Within two days of getting safety clearance of the Japanese government to fly over the country, the first batch of a controversial U.S. military aircraft carried out test flights at an American base in Japan on Friday.
Four gray-painted U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft took off from the Marines' Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi prefecture, two each in the morning and afternoon, reports said. No trouble was noticed in the maiden flights, which were on cruise mode.
The Ospreys were granted permission on Wednesday to begin flight operations at the American base after the Japanese government declared it safe to fly in the country, saying it has found no basis for thinking the transport aircraft is dangerous.
Japanese and U.S. governments signed an agreement on a set of measures to ensure the safe operation of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, applying altitude restrictions to low-altitude flight training involving the aircraft.
Osprey deployment to Japan turned controversial since the arrival of a dozen of the aircraft in July causing persistent safety concerns among local people.
The transport aitcraft were sent to replace CH-46 helicopters used by the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, and Defense officials say it can operate at twice the speed, three times the payload, and four times the range as the helicopters.
Pentagon says "the Osprey will provide a critical capability that strengthens the United States' ability to defend Japan, perform humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, and fulfill other Alliance roles."
Deployment of the Osprey MV-22 at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa prefecture has provoked strong opposition from residents, who say the aircraft is accident-prone.
A dozen Ospreys are currently being held in Iwakuni city in Yamaguchi prefecture ahead of their deployment in Okinawa.
Massive protest rallies were held in Okinawa as well as outside the Japanese Parliament building in Tokyo early this month urging the Pentagon and the Japanese government to drop the plan to permanently deploy Ospreys in a crowded island like Okinawa.
Japanese people's concern over the safety of the Bell Boeing-made Ospreys arises out of recent crashes involving the aircraft, one resulting in the death of two U.S. airmen in the West African country of Morocco in April. Another variant of the aircraft crashed in June in the U.S. state of Florida, injuring five crew members, although U.S. officials said the accident was not due to mechanical problems. Concerns heightened further when an MV-22 made an emergency landing in a residential area outside a Marine base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, this month.
by RTT Staff Writer
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