Thursday, June 14, 2012


OK, I admit it; I picked the title for this post mostly because I've always wanted to use the word "zerk" in a blog post title.

But bear with me, because I do have a cunning plan here.

The origin of this post came from something Ed posted over at Gin & Tacos about a USAF Class A mishap. Seems that the zoomies lost a V-22 "Osprey" tilt-rotor transport down in Florida the other day and Ed was harkening back to the halcyon days of his blog-youth when he called down fire and rain on the V-22 for being a massive boondoggle.

It got me thinking to the military kit I've encountered that smelled suspiciously like the someones involved in getting a hold of it had more in mind than getting there fustest with the mostest.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the M782 GAMA Goat ambulance.

I've never really figured out who thought these big bastards were a good idea. They were ginormous, slow, and clumsy. The motor was decent - a three-cylinder Detroit diesel - but the rest of the contraption was a mechanic's nightmare.

They were supposed to be amphibious, so the entire bottom was sealed outside of a couple of screw-in drain plugs. Which made any maintenance that required access to the bottom of the vehicle a frigging huge pain in the ass. The main wiring harness ran underneath the engine block, so if you ever developed a problem with an electrical line you had to pull the entire fuckin' power pack! To make matters worse it didn't float, really; the rubber seal on the tailgate split or tore within hours of leaving the factory, so the thing was always a danger of going to Davy Jones' Locker, while it "swam" by spinning it's tires as paddlewheels which worked about as well as you'd think.

The thing had no spare (the tires and wheels were too freaking huge to carry one) and if you flatted the idea was that you dragged out this "bridge kit" which locked the back part to the front - though it looked like a truck-and-trailer the Goat was actually one vehicle that had a universal joint in the middle - took off one of the back tires from the tractor to replace the flat, put the tractor in 6WD and drove away.

But damn GAMA Goat's the worst feature was the carrier bearing.

The bottom is sealed, remember? So the driveshaft to the rear wheels ran in a channel in the bottom of the trailer from the universal joint to the rear differential. It had a single bearing between the U-joint and the diff, mounted in a metal housing that stuck down below the trailer floor.

The bearing was just a regular old bearing of no particular distinction, and being underneath a tactical truck it tended to get filthy dirty. It was hard to reach - you had to crawl under the trailer to get to it. So drivers doing PMCS tended to skip lubing the carrier bearing. Even if you took the time to get under the damn trailer the grease fitting - the proper name for those little nipple things are "zerks" - tended to be caked with glaur, or had been banged on something and wouldn't take the grease gun nozzle. So the bearing tended to get dry and crusty. And then...

That was brought home to me in a particularly painfully embarrassing way when the carrier bearing of HQ-52 burned up like a vampire under a sunlamp and locked the entire rear driveshaft up tight just as I was crossing the swing bridge at Pedro Miguel Locks one lovely winter afternoon in 1986.

Well, THAT sucked.

The truck was stuck, and so was the bridge, and the entire crew of the Polish freighter waiting for the locks to open ambled over to laugh at the imperialist Yankee scum and his broken-down Goat. The lock-keeper went berserk in Panamanian, and the convoy commander detailed me to wait with the vehicle until the battalion's five-ton wrecker could drive all the way over from the Westside to tow me home.

Because, you see, military equipment tends to live a hard life; it's called upon to go places and do things no sensible civilian equipment would think of. So it makes sense to try and keep that equipment as simple and robust as possible. The M782's carrier bearing violated that rule. And I payed for it that day. Imagine if I'd been racing to pick up wounded men in combat. It doesn't pay to think about. Men would have died because of that damn carrier bearing, the operators who didn't maintain it, and the people who designed and fielded that vehicle.

Now the MV-22 is a just a VSTOL transport; in effect, a sort of quasi-helicopter. The way I see it the only real advantage it has over the current fleet of USMC rotary-wing aircraft is the in-flight speed.

But in my opinion the in-flight speed requirement is the weakest argument for the aircraft. I don't see that it has ever really been proven to be critical to the design – i.e., the USMC has never really explained why the 100-knot increase in maximum speed over the helos is that important.

