The versatile mission capabilities of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft

The new CMV-22B Osprey is the next step in Boeing’s history with tilt technology

July 20, 2020 in Innovation, Technology

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.