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Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle Briefs on MV-22 Maintenance Allegation

Presenters: Lt.Gen. Fred McCorkle, Deputy Commandant for Marine Corps Aviation
January 19, 2001 1:15 PM EDT

Friday, January 19, 2000 - 1:15 p.m. EST

(MV-22 Briefing on Maintenance Allegation)

ADM. QUIGLEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Momentarily, I will be introducing Lieutenant General Fred McCorkle, who is not a stranger to many of you that cover the building, and he'll be addressing issues involving the V-22. And we'll go with that for a little while, and then a reminder to all that at 1530, 3:30 this afternoon, Secretary Cohen, Secretary Danzig, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark will be here in the briefing room, and the subject of that brief will be USS Cole.

Q: Housekeeping?

ADM. QUIGLEY: Pam, yes.

Q: Could you explain this sequestering rule that we've heard, is that -- what's going to happen with -- insofar as our freedom of movement at 3:30?

ADM. QUIGLEY: I don't know. I don't know. I know the intention was to have copies of the JAG Manual investigation available and embargoed until 3:30, but --

Q: But we will not be --

ADM. QUIGLEY: I don't know. I'm sorry. I'll see if I can find out for you.

Q: (Off mike) -- from leaving the room?

ADM. QUIGLEY: I will find out for you. Other questions? Housekeeping?

Q: Well, but you not only find out -- excuse me -- (inaudible) -- find out and make sure that this doesn't happen.

Q: (Inaudible) -- to make it go away? (Laughter.)

Q: More to the point!

ADM. QUIGLEY: Okay? General McCorkle.

GEN. MCCORKLE: I was in hopes to come down today and give you a update on the accident and a complete update, because I think we're about 99 percent through, and what I'm going to do is give you a little bit of an update on the accident, but also to share with you the Marine Corps' concerns on the recent allegations from an anonymous letter , as most of you know about, on the V-22 training squadron, that talked about falsifying readiness and maintenance data in that squadron.

Yesterday, quite a few of you asked for copies of this letter outlining the allegations, and because the inspector general, General Ghormley, had just begun his work and had not yet been to the squadron, we were unable to do that. At the end of my briefing today -- and we'll try to make this about 30 minutes, give you all time to get out of here and get whatever you want to do done before the USS Cole team comes in -- it's my intent to provide you with a copy of that letter.

I had also hoped to give you at the same time a transcript of the tape. We're not able to do that because, if you haven't heard, you can hear very few words on it. But we'll have the tape later day with PA and General Sattler, and if you'll let him know after the Cole thing today, we'll try to do it at one time so that everybody can listen to the tape, and as soon as we do get the transcript downloaded -- and we've got our experts working on that -- then we'll give you a transcript of it.

I'm here to tell you today, as well as with the update on the accident, that the Marine Corps takes allegations in this anonymous letter, although unsigned, very seriously, as we do in anything that talks about the integrity of something that we do in a squadron or a battalion or whatever, and that although the MV-22 is very important to the future of the Marine Corps, nothing's more important than the safety of our Marines and the integrity of our Corps.

As you know, this has always been our philosophy, and that's why, in the wake of the December mishap, we did the following. And I realize some of this may be old hat to you, but suspended the V-22 flight operations, pending the outcome of a third investigation. And for the first time, I think, in the history of the Marine Corps, we appointed a general officer from outside the chain of command to lead the investigation, which includes representatives from the Air Force, the Navy, and the National Transportation Safety Board.

We also requested a delay in the decision to move the Osprey to a full-rate production, and we requested that DOD form a high-level, independent commission to review the entire MV-22 program. And that's under way now.

We took these actions because nothing's more important to us than to ensure the safety of all our aircraft and our Marines.

There have been some questions concerning when we were notified about this anonymous letter and when we took action, and although I know very little about it, I'll clarify what I know with you-all.

A package containing this letter and an audiotape [.ram, 1.6MB] was received by the administrative office to the secretary of the Navy last Friday. Because of the nature of the letter, the package was forwarded immediately to the administrative office of our inspector general, who is Brigadier General Tim Ghormley. This was done via the secretary of the Navy's office.

We also received another package that had been sent to the Naval Air Systems Command at the same time. That same day General Ghormley briefed the commandant of the Marine Corps, General Jones, on the allegations, and General Jones directed him to personally begin the investigation.

He then began the process of assembling the team to go down to Marine Corps Air Station New River, and to ensure the integrity of the investigation, he assembled this team of experts to include two maintenance experts from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based in San Diego. And when General Bolden was called out there, he didn't know what they wanted the team members for. He was just told to put them on an airplane and send them back.

