Customer Reviews: The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey
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on April 25, 2010
Richard Whittle began covering the V-22 Osprey program in 1984 as the Pentagon correspondent for The Dallas Morning News. Based on hundreds of interviews, extensive research, first hand flights, and an "embedding" on the first Osprey combat tour in Iraq, Whittle's book, The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey provides impressive insight into the internal and external politics of fielding the Marine Corps' "Number one aviation priority."

If you are looking for a technical discussion of the V-22, or a critical assessment of its combat capabilities, or cost-benefit analyses to a conventional helicopter, this book is not for you. Rather, this book is for members of the general public who automatically associate words like "death trap" and "widow maker" with the Osprey.

Neither unrealistically extolling the aircraft's virtues nor carping on capabilities for which it was never designed, the story focuses on the struggles to convince the Army, Navy and Marine Corps that tiltrotor technology was mature enough for development, to design an aircraft to meet the overly-constrained JVX government specification, to maintain support and funding within the Department of Defense and Congress for three decades, and to survive the tragic crashes in 1992 and 2000. Indeed, Whittle has written the first in-depth look at the history of the Osprey that tries to cut through the hype and the hysteria that has surrounded the V-22 for over a quarter century.

Written in a journalistic style, the book covers much of the history of the development of the aircraft, and follows the careers of several key individuals. As a result, although there are hundreds of individuals mentioned at Bell and Boeing, in the Defense Department, Congress, etc, the reader gets a slice - rather than a comprehensive view - of the development challenges. The book reads well, despite a few editing shortfalls, and through Whittle's engaging writing style, the book is hard to put down.

Despite the seemingly pejorative title, Whittle's story is largely a positive one of the trials, tribulations, tragedies and triumphs of the Osprey. Webster's gives the definition of `notorious' as "generally known and talked of; especially widely and unfavorably known." An unfavorable view of the tiltrotor is still probably the "conventional wisdom" among the American public, helped by "60 Minutes" and Mark Thompson's appallingly misguided October 2007 TIME magazine article, "V-22 Osprey: A Flying Shame" - perhaps the low point of journalistic coverage of the Osprey. Whittle's book may serve as a counterbalance, providing enough factual information on the Osprey for readers to draw their own conclusions on the aircraft. An alternative title might have been "Chasing a Dream: The V-22 and How It Got That Way." In fact, Whittle seems to go out of his way trying to incorporate the views of some critics, but in the end, it was a bit unconvincing for me, because the preponderance of the book refuted their arguments.

The retrospective of the entire Osprey development history provides some interesting insights - perhaps unintended by Whittle. For instance, the cancellation of the program by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney - and the fits and starts of trying to continue the program through Congressional actions - are implicated in the July 1992 crash that killed seven at Quantico Marine Corps Base, and perhaps even lead to rushed developmental testing and the April 2000 crash that killed 19 at Marana. Cheney's cancellations certainly added years and hundreds of millions of dollars to the development; it wasn't until after the crashes that pauses could be made in the program to fix larger problems. Secretary of the Navy John Lehman's insistence on a Firm Fixed Price bid for Full Scale Development and the 50/50 partnership between Bell and Boeing (with neither company in charge) were also root causes of development troubles.

The book also highlights Representative Weldon's role in leading the defense of the Osprey in the Congress, where he formed the "Tilt-Rotor Technology Coalition." After the tragedy of the 1992 crash, Weldon testified that "in the past three years alone we have had nine accidents with the existing medium lift aircraft for the Marine Corps, most recently in March, where fourteen young Marines were killed when the CH-46 helicopter they were flying in went down."

Since its return to flight in 2002, the Osprey has flown well over 70,000 hours, including over 11,000 hours in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March 2007, General James Conway, Commandant of the US Marine Corps, in discussing the Osprey's first deployment into combat is quoted as saying, "I'll tell you, there's going to be a crash. That's what airplanes do over time. We're going to have to accept that when it happens." The first combat loss of the Osprey occurred on April 8, 2010 (US time) - 10 years to the day from the crash in Marana - an Air Force CV-22 crashed in southern Afghanistan. The Dream Machine is dedicated to those "who lost their lives developing the V-22 Osprey, and to their loved ones and friends."
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on July 22, 2010
Since most of the reviews so far seem to be from people with a vested interest in the aircraft itself, I thought it appropriate to include one from somebody on the other side of the aisle. My brother was one of the Marines in the Marana crash so this aircraft has been a major part of my life for the last 10 years. That being said I think it is important to remember that this is a review of the book, not our personal opinions of the Osprey itself.

I personally think the book is well written and reminiscent of Jon Krakauer's style. At times it was a bit wordy and I felt he could have tightened it up, but factually the book is very well researched and laid out. I don't know that I would go so far as to say it was "completely unbiased" but I think overall the author does a pretty good job staying neutral.

