The first Osprey built specifically for the Navy recalls Boeing’s revolutionary first foray into tilt technology, the VZ-2.
In the 1940s, as aviation pioneers were fine-tuning helicopter technology, many of these new rotorcraft began to enter mass production. Just a decade later, however, the difference between a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft wouldn’t be so distinct.
The maiden flight of the first Bell Boeing CMV-22B Osprey recently took place in the skies over Texas. Known as “Snoopy” for its bold black nose and glossy white coat, the new V-22 variant is the first Osprey built specifically for the U.S. Navy — joining the MV-22 and CV-22 currently in service with the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force, respectively.
The first of six V-22 prototypes completed its maiden flight in 1989, but that wasn’t Boeing’s first venture into tilt technology (utilizing a tilted wing or rotor to increase versatility). That came roughly 30 years earlier with the revolutionary VZ-2. In a sense, the concept comes full-circle with Boeing’s latest offering to the U.S. Navy, as the VZ-2 had the word “Navy” right on its tail.
The Model 76 (VZ-2) tilt-wing aircraft was built by Philadelphia-based Vertol, which became Boeing Vertol in 1960. Bell Helicopter Co. developed its first tiltrotor, the XV-3, in the mid to late 1950s. Lessons learned from this program led to the highly successful Bell XV-15 in the late 1970s.
Boeing’s experience with a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) “convertiplane” began with the Vertol VZ-2, which became the world’s first tiltwing to fly in 1957.
A press release from the late 1960s highlights its unique capabilities: “The entire wing and both rotor-propellers could be tilted to a vertical position, thus enabling the 76 to take off and land like a helicopter. The aircraft transitioned from hover to forward flight as the wing and rotor-propellers were tilted forward to the horizontal position. The 76 then flew like a fixed-wing aircraft. Consequently, it had unusual potential for close support under terrain conditions that wouldnullify the effectiveness of a less versatile aircraft.”
The VZ-2 was retired in 1965 and is preserved by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The data it gathered as a tilt-wing technology demonstrator, however, proved invaluable in the development of more modern tiltrotor aircraft, such as the V-22.
In addition to tilt-propeller VTOLs, there were tiltducts, tail-sitting VTOLs, deflected slipstream, deflected thrust, fan-in-wing configurations, tiltjets, tiltwings and tiltrotors.
Bell Boeing designed the CMV-22B specifically for carrier fleet operations — providing larger fuel tanks for the extended range requirement. The mission flexibility of the new Osprey will increase operational capabilities and readiness, in addition to ferrying major components of the F-35 engine. So as Snoopy takes its place in the U.S. Navy, a salute to the original, the Vertol VZ-2.
This article originally appeared in Innovation Quarterly; read more IQ here.