The V-22 Osprey and the iPod

RIDLEY PARK, Pa. — The V-22 Osprey is getting an extra 20-knots of speed and more than 1,00-pounds of lift power without any hardware changes, Boeing officials revealed this week.

Instead, engineers simply updated the tiltrotor’s software, boosting the Osprey’s max cruising speed to 260 knots, according to Bull Sunick, Boeing’s V-22 business development manager. A similar software upgrade will soon tweak propeller angles to give it an additional 1,000-pounds of power when in a hover.

The V-22 is “the iPod, if you will, of rotorcraft in that we were able to improve our [airspeed] to 260 knots through a flight control software upgrade,” Sunick told DT after a tour of Boeing’s V-22 assembly line here (hence the Instagram photo I took). “You go home, you synch your iPod and you get the new software on there — we kinda do the same with the airplane, it’s all ones and zeros…it was through a software drop. A new version came out, kinda like your new iPod software and boom, no new engines no new drivetrain.”

This was just after he’d finished reminding me of how an Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 had  performed one of the tiltrotor’s very first combat search and rescue missions nearly one year before USMC MV-22s rescued the pilot of that F-15E Strike Eagle that crashed in Libya last March.

(Boeing brought a bunch of reporters up to Ridley Park for the 50th anniversary celebration of the CH-47 Chinook’s first flight yesterday, DT was given a tour the nearby Osprey line afterward.)

On June 1, 2010 a helo carrying 32 people went down during a special operations raid near Kunduz in Northeast Afghanistan. A severe dust storm and the Hindu Kush mountain range foiled attempts by other helos to reach the stranded crew and passengers who were under small arms and mortar fire. Two CV-22s from the 8th Special Operations Squadron launched out of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan within two hours of being alerted and flew 400-miles straight to the site — over the 15,000-foot mountains and through “very low visibility”  — and back to Kandahar with the 32 stranded troops in less than four hours.

“There was a mountain range in between” the American bases at Bagram and Kandahar “so conventional rotorcraft would have had to snake through the valleys and whatnot,” said Sunick. “V-22 flew over them. The guys went up, they went on oxygen, went over the mountains, went direct as the crow flies and then when they were coming close the weather was extremely bad, I think they had less than a quarter-mile visibility. Now you’ve got your [terrain following radar] sniffing things out for you, giving you a clear picture and so the guys were able to go in there. It was a hot LZ, they were under fire, they landed, picked all they guys up — 32 folks crammed in the back of the airplane — and they got out of Dodge and made it back.”

Now, the V-22 had its share of development problems [nightmares, at times] and it’s still working through problems with fine sand wearing down engine parts faster than engineers would like and it’s mission ready rates when deployed are roughly 70 percent. Still,  you can’t argue that the speed and ranges at which the bird flies combined with its VTOL abilities make it invaluable for missions like this.

  • Tad

    Cool. Now let’s upgrade the software again and get another 20 knots out of it.

  • Vstress

    It’s always nice to see software updates going well and to the benefit of everybody.

    I guess it shows what a good system architecture can do. Never cheap to make it easily upgradeable. But already worth it!

  • brianckramer

    This is one project that I’m glad we stuck with though the difficulties. It truly fills a hole in the capability gap between airplanes and helicopters, and while it has had some “setbacks”, it look like it fills its purpose rather well.

  • Backengineer this for other planes, systems IE Hueys, Loachs, CH47, AF 1, Marine 1,
    F16, FA18, F14, F22, F35, B2 etc alone.
    Awesome.

  • Rajarata

    Now lets get this same software to keep the V-22 from malfunctioning !

  • random thought.

    Sounds like the only reason this works is because the software for tilt control was not optimized to begin with.

    • Beno

      LOL, althought obviously this IS technically true. This is a totally new kind of aircraft with radically different dynamics. I think there is still quite alot to learn about this kind of flight.

    • Vstress

      It is true…

      But it is like saying my car is not optimised for driving on ice. But a piece of software is developed to make sure it works better. There are essentially unlimited conditions you could develop this for, but because I don’t drive on ice much, the car manufacturer focuses on the road aspect instead.

      The normal flight envelopes can be “easily” developed. But specific conditions such as hot high or others all have slight differences. This increase in thrust will likely be at the maximum thrust setting in a hot temperature.

      Thermal heating effects are really difficult to predict, so this extra thrust probably comes about as it has been noted that the thermal effects were too pessimistic and the gas turbine can operate a bit hotter for a bit longer.

    • Curt

      True, but I image every other aircraft in existence is not fully optimized either. The advantage of the system on the V-22 (and lets face it, most new aircraft) is that it can be upgraded constantly to more closely optimize it as you gain experience and learn more. So all in-service aircaft gained 20kts of speed at the cost of the new software that you were going to develop anyway.

  • dave

    Did you specifically ask Mr Sunick to explain the software upgrade to you as if you were a six-year-old, or was that a judgment-call on his part?

  • Musson1

    Reminds me of a buddy who hacked into his Mustang’s engine computer and changed the settings. He gave himself 11 more horsepower. Just hope the EPA does not find out.

  • Dfens

    I don’t remember having to pay Apple billions of dollars to upgrade the software for my iPod, do you? The last time I got a software upgrade, they did it for free just to keep me as a customer. I’ll bet that seems like a very quaint notion to Boeing. I bet they get a real chuckle out of that one.

  • Langley

    Any internal combustion engine, especially turbojet engines, can be readily tweaked for slightly higher power output. No big deal.

    Of course there are trade-offs in engine reliability, maintainability, logistics, etc.

    Engine/aircraft “optimization” is heavily subjective both in design & operation.

    I’m not a V-22 fan. It’s ultimately a waste of time/resources in the long run… like the TFX/F-111, AV-8, or B-1.

    • The AV/8? Really? You must no be a soldier/Marine. Having these aircraft and it’s Marine pilots overhead is only seconded to the invaluable A-10’s providing fire support.

      • Sgt Jmack

        Not to mention that the article said that there aren’t any mechanical mods, only updates in the software. We all know that the engineers make it so that these planes/engines do not even come close to their full strength limits.

  • voodkokk

    Performance Chips, Modules & Programmers, you gotta love’em.

  • Lt_Kitty

    It’s always nice to read some good news.

  • john

    Bill Gates, Microsoft, and others, eat your hearts out…..

  • Barry

    Wow, military.com is really whoring for its advertisers. It repeated that wild “rescue” claim where two V-22s were sent to pick up one helos worth of people. Anyone familiar with the V-22s true performance knows that it cannot take off vertically above 3000 feet with 16 passengers, not even counting the fuel needed to fly that far.

    But more lies are required to secure another five-year contract for more of these turds, and military.com is happy to repeat whatever Boeing salesmen tell them.

  • PMI

    The testing that led to the software upgrade:
    http://news.hjnews.com/news/article_2af9d864-ac1f

  • kyle

    like tuning my mustang haha

  • Curious

    So, when originally released the software wasn’t taking full advantage of the hardware’s capacity, so an upgrade in the software was done…oh wait, that sounds familiar.

  • Dfens

    Gee, I wonder if this has anything to do with the excellent quality the V-22 has exhibited over the years: 36 nabbed in drug raid at Boeing plant (http://articles.philly.com/2011-09-30/news/30229164_1_boeing-workers-ridley-park-plant-prescription-drugs). They must be big Rush Limbaugh fans.