TEL AVIV, Israel, June 7 (UPI) -- The Israeli air force is sending a team to the United States this month to evaluate the controversial V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that it's eyeing for search-and-rescue and covert special operations.
The successful March rescue of a downed U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot in Libya by an Osprey crew has doubtless enhanced the prospects of the multi-mission aircraft built by Bell Helicopter and Boeing Rotorcraft Systems.
"The (Israeli air force) has had its eye on the V-22 for a number of years and senior officers, including Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz have flown in it and were impressed with its capabilities," The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.
The air force had initially looked at the Osprey as a replacement for its aging fleet of Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopters.
But these days, the Post added, "due to the V-22's smaller size it is being looked at a complementary platform to assist in (Israeli air force) search-and-rescue operations and dropping Special Forces behind enemy lines."
Once the air force team has fully examined the V-22 in the United States, the service's helicopter directorate will submit a recommendation to the air force commander, Gen. Ido Nehushtan.
The V-22 can carry 24 fully equipped combat troops seated -- 32 floor loaded -- or more than 19,800 pounds of internal or external cargo. It has a range of 2,500 miles with a single in-flight refueling.
The Osprey is unique because it has vertical takeoff and landing capability like a helicopter, with the rotors of its two end-of-wing Rolls-Royce AE 1107C engines in the upright position.
It can shift the three-bladed rotors 45 degrees so they operate as propellers pushing the aircraft forward, with short-takeoff and landing capability.
It can reach speeds of 350 miles per hour, about double that of a traditional helicopter.
The Osprey was first designed in the 1950s but the first V-22 wasn't rolled out until May 1988. Since then its development has taken years because of the complexity and difficulties of being the first tilt-rotor designed for military service.
It has had to overcome a series of political, funding and technical battles that threatened to scrap the project before it was certified for operational deployment.
Despite a series of high-profile fatal accidents involving the V-22, the Pentagon approved full-rate production in September 2005.
The U.S. Marine Corps deployed the MV-22 in 2007 and has been steadily replacing its CH-46 Sea Knights on a squadron-by-squadron basis. The switch is due to be completed by 2019.
The U.S. Army deployed Ospreys in 2009 and it has seen combat in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. It made its combat debut in Iraq's turbulent Anbar province, an insurgent hotbed, in November 2007.
The Israeli air force team that will evaluate with V-22 will note that the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, where the Osprey was deployed in November 2009, found that the V-22's speed and range made it a good operational match for fast combat jets.
The Marines thus split Marine Expeditionary Unit operations into two groups, one with fixed-wing jets and V-22s, the other with slower helicopters.
The U.S. Air Force's first operational CV-22 was delivered to the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., in March 2006. The aircraft is currently deployed with three Special Operations Squadrons.
There are 112 V-22s operational with U.S. forces. The Marine Corps has ordered 360 of the aircraft, each costing $110 million.
The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command wants 50 and the U.S. Navy is expected to acquire 48.