Regardless of your opinion on the Osprey program going forward, I think this is a good representation of the history to this point. There has been a lot of media propaganda from both sides and this book effectively cuts through most of that to get the story across. I would recommend reading it but be warned, the in depth detail of the crashes can be pretty intense to anyone with connections to the victims.
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on May 17, 2010
This book is a good read for anybody who spent some time working on this program in any capacity or for anyone that truly enjoys how aviation comes together (or perhaps how it cannot come together). As someone who worked on this program for several years, it was a great trip down memory lane. I was surprised to see how well insulated I was from the politics, and ego battles going on in senior management with respect to the design of the V-22. The old adage of too many cooks spoiling the soup is incredibly applicable to development of the Osprey. I should not be amazed (but I was anyhow) at the the number of design decisions where the VP/Director with 35 years of experience trumps a great engineer with 25 years of experience just because the VP/director has a big ego and wants to put his stamp on the program. There are a number of other power brokers from both the contractor and customer sides who also make unilateral decisions in the areas of requirements definition and budgeting. I sure hope weapon systems are developed a bit better nowadays....for the sake of my tax dollars.

Whittle's characterizations of the engineers and the facts seem to be fairly accurate. He did a good amount of research by interviewing a lot of the key folks who made an impact on the program. The book starts out a bit slow but once the XV-15 comes along, it starts to become very fascinating and revealing.
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on September 11, 2010
As a life-long aviation enthusiast and rotorcraft researcher, I was attracted to this book as soon as I learned of it. Since I have a particular interest in tilt rotors and the V-22, I knew I'd read it as soon as it became available no matter how accurate or well written it might be. Having read it, I can say it turned out to exceed any expectations I may have had for it. In fact, it is an outstanding work in the broadest terms - it accurately captures the technical complexity and significance of tilt rotor development as well as many other fascinating dimensions of the story involving the aerospace industry, the military, the engineers and test pilots, and much more. Although I am quite familiar with the subject, the author managed to pull together a decades-long story in a way that improved my own perspective. Despite the convoluted and controversial history of the V-22 program, the author has achieved, in my opinion, a degree of accuracy and balance that is a quite remarkable accomplishment. I often find fault with many accounts of aerospace material familiar to me, so, in this regard, Whittle's treatment stands out.

In addition to a history of the V-22 development, the book is absorbing, suspenseful, and fast-paced - a well-told story. The author brings key participants to life, recreating the unique and often colorful personalities of engineers, program managers, test pilots, and others. I've known a few of these individuals, and I can say that the author's characterizations invariably rang true for me. And for anyone fascinated by the high-stakes risks of experimental flight testing, the author's accounts are some of the most suspenseful and gripping I have ever read. Needless to say, I'm enthusiastic about the book, and have recommended it to all of my friends. I say this based on a somewhat unique perspective, having been an aerospace researcher for DoD for over forty years, working for the US Army Aeroflightdynamics Directorate (RDECOM) located at the NASA Ames Research Center. It was in this Army/NASA environment, and in collaboration with Bell Helicopter, that the tilt rotor was born. While never directly involved in tilt rotor projects, I was privileged to participate in basic and applied rotorcraft research and witness its emergence into practical civil and military products, an endlessly fascinating and sometimes flawed process involving government, industry, and university engineers and scientists. The birth and successful development of the Army-NASA-Bell XV-15 tilt rotor that paved the way for the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey stands as one of the most impressive engineering achievements in the aerospace field. The Army played a key role in the early days of the JVX and the V-22 before it was transferred to the Navy/Marines. I have followed the technical and programmatic developments with close interest ever since.

Based on my experience, I can attest to the degree to which Whittle accurately captured the essence of the V-22 story. Clearly, there were many aspects of the program of which I had no direct knowledge, but the accuracy of the story in areas I am familiar with lends confidence that the story as a whole is accurately portrayed. I offer a few examples that, in my view, illustrate the skill with which the author has developed the story. One of the more compelling technical aspects of tilt rotor aerodynamics is the vortex ring state, the initially under-appreciated rotor wake phenomena involved in the tragic accident at Marana, AZ. The search for the cause of the accident, the realization that it involved a heretofore a little understood aerodynamics phenomenon, the reaction of engineers and scientists to this revelation, and the the controversy that arose among government, industry, consultants, and university researchers is very well captured by the author. As a result of thorough investigation and discussions with many individuals, his account of the phenomenon, the views of the principals, and the ramifications for the V-22 were, in my opinion, accurately portrayed. In a lesser book an inaccurate portrayal of the vortex ring state would have contributed to ongoing misunderstanding of this phenomena and its significance. Unfortunately, the vortex ring state represents an aspect of tilt rotor aerodynamics that was missed by engineers and scientists and contributed to a tragic accident. As Whittle points out, more through research and more extensive wind tunnel testing may have revealed the problem, but, at the same time, new aircraft concepts sometimes involve surprises. The subsequent flight testing to evaluate the full extent of the problem is grippingly recounted by Whittle and captures the undeniable risk and suspense of flight testing that, at times, unavoidably probes the unknown.

