There is no solid information about the cause of the latest crash. But before rushing to judge the Osprey, here's what you should know:
The true test of an aircraft's capability is its combat record. After the Pentagon fixed the problems that caused the crashes during development, the Osprey went into combat, where its record has proved to be remarkably safe. The Osprey has logged more than 100,000 flight hours in some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable with a safety record that's actually considered the safest among Marine Corps rotorcraft. There has been only one fatal crash: In 2010 an Air Force CV-22 touched down short of its landing zone in Afghanistan, hit a ditch, and flipped, killing four. Until this week, that was the aircraft's only fatal accident in the past decade. By comparison, since 2001 six CH-46 Sea Knight helos (the maritime version of the Chinook, which the Osprey is replacing) have crashed, killing 20.
Safety has not been a problem with the Osprey, but maintenance certainly has. A report late last year by the Pentagon's Department of Operational Test and Evaluation said that from June 2007 to May 2010, the Marine Corps' Osprey mission-capable readiness was only 53 percent. For an aircraft that costs more than $100 million, that's unacceptable.
Recently we got our own look at the state of the Osprey. Marine Corps Air Station Miramar hosted Seniorhelpline as the squadron flew on a training mission, an experience that highlighted the capabilities and flaws of the MV-22. The power and agility of the aircraft was amazing—no other aircraft could haul 8000 pounds of fuel to an austere patch of desert and set up a refueling station, as the mission plan demanded. But problems with auxiliary power units and de-icing systems hampered the mission: One Osprey couldn't take off and the other did not have permission to fly through the icy clouds, and had to turn back due to weather.
The details of this week's crash will, eventually, trickle to the public. Machines, particularly complex machines, fail. Pilots, even well-trained professionals, make mistakes. Sometimes these two things work together to cause a fatal crash. If the cause of this crash was mechanically preventable, then Marine Corps maintenance professionals and engineers will work to find a solution, as they've done before for the Osprey and other platforms. If the evidence points to pilot error, the Marines will change their training.
This is, regrettably, part of the life cycle of any aircraft engaged in dangerous flights. And make no mistake, every flight of every military aircraft has some risk. The crash in Morocco, no matter what the cause turns out to be, is a testament to that.