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INVESTIGATION finds Osprey commander falsified aircraft records


WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon's chief investigator confirmed an allegation that the commander of the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey squadron falsified maintenance documents to exaggerate the aircraft's performance record.

The investigation also concluded that other Marines knew of the deception but failed to report it.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Timothy Taylor, said Friday that the Marine Corps would not act on the case until it receives the Defense Department inspector general's final investigation report in early July.

The Osprey squadron commander, Lt. Col. Odin Fred Leberman, was relieved of duty the day the allegations became public in January.

The investigation also concluded that the falsification of records played no role in two fatal crashes of the tilt-rotor aircraft last year that killed 23 Marines, Taylor said.

The second of those crashes, last December, triggered a broad review of the Osprey program and raised the possibility that the Pentagon would cancel it. The Pentagon recently decided to continue it, but to redesign part of the aircraft, conduct fuller testing and to limit Osprey production for now.

Taylor said an advance summary of the inspector general's conclusions had been provided to Marine Corps headquarters.

The Osprey uses revolutionary technology to take off like a helicopter, rotate its propellers to a horizontal position and cruise like an airplane. Despite the crashes, the Marines say they are confident the technology works. An independent panel that reviewed the program this spring agreed but recommended important design changes.

The records investigation was begun in January by the Marine Corps' inspector general but transferred to the Defense Department inspector general a short time later because the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James L. Jones, wanted to avoid any perception of service bias.

In an anonymous letter to the office of the secretary of the Navy on Jan. 12, a self-identified Osprey mechanic at Marine Corps Air Station in New River, N.C., wrote that aircraft unable to fly had been reported ``as being up, as in full mission-capable. This type of deception has been going on for over two years.''

Leberman, the squadron commander, has not commented publicly on the allegations against him, and the Marine Corps has not said what possible charges could be brought against him. Taylor said the Marines would wait until they receive the full investigation report July 9 before taking any action.

The advance summary of the inspector general's findings contained several major conclusions:

_Maintenance records and data on the Osprey fleet's operational readiness were falsified.

_The falsification was done because Leberman perceived pressure from his superiors.

_No evidence was found that any officer senior to Leberman directed or suggested that records be falsified.

_The falsification occurred after the April and December 2000 crashes and therefore ``clearly was not a factor in either mishap,'' supporting the Marine Corps' contention. The first crash, in April 2000 in Arizona, killed 19 Marines and was blamed on pilot error. The second, in December in North Carolina, killed four Marines and was attributed to a combination of factors including a hydraulics failure.

_The falsification at New River began on Dec. 20, 2000, and lasted until Jan. 11, 2001.

_A few Marine officers at New River knew of the deception and took no action to correct or report it. The advance summary did not identify them or their positions.

The Osprey is built by Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron. It is considered a linchpin of the Marines' aviation future, meant to replace a fleet of aging Vietnam-era helicopters.

All Ospreys have been grounded since the December crash.
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