Another well-handled aspect of the V-22 story is the ongoing question of the true value of the tilt rotor. The debate between supporters and detractors involves considerable hype, exaggeration, and mis-information. Is the V-22 truly a "dream machine" or an expensive and complicated white elephant? The truth lies somewhere in between and Whittle provides a fairly objective and balanced account of the conflicting views. In fact, the ultimate answer will depend on accumulating additional experience in future years; for the present, the book provides an objective assessment. Other examples could easily be presented to demonstrate the virtues of this book.

We are fortunate that the story of this unique aircraft attracted the attention of an author of Whittle's skill. In this reader's opinion, this is an absolute must read for anyone interested in the the tilt rotor, the V-22, or aerospace technology in general. You can't go wrong with this book.
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on July 25, 2015
A fantastic read, mainly because Richard Whittle is such a good storyteller. The book is a comprehensive account of the development of the V-22 Osprey from different perspectives, from a Historical, Technical and Political point of view. The most important highlights for me from the book are:

- How it had been the dream of early aviators to have a machine that can take off and land vertically and yet still have the speed of a fixed wing aircraft, hence the book title of "The Dream Machine" as that dream has been fulfilled by the Osprey;

- The fact that the Osprey's design was constrained because its dimensions were limited to enable it to operate on Landing Platform Docks, hence its Propellers ended up being shorter than ideal and its weight and complexity had to be increased because of the need to incorporate a wing-folding mechanism;

- The long and "bloody" battle it had to go thru in terms of funding under the Senior George Bush's administration who wanted it cut from the budget;

- How the whole program was nearly shelved after accidents and the scandal about the falsification of its maintenance records;

- Since the Osprey was such a new aircraft, much of its flight characteristics weren't really explored properly yet, leading to speculations about its vulnerability to the issue of a flight condition called the "Vortex Ring State (VRS)" and its ability to maneuver at slow speeds. Additional comprehensive tests ultimately proved these concerns to be false, and that in fact what was true was the reverse of what was speculated. The Osprey is much less vulnerable to VRS and much more manueverable and less susceptible to enemy fire than Helicopters.

Nowadays the Osprey has proven itself in service and is seen as truly a technological wonder, the only vertical take off and landing fixed wing aircraft in service in the world today. But its wasn't always like this, it had a very troubled development, but look at it now. This should serve a lesson to everyone of how some aircraft tend to have a troubled "teething stage", but ultimately turns out well in the end.

Overall a pretty good book, I really enjoyed reading it.
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on November 21, 2014
This is a seriously documented yet engrossing story of the V-22. The narrative pulls you along. It is full of human stories including "blood sport" politics. The human effort documented was enormous. The V-22 is the product of geniuses and heroes - as well as a legion of "grunt" workers. The result, even bearing scars of its gestation, is a remarkable and effective vehicle.

A truly remarkable read about a great engineering triumph.
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on April 8, 2013
Great to read an account of the V-22 program that didn't have the left wing 60 Minutes, Time Magazine spin attached. This book gave me an opportunity to relive some of the days I spent as a member of the MOTT and the difficulties we were up against as we tried to bring the latest in aviation to the warfighter. The MOTT was more than a family and the relationships that were established then remain intact even today. To the men that gave their life in support of this program we owe them more than our thanks. And to Richard Whittle a salute for your efforts. Sempre Fi and Airpower!

Daron R Weishaar
Major, USAF (Ret)
V-22 Deputy Test Director for Software Analysis
V-22 MOTT (October 1996 - December 1998)
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on August 21, 2015
As a former V-22 vendor, I was privileged to play a very tiny role in the birth of this aircraft. To be able to read the full history of this amazing aircraft is a gift. This book is nothing short of outstanding.
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on June 8, 2010
I was personally at the forefront of the JVX/V-22 development for 6 of its first 8 years (1982-1989), as Technology Manager and Director of Engineering for Boeing, and I can attest to the accuracy of the story told by Mr. Whittle. Finally a true story is told to counter the "yellow press" stories of 60 Minutes and Time Magazine, and to set the facts in place regarding this great aircraft! The author does a masterful job of making what might be a boring technical treatise into an interesting story, to show why the Osprey is really a "dream machine", and to hold out hope that it's capabilities may someday be used in the commercial aviation world. This, I believe, is a great read for anyone who wants to look into the future, and to see how great things can evolve despite continual numerous roadblocks.
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on October 15, 2014
Despite the weird title this is an excellent history of one of the most important aircraft developed since the Wright Brothers. It includes technical information in an understandable way as well as a thorough description of the politics involved. Highly recommended.
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