Osprey to take on White House transport mission in 2013

The helicopter-fixed wing hybrid aircraft will replace the CH-46 Sea Knights and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters that support the White House's Marine One helicopters, John Rader, Bell-Boeing's vice president for the Osprey, told reporters here on Thursday. 

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The White House Ospreys will fill a "purely administrative role" as VIP transport for Secret Service personnel, administration staff and press accompanying the president when on travel, Rader said.

"It's the entourage helicopter," he explained.

Marine Corps Col. Greg Masiello, V-22 joint program manager, first announced plans for a White House-version of the V-22 in April. 

The V-22s assigned to the White House will essentially be the same configuration as the ones flown by Marine Corps pilots in war zones like Afghanistan, Rader noted. 

However, some upgrades will be required, such as improvements to the passenger area and upgraded communications systems, in order to fill the mission requirements for VIP transport. 

Rader did point out the Osprey would not be replacing the so-called "white tops," or Marine One helicopters, specifically tasked with transporting the president or vice president around the country. 

The addition of the Osprey to the White House is the first attempt to revamp the White House fleet since a failed effort to upgrade the Marine One helicopter with a newer aircraft. 

The Pentagon had selected Lockheed Martin's VH-71 to replace the aging VH-3D helicopters that made up the entire presidential transport fleet.  

In 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates suspended the program due to excessive development delays and cost overruns on the program. The Navy canceled the effort months later. 

The decision to use the V-22 to shuttle administration officials and staff across the United States also comes after an effort by House lawmakers to kill the entire Osprey program. 

Illinois Democratic Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) offered an amendment to the House version of the fiscal 2013 defense budget bill, stripping all funds for the V-22. The move faced stiff resistance from both sides of the aisle and eventually was voted down.