In 2010, an Air Force CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor — a hybrid warplane that takes off like a helicopter and cruises like an airplane — crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing four people on board. When Brig. Gen. Don Harvel, the lead accident investigator, concluded that engine failure might have been to blame for the Osprey’s loss, he was overruled by a superior officer who Harvel says was eager to protect the military’s $36 billion investment in the controversial V-22.
Harvel finally retired this summer and, in his first major interview with U.S.media since the accident, accused the Pentagon of “trying to turn all eyes away” from the Osprey’s ongoing safety woes, which have contributed to a dozen or more crashes or other dangerous incidents since the speedy warplane with the rotating engine nacelles was redesigned between 2001 and 2005.
But one Air Force engineer and veteran of the Osprey program, who also examined the 2010 crash data, tells Danger Room that Harvel misinterpreted the facts surrounding the V-22′s fatal tumble — and then followed flawed assumptions to incorrect conclusions regarding the Osprey’s airworthiness. “Gen. Harvel was wrong,” says Eric Braganca, recently retired as the Air Force’s chief V-22 systems engineer.
“Harvel is no hero who fought the ‘system,’” Braganca adds. Instead, he was “a man who leaped to a conclusion.”