The eight-member team consisting of five Marines, including General Ghormley, one NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] agent, and two other civilian investigators, arrived at MCAS New River and began its investigation Thursday morning.

That's when the Marine Corps announced the allegations and the resulting inspection.

The commanding officer was personally interviewed by the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, and as you know, he was relieved. He was relieved, I think it's fair to say, because the wing commander had lost confidence in his ability to lead, as had the MEF commander. And I've talked to both those individuals.

We'll continue to update you as more information becomes available.

One of the issues that has been raised by many of you since the most recent developments is a possible relation between these allegations and the causes of the two previous mishaps. Based on all of the information that we have, we see no relationship. In fact, the anonymous letter, which you'll be given a copy of, specifically states that this was not what caused the previous two mishaps.

We have a very clear understanding of the causal factors, as all of you know, from the 8 April mishap near Marana, Arizona. And we also know that maintenance was not a factor in the mishap. As of today, we're 99 percent complete with the December mishap investigation, and everything indicates that the aircraft experienced, as I mentioned before, a hydraulic system failure followed by an error in software inputs to the flights control system.

And what I'm going to do now is tell you what I can about the mishap, and like I said, I'm not going to get into anything privileged. And hopefully by the end of next week or the week after -- I don't want to set a timeline because of the mishap investigation -- I'll come back and tell you specifically this is what happened. But what we want to make sure of is that this other investigation says that there wasn't any link whatsoever, you know, in the maintenance department.

If I need to do this with part of you, the mishap in question, the MV-22B, call sign Crossbow-08, impacted the ground due to a loss of controllability. This occurred seven miles north of MCAS New River. It was a warm-up. Some of this information I haven't given you before for the copilot, who was Lieutenant Colonel Sweaney. The warm-up was because he was up with HMX [Marine Helicopter Squadron-1] and he had not flown in 30 days.

The flight crew, as most of you know, all served, all four of them, on the Multi-Service Operational Test Team, the MOTT. And the combination represented what I think was our most experienced MV-22 crew that could be assembled. I've run through the flight times with you before in here with Lieutenant Colonel Murphy with over 300 hours in the MV-22, 280 in the simulator; Colonel Sweaney, 280 in the MV-22 and almost 200 in the simulator. And then Staff Sergeant Runnels and Sergeant Buyck both had well over 200 hours in the MV-22.

The aircraft information that I haven't provided to you before: was a Lot 2, a low-rate initial production aircraft. It was number 18. It was accepted from the manufacturer on 26 August 2000; had 160 total hours prior to this mishap; was properly certified safe for flight. And we've checked the aircraft log book and aircraft discrepancy book and have determined that they were properly maintained. And it was a normal configuration for a fam [familiarization]-and- instrument flight.

So the overview: exceptional flight crew; well briefed for instrument-fam warm-up; a new airplane, and weather was not a factor. It was VFR [Visual Flight Rules].

The cause of the accident we think is going to be the aircraft experience, number one, hydraulic failure, with software problems after that.

I brought two charts for you. If I can get Ozzie to stick the first one up. We can provide these to you by tape or whatever else at the end of the briefing. But this shows your MCAS New River here. This was the plot of the airplane as it came around, and he was just turning downwind, and the dark portion here is when he got in trouble and the aircraft experienced about 25 to 30 seconds of the emergency before he went in.

The next slide that we've got, which I had not seen this information until a day ago, so you all are getting it about the same time that I'm getting it. Final track to the crash site, and I wanted to make sure that this wasn't privileged and that I could pass it to you all, because I thought that you should have it. Number one hydraulic failure here. He began the conversion at 30 seconds. By the way, there's been a lot of statements out saying eyewitnesses said that they believed it was in the helicopter mode. I've said from the start that I thought that it was in a fixed-wing mode. It was, 100 percent fixed wing; went to 90 percent fixed wing, and then back to 100 percent as soon as they started having the emergency. So they'd never transitioned more than 10 percent.

So they were 100 percent in the fixed-wing mode when they did crash; 100 percent up here, then 90.

Number one hydraulic failure. This is at 25 seconds right here. Right here, the pilot at the controls, who we believe was Lieutenant Colonel Murphy -- Lieutenant Colonel-Select Murphy -- said, "Yeah, standby." And then here is 12 seconds, 10 seconds, and then down-stop to 3 seconds, and they did not actually declare an emergency until they were about 2 seconds out, and they said, "Emergency. We're going down, we're going down." And those are the correct words. I've had a lot of people tell me different things, but that's what they had on the tape: "Emergency. We're going down, we're going down."

