Congressional Committee Hails Tilt-Rotor Aircraft in Landing at Capitol
WASHINGTON (AP) _ An experimental aircraft the Pentagon wants to abandon is being touted as the passenger plane of the future.
″Welcome to the dawn of a new age in aviation,″ said House aviation subcommittee chairman Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., after he arranged for a XV-15 tilt-rotor aircraft to swoop down and land alongside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, sending spectators scurrying up the steps.
The Defense Department has spent $2 billion to develop the XV-15 and its successor, the V-22 Osprey, for military use. But Defense Secretary Dick Cheney wants to end funding in favor of conventional helicopter development.
The XV-15 and the Osprey land like helicopters but fly at up to 340 mph as fixed-wing airplanes - much faster than a helicopter. Large rotors on the ends of the wings tilt up for vertical flight and rotate forward for the long haul.
Two XV-15s were made. Pentagon contracts call for six Ospreys, two of which have been delivered by a partnership between Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and Boeing Helicopter.
Oberstar told his Public Works subcommittee it took everything but a papal decree to allow the 12-year-old plane landing rights at the Capitol. Looking like a giant insect out of a science fiction movie, the XV-15 went through a series of maneuvers a few yards from the Capitol.
″This is the most significant contribution to civilian aviation since the dawn of the jet age,″ Oberstar told reporters on the Capitol lawn.
Both Democratic and Republican subcommittee members blasted the fact that the Pentagon wants to stop funding the Osprey.
The Marines sought the tilt-rotor for use as an assault transport to carry 24 troops or weapons and supplies from ship to beachhead in amphibious landings. But the Defense Department argues that helicopters already are doing the job and money for the Osprey can be better used elsewhere in an era of budget cuts.
Committee members showed nearly unanimous support for development of the Osprey as a passenger plane to serve space-starved cities and rural communities without conventional airports. They also praised its potential for use in rescues, drug interdiction and oil spill cleanup.
Of 14 committee members at the hearing, only Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., raised a negative note, asking why, if the plane has such great potential, isn’t private industry funding its development.
Supporters said it often is necessary for expensive new aircraft to begin as military hardware.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, a liberal Democrat from Oregon, brought applause at the hearing when he said, ″I can count on less than one hand the new military weapons systems I will support, but this is one of them.″
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., carrying a boxed plastic model of the plane, said the Japanese and Europeans will build a similar aircraft and sell it to U.S. airlines if the United States doesn’t move ahead with the technology.
He noted that his plastic version was made in Korea and said, ″Let the Koreans and the Japanese build the model. We’ll build the real thing.″
Joseph Del Balzo, FAA systems development chief, said the Japanese are working on a tilt-wing aircraft, possibly to be built in Texas, but likely would be interested in taking up the tilt-rotor technology if the United States abandons it.
A group of European countries also is working on a project to build a similar plane, he said, and Soviet aviation officials have shown some interest.