Boeing's Osprey Finally Soars

Boeing started off this year's Farnborough airshow in a fighting mood -- and it had nothing to do with Airbus.

Forget the commercial side of things this time around; Boeing didn't bring any passenger planes to Farnborough. It's the side of Boeing that makes the most money that matters: Defense.

The world's second-biggest defense contractor flew two V-22 osprey planes to show off here, though one did have to land in Iceland on the way because of a technical glitch.

But the half plane, half helicopter stole the show on day one.

Boeing wants to prove that the two-decade-old project, once the very symbol of cost overruns at the Pentagon, is ready.

And that Boeing is back after executive scandals and commercial logjams.

Boeing's Jim Albaugh said: "We went through a very difficult time. In my view, the great work that our employees do every day, putting the Shuttle up, building the F-18s, building F-15s, building the Osprey, their dedication to quality and ethics, that's what defines Boeing, not the issues we've had the last several years."

The Osprey is one Boeing's top projects for the U.S. Marines. It is building the tilt-rotor plane with Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopter. The project has suffered numerous redesigns and its fair share of high-profile crashes.

Dave Harvey, of Defense Helicopter magazine, said: "It's taken two decades because at every point they had to make a decision, these two things came together, the money, the technical, so you had to go back and 'reprove' everything and 'rescrub' everything and then guess what, it happened again. It just went on and on."

Boeing is now so confident that this flexible flier is reliable; on Monday it allowed mere civilians aboard for a brief flight for only the second time. I was one of them.

In a quick safety briefing they told us not to hold on to any wires if we got scared, in case we yank out a critical circuit.

On went the safety helmets ... and goggles... and then... into the back of the beast.

And after a few too many military maneuvers for my liking, we safely landed back at the show.

I am not at great flier and what got me the most was that the U.S. Marines decided to leave the back open the whole time we were flying, including the takeoff, including the landing, the back of the Osprey was wide open.

Twice as fast, twice as far and twice the payload than what the U.S. marines have today. That's the Osprey selling point. The key will be its use in Iraq starting next year.

"Certainly that's an important test for us. And we've been through a very discipline test program and I am confident this airplane will perform," Albaugh said.

If that happens, Boeing says it could sell thousands. Possibly to the U.S. Navy and Air Force. And even perhaps to the British military. No doubt one big reason the Osprey is spreading its wings here this week.

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