The sources of data retrieval. And I'll provide all of you both of these sheets, if you would like them. The crash survivable memory unit was very important to us. When people talk about black boxes and all the other things, as you know, we don't have this capability in any of our helicopters or in our KC-130. And it really helped us. We got a lot of additional information from this aircraft that was not crash-worthy by design, and one was the VSLED, or the Vibration, Structural Life and Engine Data. And vice going through all these and reading them to you, I just say that I'll have these sheets available, if you would like them, at the end.

The data analysis and methodology. On doing this, almost all of it was outside. But we tried to retrieve as much data as possible through the radar tapes, witness statements, documentations and other means. We employed both government contractors and contractor engineering experts to verify the accuracy of the Mishap Board data. We had Boeing Flight Control System Integration Rig -- FCSIR, the Flight Simulation Lab, and the software integration where we've got in and we've had expert test pilots fly this profile and put the profile in as to what we thought had occurred to the aircraft, and all of that has worked out to our satisfaction. Like I said, we're about 99 percent complete, and, hopefully, by next week we'll be able to come in and say this is exactly what caused the accident.

I'll stop at that point and -- yes, sir?

Q: General, if I could ask a question about the accident and then one about the investigation, also.

First, could you elaborate a little bit on the hydraulics failing? What are the implications when the hydraulics fail? What parts of the aircraft fail as a result? And is that not possibly related to maintenance?

GEN. MCCORKLE: It's not possibly related to maintenance, and it's going to end up as a line that was rubbed through, which we have on aircraft almost one a day in the Marine Corps and in other services, and this line, once it rubs through, then you've got a 5,000 psi. This is all I'm going to do, is to say when that occurs, then you get a hydraulics failure warning in the cockpit, and then you go into the emergency procedures after that. And that's all I want to comment, really, with the board still in deliberations.

Q: And on the investigation, critics of the V-22, some have already started to say that this is more evidence that this is a bad program, it ought to be cancelled because of the cost, because of Mr. Coyle's report about the maintenance and reliability question. Do you -- are you afraid that politically this program may be on its way down as well?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I'm not, and for the reason that I think that what's going to be shown in this hydraulics failure has zero to do with technology with the tilt-rotor or with the MV-22. And the hydraulics failure that we had is one that we see in all helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft, if we have a line that rubs through. And, like I said, that's all I'm going to go into that until deliberations --

Q: I was talking about the investigation, I mean, of the maintenance issue down in New River.

GEN. MCCORKLE: Oh, the investigation of the maintenance issue down in New River, what I read, and I think what you will read from this -- and although I said readiness and maintenance data, I think that what you're going to see that the allegations were is that they would make the readiness data look better than it was -- in other words, 80 percent instead of 60 percent or whatever -- and I don't think that anywhere in that letter that anybody will ever find where no one did maintenance or where they ever sent an aircraft out that wasn't safe. In fact, he specifically says that it had nothing to do with the safety of the aircraft.

Q: But it's politically damaging, right?

GEN. MCCORKLE: Anything that's bad is politically damaging, and the accident itself is politically damaging.

Yes, sir?

Q: General, when did the commander make this request or order or whatever it was he did -- when he did do it? And have you determined whether or not there has been any manipulation at all of records?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I have not determined any of that. The commandant has ordered his investigating general, General Ghormley, to personally do this investigation. That's under way right now, and I think that the information I've already given you is really very forthcoming while the investigation is still under way.

But I felt like -- that that should be done, in particular with the commanding officer being relieved, in that he was relieved because of a loss of confidence.

Q: Could you tell us at least whether this request or this order was given after the second crash or between the first -- before the --

GEN. MCCORKLE: I have no idea, sir. And if I did, I would tell you.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: General, Brigadier General Amos was in here in November, and he told us, in the wake of the operational test report, which said the plane didn't have the reliability and maintainability he was looking for, he said that he had just pulled readiness rates on this thing, and it had increased dramatically. It was at 57 percent when OTE [Operational Test and Evaluation] was going on, and it went up to 73 percent. Are we to assume or should we be on notice now that that might have been a false statement based on falsification of records?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I don't think that you should assume anything on that, and I don't think that you should assume that any of the records were falsified until the investigation is complete. And it's still under way now.

What I can say is that Mr. Coyle, on his report, he said that the aircraft, as tested, which were the first four aircraft, were not operationally suitable.

Q: But that sort of readiness rate is the issue in these allegations. Is that right?

GEN. MCCORKLE: And I think, as General Amos told you, that on any new aircraft, you know, readiness is an issue. I'm not sure what the allegations are on the anonymous letter. I've read the letter. I'm going to let the IG do his work. And hopefully I'll be able to answer some of those questions when we come back.

