022 report that more accidents are likely because neither the service nor manufacturers have been able to identify the root cause. Future accidents “cannot be prevented without improvements in flight control system software, material strength of drivetrain components, and rigorous inspection requirements,” the report said.

The lawsuit comes as families await the results of investigations into two fatal Osprey crashes last year: an Osprey crashed off the coast of Australia in August 2023, killing three Marines, and an Osprey crashed off the coast of Japan in November 2023, killing eight U.S. Air Force special operations personnel. The Air Force took the unusual step of quickly identifying material failure as a potential cause of the crashes and grounding all Osprey aircraft from flying one week after the crashes. The flight ban was lifted three months later.

Boeing and Bell said they couldn’t comment on litigation, and Rolls-Royce did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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