Heli-plane? Hell no.

We’ve ranted before about the blatant lack of specialist knowledge and the invariable mistakes that follow when the mainstream media tries its hands at covering defence issues.

Most recently it was our MD Darren Lake getting annoyed at the BBC describing the British Army’s new Ajax reconnaissance vehicle as a tank.

On Sunday it was my turn to feel my blood boiling with the apparent news that the SAS had been given a ‘Transformer heli-plane’ to aid its response to any terrorist attack on UK soil.

So far, so wrong. Aside from the fact the V-22 is classed as a tiltrotor, in the six years I’ve been interviewing pilots, air crew, programme managers and Bell-Boeing salesmen about the Osprey, I’ve never heard anyone refer to it as the ‘Transformer’.

The Mail on Sunday’s vision of the ‘Transformer heli-plane’ in action with UK special forces.

The article went on to say the Osprey has machine guns installed in the nose and on the rear ramp, and that its ability to perform as a helicopter and as a fixed-wing aircraft is due to ‘the three 19ft-long rotors attached to each wing’.

The integrated nose cannon was dropped as a requirement back in 2002, so perhaps they were confused about presence of the CV-22’s in-flight refuelling probe. We can safely presume this was not a misconstrued reference to the BAE Systems Remote Guardian belly-mounted gun.

And while this is being a little pedantic, the aircraft obviously has only one rotor on each wing but three rotor blades.

Bell-Boeing has been pushing the V-22 at the UK for some years so all mistakes aside, perhaps the Mail on Sunday actually had a significant defence procurement scoop here?

Or perhaps not, with the qualifier late in the story that ‘it was unclear last night whether the SAS’s Ospreys have been purchased, or leased from the US Air Force’.

So what we are probably talking about here is SAS troops training with a US Air Force CV-22, likely one based out of RAF Mildenhall where a number have been stationed since 2013, and which we understand has been happening for some time.

Even more depressing for someone who holds out hope for the future of journalism, and therefore humanity, was the fact the story was picked up by the Times (paywalled link) the following day, lifting all the facts from the Mail’s story and running a 200 word version, which still managed to squeeze in all the main mistakes.

This is The Times of London, which I pay a monthly subscription for in order to access such ‘premium content’, making me wonder exactly what I am paying for – if they are this sloppy in an area I know a little about, how well am I being served by the coverage of sectors where I don’t have as much background knowledge?

Although, perhaps I am being unfair – as pointed out on Twitter, if the term ‘heli-plane’ is good enough for Lego, it should be good enough for the rest of us as well.

One comment

  • “Then in January, the commander of the UK’s Joint Helicopter Command, Major General Richard Felton, said he wanted to acquire hi-tech helicopters for ‘specific operations and missions’ – a phrase widely interpreted as a reference to Britain’s Special Forces.”

    It seems like an order is on the cards, but likely to be in the typically British convoluted way. Why couldnt they just say- V22 Osprey will be bought in small numbers.
    But as usual something will have to go to pay for them, and they probably are fighting over exactly what that will be.


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