Supposedly it's because it allows the V-22 to keep pace with fast movers, but since when in the past sixty-some years have our transport aircraft required fighter escorts?

Seems to me that this is really a macguffin. The guys want this thing because it's just flat-out, stomp-down fuckin' COOL.

And that's when I start thinking about carrier bearings.

Because I think the other issue - the bigger, eventually murderous issue - about the MV-22 that's going to bite the USMC and the aircraft's other users in the ass is that the tilt-rotors are going to prove to be a maintenance nightmare that will become a monster as these airframes age. Mission capable rate is already low – below 60% between FY09 and FY12 for the USMC, and combat equipment gets used hard, and fiddly bits like the tilt-rotors tend to age poorly. The maintenance estimates for the V-22 fleet has just been bumped up over 60%, and IMO this is waaaayyyyy too optimistic.

And that's just now, when everything is all shiny and new and all the grease fittings are clean. The dark days are to come, as these airframes age and the tilty bits in the rotors get worn and need more and more fixing. And we go years and years without a combat mission that required fighter escort for these transports to make everyone wonder why they seemed so important. And the cost of each aircraft goes up and the numbers of the mission-capable units go down and...

In the end it isn't that the USMC and the USAF and their contractors are jonesing for these things. I was a GI, and GIs, even and sometimes especially commissioned GIs, even admirals and generals, get a hard-on for cool shit, and what's cooler than an aircraft that's like a real-life Transformer?

Nope. The thing that rings my bell is that nobody in Congress seemed or seems willing to question the entire NEED for them, or the supposed missions that can't be performed without them.

After all, it's the Congress that's supposed to be the gatekeeper for all things warlike in our country. They're supposed to debate the weighty issues of going to war and making peace, of supplying the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen with the equipment, training, and geopolitical cunning they need to fight and win.

And it should have been the Congress to ask the hard questions; why is this aircraft necessary? What missions can it do that others cannot? Why is THIS aircraft necessary? What makes the need for speed so critical? What does this aircraft provide that another machine, or a combination of others, cannot - as, say, a helicopter can not - that will require the troopers riding in them to hope that everything works as designed and that the designs are good, that the tilt-rotors work just so all the time, every time, and that every single zerk is perfectly clean and shiny and new and smooth and full of grease.


  1. Remember back before peace broke out amongst the Europes, and the tech and intel guys told us, "Bah, the Russians are having huge problems with their migs...they're always switching them out. Terrible, just bad."

    And then we got chummy, officer types swapped drinks, pictures, maybe even spit, who knows, but thats when the shocker hit everyone in the, the Mig's weren't having huge problems.
    Instead, part and parcel of the Warsaw Pact doctrine was that all equipment gets used, and abused so entire planes, tanks, jeeps, trucks, and choppers, the works, all went back to the rear to be cleaned, repaired, and refitted so that the front line guys always had fresh, up to date equipment.

    Simple equipment with basic functionality that is both easy to repair and easy to use...a novelty of the past.

  2. Chief-

    Nice post.

    OV-22? I have an immediate family member who's made a career out of this project. Dangerous piece of equipment if you go by the history . . .

  3. Chief:
    I will not make any defense of this bird, as many aeronautics types have found fault with this whole engineering concept. As for the casualties incurred so far, nyeh..... not a matter of if, but how many. How bout' them F-22 Boyz n' Gals blackin out and spewing black shite n' such....gotta be pilot error doncha' know.

    From my experience from frequenly wallowing in the DoD propaganda, which filters The MICC's desires; I can gather this from the interested genruls and admiruls:
    1- Helioplane was picked as a replacement for any any long-legged "retrieve the hostages from Iran type scenario."
    2- MV-22 is a key piece in the naval sratego cum operational art called "Operational Maneuver From The Sea," OMFTS, OOMPHUHHTEHZ. This in turn has a sub-component called "Over The Horizon," There lies not a pot O' Gold, or OTH .... OTEEHEYSCHH.