Q: General McCorkle --

Q: General, the indication here --

GEN. MCCORKLE: Miss -- I'll get you next --

Q: Okay.

Q: The Marines for the last two days have said as they see no link between the December accident and these allegations. On what basis can the Marines really make that statement at the moment, given the fact you have -- clearly have an officer with a lack of judgment, if nothing else? Don't you have to now go back and look at everything in the squadron and see if this is more widespread? How can you make the statement based simply on the anonymous letter you've received?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I think, number one, that you should be very careful about saying that the officer's guilty of --

Q: Well, we were told he's already confessed.

GEN. MCCORKLE: I'm not sure what you were told about him being -- him confessing.

He hasn't, at least to me. I know that the IG is still down there talking to him and will determine those allegations. And this officer was actually the one that went to the group commander and then to the wing commander and saying "I think that you're going to have information on this and I think that you should know." So then when the wing commander talked to him and confronted him, the wing commander determined, and the MEF commander, that they no longer had the trust and confidence in him to lead and they thought it was time for a change.

Q: Okay, I understand all that. But given the fact -- that's exactly my question. Give the fact that there's so much you're not sure about at the moment because this investigation is ongoing, what basis, other than what is stated in the anonymous letter, does the Marine Corps come up with -- do you make the statement that there's no link between the accident and these allegations, other than the letter you received saying that?

GEN. MCCORKLE: Well, I would say first of all, we have never seen a link between maintenance and the accident, in Marana or in this accident either, from the start. Now, when we get an anonymous letter and the anonymous letter says some things were wrong in the squadron but the letter specifically states, as you will see when you finish here, that nothing that was done in the squadron had anything to do with those two accidents, that solidifies even more the stuff that we found.

And I can tell you that so many people have looked at this aircraft. You know, it's not just just Marines in the squadron. You've got two companies in there. You've got the Air Force in there, who are present here in the back. You've got the Navy, NAVAIR SYSCOM [Naval Air Systems Command] in there. So you've got so many people looking at this aircraft and how you're doing it and how you're making it safe to fly, that an anonymous letter that someone don't even bother to sign, whether you say they had the guts to sign it or whatever else, but they do state in the letter that none of these allegations had anything to do with either two of the previous accidents. That makes it pretty clear to me.

Yes, sir?

Q: General, was this squadron commander under pressure to increase his mission-capable rates?

GEN. MCCORKLE: In Fred McCorkle's opinion, none of our commanders, whether they're ground or air or whatever else, are under any pressure to lie or to have any sort of an integrity challenge for the United States Marine Corps.

Q: That's not my question. Were they under -- was he under pressure to show better mission-capable rates?

GEN. MCCORKLE: And my answer to that is no. There are a lot of people that perceive pressure on the highway of life. I'm sure that you perceive pressure every day, you know, in getting a story out on time or doing this or doing that. We have never put, from General Jones to Lieutenant General McCorkle, to any group commander or aircraft wing commander, pressure that I've seen, or I would put a foot in somebody's back.

That is to say, if you put pressure on anybody, whether it's for a 53- Echo, whether it's for an AV-8 or any other aircraft, much less the MV-22 that we're trying to field and field successfully.

Q: Well, will the investigation cover the possibility that this officer was doing what he was told or believed he had been told to do?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I think that this investigation will cover all of that.

Q: General, in reference to the December accident, two quick questions. Number one, you talk about a single line breaking, but I thought the hydraulic system was triply redundant. Could you explain why that isn't the case? And number two, that the second problem was software error, are you basically saying that the best pilots in the world could not have saved this aircraft and there was no pilot error associated with the December accident?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I'll answer your second question first. I will tell you that there was no pilot error associated with this second aircraft accident. On the first question that you have, all of our systems in all of our airplanes we try to have a redundant-type system, and that's as far as I'll go until the investigation is complete and I come back to you. And, like I said, I'm not -- we've already been very forthcoming in saying there was hydraulic leak and there was a hydraulic failure which led up to a software problem which caused the accident.

Q: It was a single-point failure, so the idea of a triple- redundancy is somewhat misleading.

GEN. MCCORKLE: It could be, if you don't know the facts.

Q: Well, tell us the facts.

GEN. MCCORKLE: I will tell you the facts when I come back in a couple of weeks, like I said, when the investigation is complete and we've also looked at these other allegations.

Q: General, is it possible that the line broke because there was a materiel failure caused by the contractor, or shoddy workmanship?

