Experimental Aircraft Touches Down Next To U.S. Capitol Building
WASHINGTON (AP) _ An experimental vertically landing aircraft plunked itself down on the Capitol grounds Wednesday, sending spectators scurrying up the steps of the Capitol with its prop wash and setting off praise from members of Congress as the greatest thing in aviation since jet engines.
Some members also denounced plans of the Pentagon to stop development of a successor plane, the V-22 Osprey, after spending $2 billion.
Members of the House Public Works aviation subcommittee, in a series of statements at a hearing, showed nearly unanimous support for the Osprey’s potential to serve cities with congested airports and airways and small towns without conventional airports.
The plane that landed at the Capitol actually was a 12-year-old XV-15, predecessor to the V-22 made by Boeing Helicopters and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. Only two XV-15s were made. Pentagon contracts call for six Ospreys, two of which have been delivered.
The XV-15 and the V-22 are powered by two turboprop engines which tilt up so their propellers, normally pulling the plane forward, act like helicopter rotors for take-off and landing. In forward flight, its 340 mph top speed is significantly faster than most helicopters.
Only Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., raised a negative note, asking why, if the plane has such great potential, aircraft manufacturers and airlines are not paying to develop it.
Supporters said it often is necessary for expensive new aircraft to begin as military hardware.
″Let’s give it to the Marine Corps and let them try to break it″ before its developed for commercial use, said Rep. Jim Lightfoot, R-Iowa, who said he has piloted a tiltrotor and is sold on its potential for civilian use.
The Marines sought the Osprey for use as an assault transport, to carry 24 troops or weapons and supplies from ship to beachhead in amphibious landings. But the Defense Department argues that helicopters already are doing the job and money for the Osprey can be better used elsewhere when budgets are tight.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., brought applause at the hearing when he said, ″I can count on less than one hand the the new military weapons systems I will support, but this is one of them.″
″Welcome to the dawn of a new age in aviation,″ said committee chairman Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., who told the committee it took everything but a papal decree to allow the XV-15 one-day landing rights on the east side of the Capitol.
″This is the most significant contribution to civilian aviation since the dawn of the jet age,″ Oberstar told reporters on the Capitol lawn after making a similar declaration to open the hearing in a nearby office building.
Joseph Del Balzo, head of systems development for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the Japanese are working on a tiltwing aircraft, possibly to be built in Texas, but would likely be interested in taking up the tiltrotor technology if the United States abandons it.
Del Balzo told the committee the FAA will continue to spend about $7 million a year over the next three years to research and prepare for tiltrotor aircraft, whether U.S. or foreign built.
Use of an aircraft similar to the Osprey to ferry passengers around the busy Northeast corridor could increase the number of passengers carried by from five million to eight million per year, Del Balzo said.