    If a US Flotilla is off the coast of Fuckwadistan for example, The enemy people, knowing the bird's mid-air refuelability, and its' attendant range fan, will be confused as to what part of their Riviera-like coastline the US running dogs will initiate their Land-Sea opposed to the Chopper community's shorter ranged fans. They would also need to know where the Troops will go next.

    Hopefully that target set will include urban areas, where the warriors will be greeted by an unexpected insurgency, which will initiate a Schwerpunkt of spit-swapping COIN ops, which will, in turn, crank out hundreds of meaningless medals to the genruls at hand, as well as sending the staff over at CNAS into paroxysms of lust, thereby initiating uncontrollable bouts of jizzing and squirting in the Punch Bowls, which should, if justice reigned supreme, be filled with Koolaid, Funny Face, Goofy Grape, (20) each, Man's Individual, PTJJ additive, as required, season to taste. Hurry, Hurry, Drink my children, Drink!

  4. Chief -

    Some of us horndogs prefer the term 'grease nipples' - would you consider retitling this post?

    And no offense meant, but why was the Army designing an amphibious vehicle? Yeah I know river crossings, but what was wrong with the DUKW, a more proven design, or at least an updated and improved version? I was just reading Kesselring's memoirs, imagine my surprise when I found the Luftwaffe designed and built catamarans (Siebel Ferries) to cross the English Channel for operation Sea Lion. And actually used them later in the Mediterranean between Tunis and Sicily, and also in the Straits of Messina. Many were sunk in storms, go figure! Good thing they never tried to cross the Channel in them.

    Re the V-22, perhaps you and gin'n'tacos are right. Time will tell. I am not aware of the maintenance record.

    Not sure where you got the speed info and the fixed wing escort stuff?? I never heard of that. For the MV-22 mission Eddie said it better than I. The original requirement as I understood it was for RANGE in order to make Eddie's OMFTS doable. It more than tripled the combat radius of CH-46s (and doubles Al's CH-47s). The speed was important but just a secondary benefit.

    The Air Force Special Ops guys jumped on it also because of the range and even increased the combat radius in their variant by adding extra fuel tanks.

    You have a valid point about the 60% mission capable rate, it does not sound good. Though I surmise other platforms out there have similar or lower rates, aren't there? And those rates are not static, they rise and fall on many different variables. I am probably biased being a former member of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children. I do thank Allah though that I was not one of the Marana 19.

  5. After finally checking wikipedia, I see it was my bad for ragging on your gamma goat. They claim it was an ARPA project, not Army. Mea culpa! And wiki implies the main requirement was cross country capability - not amphib. Sounds like someone wanted it to be all things to all people, which is a big mistake in defense acquisition. So my re-purposed DUKW proposal was idiotic. But maybe you will let me get away with claiming it was only tongue-in-cheek?

  6. Chief,
    As a former mech plat leader it always struck me as absurd that the combat crew that fought the vehicle was responsible for 1st eschelon maintenance.
    If they are in contact they ain't gonna crank a wrench.Complete/keep a log book yes, but maintenance is secondary.
    Unit level maintenance was ALWAYS weak b/c the mechanics were always over worked, and the motor pool facilities were always crowded. Plus nobody gave a shit b/c every one was coming or going to RVN- every body wanted a little breather.
    Some of the zerks actually needed a high pressure grease gun to lube the chassis.
    BTW the motor pools never got the strak troops.

  7. I guess the thing I don't get about the advantage of an extended range, guys, is that we've got heavy lift helos that can mid-air refuel. I think the Navy's version of the UH-60 can, too. So like the i-phone commercial goes; "there's a helo for that..."

    And while it's nice to be able to fly way the hell in to West Buttfuckistan, what happens if things go to hell? You've got a real Xenophon of a hump to grab yourself a hat.

    The thing about these is that - if they were mechanically simpler - they'd kind of make sense for a smaller nation, a Britain or France, that wanted to have SOME power projection capability but didn't have the ginormous CS/CSS tail we've got.

