The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey "tilt-rotor" (airplane-helicopter hybrid), built partly at Boeing's Ridley Park helicopter factory, flies U.S. Marines in and out of war zones "faster and farther" than helicopters, but is twice as expensive to operate ($11,000 an hour) and 2.5x as expensive to build ($93 million each, vs projected $38 million) as promised, doesn't fit some Navy ships, and suffers from parts shortages, long down times, and limited maneuverability, says the Government Accountability Office in this report on Osprey performance in Iraq.

It could work better to upgrade Sikorsky CH-33 helicopters, instead of spending another $25 billion on buying more Ospreys and $75 billion more keeping them in the air, GAO says, recommending the Marines consider alternatives before charging ahead. The Pentagon, in its response (summarized by GAO), admits Osprey's problems but resists reconsidering the program.

Osprey survived fatal crashes and sustained attacks in Congress when US Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) represented Delaware County and Boeing's Ridley Park workers. Will his replacement, ex-Adm. (and would be U.S. Sen.) Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), go back to the mat and keep this innovative, controversial, expensive Osprey aloft?

UPDATE: Boeing spokesman Andrew Lee: "We agreed with (Marine) Lt. Gen (George) Trautman's assessment that the MV-22's performance in Iraq was outstanding and that it was able to do things that no other airplane in history has done in a combat theater.

"We are focused on working closely with our customer to increase availability rates for the entire V-22 fleet.  This is an important issue both for wartime deployments and (U.S.) operations... We have partnered with our customers and the Osprey industry team to identify component improvements, support activity changes, and supply chain adjustments that increase aircraft availability."

"I did the study in 2005 when I was a 3-star admiral (and) had to purchase the Marine Corps' aircraft," says Sestak. They looked at upgrading helicopters instead of Osprey, "but the study we did showed without question that the much more cost-efficient way and the better warcraft was to go with the V-22." So why is GAO so critical? "I was disappointed with the Marine Corps for not answering (GAO) questions about operational readiness." He wants the Marines to testify in more detail in Congress about Osprey's record in Iraq.

But Sestak is satisfied the Osprey's availability is actually improving, the longer it's deployed. Which is common, he says, with newly-deployed aircraft. MORE on the Osprey controversy from Bloomberg here. Delco Daily Times/AP story here.