GEN. MCCORKLE: It had nothing to do with shoddy workmanship, and that's as far as I'll go until the investigation is complete.

Q: Following up on the letter itself, the anonymous letter. You read it. "60 Minutes" is going to talk about it on Sunday and excerpt parts of it. Does it talk about a time frame in which this falsification of records took place? One month? Two years? One year?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I think he talks about time in there. I'll let you look at the letter yourself and reach your own decisions, you know, after we're done here.

Q: General, is the --

Q: If it's two years or so, then there's a whole -- you get a different look at this in terms of the integrity of the test program.

GEN. MCCORKLE: He says in the letter that this did not affect the test program; that it also had nothing to do with either of the two accidents.

Q: General, when you think about what would be -- what would be the practical impact of falsifying readiness rates? And what does that mean for -- to explain it to people who aren't familiar with the program, what would be the practical impact?

Would it increase or result in a decrease in the cost of maintenance? I mean, what would be the --

GEN. MCCORKLE: To use a layman's term, and this is a layman's term, I would say that if you had a group of taxis and you had 70 percent of those taxis that were running every day, and if someone, if you wanted to make it look good, somebody says, "How you doing in the taxi business?" and you say, "Eighty percent of my taxis are running every day." Has nothing to do with putting tires on or batteries or whatever in the taxis that are running. It just makes you look better as the individual that owns the taxis.

Q: It doesn't make the taxis look better? Doesn't it make the aircraft look better?

GEN. MCCORKLE: Absolutely. It makes you and your organization look better

Q: General, was the -- is the --

GEN. MCCORKLE: -- if you're really in fact doing that.

Q: So in practical terms, would the effect be to conceal perhaps problems in -- problems --

GEN. MCCORKLE: I think I'm getting ready to get the hook here. We'll have to see what the investigation brings out on that.

I'll take --

Q: General, with the V-22 on such thin ice that a continued mediocre performance on readiness could have killed the program and therefore was an effort to enhance those figures, in effect an effort to save the program from cancellation?

GEN. MCCORKLE: Absolutely not. And I can tell you that from the aircraft wing commander to Naval Air Systems Command, which is run by the Navy and Navy officers, to the Air Force, to my office, if we have a readiness problem, then our job is to go out and find out what's caused the readiness problem and to fix it, if it's underfunding or you don't have enough parts of whatever to fix it.

Q: A follow up. If these bad hydraulic lines are such a common problem, wouldn't maintenance be a factor in, you know, inspecting these things and making sure they're not about to go?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I can say that in my 13 months in Vietnam, and I've said this before I think in here, I put at least 40 CH-46s, which is the aircraft I'm flying now 30 years later, on the ground in a combat zone in harms way because of hydraulic lines rubbing or rupturing or whatever else.

Q: General --

Q: Do you know --

GEN. MCCORKLE: I'll take two more questions. This one and yours.

Q: In addition to the IG investigation, is there a Judge Advocate General Manual investigation of the allegations against the lieutenant colonel?

GEN. MCCORKLE: I think that the IG investigation will determine that to see if there is going to be a JAG investigation.

Q: So it hasn't been decided?

GEN. MCCORKLE: It has not been decided.

Q: But he's not been charged at all --

GEN. MCCORKLE: No, sir.

I'll take you, and then I'm going to be kicked out of here.

Q: Okay. General, would it be fair to say that the hydraulic system failed completely? And a second question would be, did this aircraft demonstrate full crash worthiness in the December mishap?

GEN. MCCORKLE: Number one, when the hydraulic failure occurs, like we've said before, and you know, we have redundant systems, you know, that kick in. And it all depends on where the line is and how the aircraft still operates after that. The aircraft, after the hydraulic system, did have a software problem, and the combination of the two is what caused the crash.

Q: Is that, in effect, what caused the failure of the backup? Was the software supposed to send a message for the backup to go into effect? Is that -

GEN. MCCORKLE: I'm not going to get into that until I come back with the rest of the --

Q: Do you know if the December crash, if its maintenance records had been tampered with or not? Do you know for a fact that they weren't?

GEN. MCCORKLE: The second that an airplane crashes, then all the maintenance records and the log books and everything else to that aircraft are taken into custody. And this goes with any service -- Navy, Air Force, Army or whatever else. We had Air Force officers in there, SOF [Special Operations Forces] officers in there, National Transportation Board in there, and the Navy in there. So we've got all these experts from the outside who have nothing -- no reason to hold up for the MV-22, all looking at these records, and all of them say that the records were perfect on the airplane that crashed.

Q: And they know that those records weren't fake?

GEN. MCCORKLE: That's correct.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you, sir.

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