    But we've got tons of other crap that can do the things this A/C does, and don't have the damn tilt-rotor maintenance issues. This just seems like a GAMA Goat - a critter that is designed to do a bunch of things but has such huge potential issues waiting for it that it seems like a bad idea even in the medium term.

    It's not like we're going to stop MV-22 procurement here; the bird's gonna fly, regardless.

    But it just makes me increasingly skeptical as to whether anyone, at DoD, in Congress, is looking at the "big picture" and asking "What do we need to do the things we should be capable of doing?" as opposed to "Gee! Wow! Neato! What can we do with it?"

  8. Chief-

    While I have had worries since Day One about a system as complex as the V-22, I do understand the benefits that the concept offers in terms of range, speed, payload and VTOL benefits, which are a very beneficial capability to have at the tactical and operational level, especially for "expeditionary" operations.

    The V-22 wasn't technology looking for a gullible customer. The performance gap in tactical transport between heavy lift (CH-47 and CH-53) and equivalent payload fixed wing is significant. I spent many a day humping people and cargo the final 20 klicks of a 120 klick journey to the customer. Not the most efficient method, but since runways have this habit of not always being where the need is, and a Chinook was too slow to do the whole 120 klicks, so be it.

    In-air refueling of existing helos sounds like a great substitute for the complex V-22, but I would offer that is isn't - by a long shot. There is a huge difference in how you can employ a squadron of VTOL tactical transport aircraft that cruise at 241 kts with a 400 NM radius of operations and a squadron of 140 kt cruise speed aircraft with a 200 NM radius with an in-air refueling capability. The former can conduct a variety of missions simultaneously within a 400 NM radius on a moment's notice. The latter is tied to the availability of "cows", which requires a whole new level of mission planning and airframe availability.

    I would, based upon personal experience, offer that the existence of refueling for helos is not the answer to the types of missions the V-22 is expected to perform. Hopefully, the V-22 can be made reliable enough to perform its mission.

  9. Chief -

    Some said the same thing regarding paratroopers. I would venture to wager that eventually the Army will also go to a similar tiltrotor concept. Certainly not now with the existing airframe and not in the near future, but with a 2nd or 3rd generation version in a decade or two or three. The extended range is too great an advantage to ignore. It gives you a benefit of too many landing zones for an enemy to defend. It also allows you to have the double whammy of wide left or right hooks around defended areas to positions in their rear instead of a straight deep insert.

    The platform has taken a lot of flak for the problem that Cobra gunships cannot keep up with it and not having enough armament itself. Perhaps that is where you got the thing about being accompanied by fixed wing? I think the armament on board the -22 has now been addressed. And it was never intended to go into a hot LZ, more better to go around them.

    My major beef with the program is lack of stealth. I understand that you could probably not reduce the radar signature of this or most other rotorcraft to a significant degree. At least they addressed that in the birds that went in for bi-Laden. But the audio signature is just as important IMHO. I don't understood why the Hughes NOTAR (no tail rotor) bird never took off, at least for reconnaissance helos.

  10. mike-

    IIRC, the NOTAR's anti-torque capability was not responsive enough for normal military application. There was a lag due to it being reliant on the force of air flow, not the aerodynamic lift provided by a tail rotor. I also seem to recollect some shortcomings in this system during power-off flight and landing, such as a higher loss in directional control at the low rotor RPM experienced just prior to touchdown.

    Note that it was never adopted for commercial use either.

  11. What an interesting (if depressing) read for someone from across the pond!
    Being old enough to remember the first practical military convertiplane - and in my opinion still the best if you are paying for one - I can't help recalling in it's short career the Fairey Rotodyne never crashed on take off or landing, managing to do both with boring competence, did so vertically, conventionally and everything in between, and managed to convert between it's three flight modes seamlessly using nothing more complicated than a clutch plate! Admittedly it was used to progressively divert engine power from airscrews (props) to compressors but it is still pretty impressive in 'simple but effective' terms.