Civilian Controller Spots Snag, Prevents Osprey Crash (Corrected)


An  FAA air traffic controller has been recognized for preventing the crash of a CV-22 Osprey by noticing a maintenance snag from the tower. The student crew was taking off on a challenging night brownout landing training mission at Kirtland Air Force Base/Sunport International Airport in Albuquerque when Wendy Smith, who’s been watching Ospreys take off and land for 12 years, spotted something as the aircraft climbed out and got on the radio. “Hey Dusty 73, your right prop-rotor looks weird,” she said. The crew checked the rotor and noticed that one blade was misaligned and put the aircraft down. They fired up another Osprey and went off on their mission.

On the ground, maintenance crews discovered the pitch align bearing in the rotor hub was failing and would likely have come apart during the mission with the loss of the crew and the $90 million aircraft. “It requires experience to know that something’s wrong. She’s been up there for 12 years—that’s almost the entire lifespan of the Osprey aircraft. She’s probably one of the few people here with the experience to recognize that something’s just not quite right,” said 71st Special Operations Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Brett Cassidy. The controller received a commemorative coin.

An earlier version of this story identified the controller as an Air Force controller but she is a civilian FAA controller at the shared facility.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. If this alignment problem could be spotted all the way from the tower, it probably means that a visual inspection some time before takeoff should be added to the checklist.

  2. Fantastic, the controller desrves praise unreservedly. What the USAF need to figure out is why this wasn’t detectable by ground crew, flight crew and aircraft systems.

  3. She received a “coin?” Perhaps that is the normal reward for doing something, but she deserves a large stack of coins for saving lives and 90M of taxpayer dollars.

  4. A casual observation and speaking up resulting in saving lives may be just another day to some. Beware the quiet heros amongst us. They’re everywhere. They’re always the right stuff.

  5. She likely thought her actions were no big deal, just doing what anyone with the knowledge would do.
    A real hero.

  6. * Being observant over time
    * Being willing to speak up based on something appearing “weird”
    * The crew taking that concern seriously and acting immediately.
    Some good human factors has clearly gone on here and not just in that moment. There was a time not long ago when a civilian woman might not have spoken up, much less be taken serious by a military crew.