Last week's crash of a V-22 Osprey has sent the revolutionary aircraft program into a tailspin, if not a fatal dive. Four Marines--including the corps's most experienced V-22 pilot--died when their V-22 tilt-rotor dived into the North Carolina woods. The Marines want to spend $40 billion on 458 of the hybrid planes, which take off and land like helicopters but cruise like planes when their rotors tilt forward. The accident couldn't have come at a worse time; it led to the fleet's grounding and compelled the Pentagon to postpone a decision on beginning full-scale Osprey production. Within hours of the crash, Defense Secretary WILLIAM COHEN and Congress announced probes of the program. As of that wasn't enough trouble, the incoming Vice President is DICK CHENEY, who tried to kill the program a decade ago when he ran the Pentagon. If this accident--like one in April that killed 19 Marines--is linked to the V-22's tendency to plunge into an unexpected dive, the program may be doomed.
--By Mark Thompson/Washington