Don Harvel thought he was cruising to a well-deserved retirement after 35 years flying cargo planes for the U.S. Air Force. Then in the spring of 2010 he was tapped to investigate the fatal crash of a high-tech Air Force tiltrotor aircraft — and everything changed.
What Harvel discovered about the controversial hybrid aircraft drew him into a battle of wills with his superiors at Air Force Special Operations Command. Harvel, then a brigadier general, uncovered evidence of mechanical problems — and resulting safety woes — in the V-22 Osprey, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane. These are issues the Pentagon has been eager to downplay. So when Harvel refused to alter his findings to match the Defense Department’s expectations, he knew that was the final chapter of his decades-long military service. Harvel’s long-planned retirement was held up for more than two years, effectively silencing him during a troubling chapter in the Osprey’s often-troubled history.
“I turned [my report] in and I knew that my career was done,” Harvel says.