Built by Boeing Co. and Bell, a unit of Textron Inc., the planes' deployment marks a significant reversal for an aircraft program that was nearly scrapped after two deadly test crashes and a history of mechanical failures.
The medium-size, tilt-rotor plane, which takes off vertically like a helicopter and flies likes a plane, replaces the CH-46 Sea Knight, a 39-year-old assault helicopter used in the Vietnam War.
Demonstrated to reporters at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Va., on Friday, the Osprey can travel twice as fast and three times farther than the Sea Knight. The planes, equipped with radar, lasers and a missile defense system, each carry 24 combat-ready Marines and will accompany attack helicopters in Iraq, which come under gunfire and mortar attacks.
"The V-22 will be able to fly above the threat," said Lt. Gen. Castellaw, deputy commandant for Marine Aviation. "It's harder to shoot a rabbit that's running than one that is sitting still. We're talking about the ability to climb altitude outside of the heart of the threat over there."
Commandment of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway said 171 Marines will accompany the Osprey set for September deployment to Al-Asad Airfield, the second largest air base in Iraq located more than 100 miles west of Baghdad.
Castellaw rejected concerns that the Osprey might not be safe, emphasizing that it had been extensively tested and was fully operational.
In April 2000, 19 Marines died when their V-22 crashed in Marana, north of Tucson, Ariz. The accident was blamed partly on human error and mechanical problems.
Then in December 2000, four more Marines died in a crash in North Carolina due to a hydraulic malfunction.
Shares of Boeing fell 15 cents to $90.88 in aftermarket trading, after it rose 18 cents to close at $91.03 on the New York Stock Exchange. Textron shares dropped 65 cents to $93.69 in aftermarket trading, after it rose $1.96, or 2.1 percent, to close at $94.34, also on the NYSE. AP-CS-04-13-07 1922EDT