Book Review: The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey


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book-coverAuthor: Richard Whittle

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Copyright Date: 2010

Hard/Softcover/Digital: Softcover, 456 pages, http://www.amazon.com/The-Dream-Machine-History-Notorious/dp/1416562966

Reviewed by: Dr. Owen Gadeken, Professor of Acquisition Management, Defense Acquisition University


Review:

Richard Whittle’s The Dream Machine is as close to a comprehensive review of a defense acquisition program as we are likely to find in our current “sound byte”-focused culture. It traces the controversial and frequently maligned V-22 Osprey program from its earliest days to its vindication in 2011 after successful deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Whittle does this through the eyes of the key personalities in industry, government, and the U.S. Marine Corps who made the “dream” of tilt rotor technology into a reality with some of them giving their lives in the process.

One of the key figures profiled in the book is Richard “Dick” Spivey who started in 1959 as an 18-year-old Georgia Tech “co-op” student at Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, Texas, worked his way up to “sales engineer” for the new tilt rotor, started a family, divorced, remarried, retired, came back as a consultant, and retired for good in 2006—all before the V-22 achieved its initial operational capability. During his tenure at Bell Helicopter, he traveled all over the world giving over 2,000 tilt rotor briefings and sales presentations.

The book is organized into 12 chapters, each one covering a specific facet of the V-22 story. For example, Chapter One “The Dream” traces the early attempts to develop a “convertiplane,” which although unsuccessful, still offered the promise that such technologies could eventually be made to work. Chapter Two “The Salesman” uses Dick Spivey’s career to illustrate the opportunistic, but persistent process used by defense contractors to market their products to the military. Chapter Three “The Customer” traces the convoluted requirements development and procurement processes used by the military to acquire the equipment they think they need. Chapter Four “The Sale” shows the extremely lengthy, but clever approach used by Bell and Boeing to market their immature tilt rotor technology into a systems contract with the Marine Corps. Other chapters detail the engineering trade-offs and political compromises made during development of the first V-22 prototypes. The author also provides detailed accounts of the major aircraft crashes that occurred as a result of tight funding, design compromises, and accelerated development, which drove the program in its early years.

The author’s ability to integrate the key personalities that shaped the V-22 program into a chronological narrative that includes all major program events makes this not just a historical account, but a fascinating and insightful look at how dysfunctional our “military-industrial” complex has become. But with further reflection and analysis, the story of The Dream Machine can also help us find the way forward to construct an improved acquisition process, which will help us deliver our future dream machines.


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reading-list-logoThe Defense Acquisition Professional Reading List is intended to enrich the knowledge and understanding of the civilian, military, contractor, and industrial workforce who participate in the entire defense acquisition enterprise. These book reviews/recommendations are designed to complement the education and training that are vital to developing the essential competencies and skills required of the Defense Acquisition Workforce. Each issue of the Defense Acquisition Research Journal (ARJ) will contain one or more reviews of suggested books, with more available on the Defense ARJ Web site.

We encourage Defense ARJ readers to submit reviews of books they believe should be required reading for the defense acquisition professional. The reviews should be 400 words or fewer, describe the book and its major ideas, and explain its relevance to defense acquisition. Please send your reviews to the Managing Editor, Defense Acquisition Research Journal: Norene.Fagan-Blanch@dau.mil.

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