The U.S. Marine Corps' sword gets a brand-new edge.
- By George C. Larson
- Air & Space magazine, November 1998
(Page 5 of 5)
Normal takeoffs are made not from a hover but with the nacelles at 60 degrees. The airplane rolls for a short distance, and once aloft, I begin pushing forward on the thumb switch to rotate the nacelles forward. The nose dips a bit during the transition, and with Gross coaching me, I add a little bit of back pressure. Within a few seconds we are in a cruise climb at 180 knots. At five degrees nacelle, I can let go of the button and the nacelle will continue automatically to zero. Push the button once more and the rotor slows to 84 percent rpm and we are a pure airplane.
"It doesn't do loops, and it really doesn't do aileron rolls very well. It'll do a wingover," Gross says. Then, with the nacelles set at 95 degrees, Gross flies up the runway's electronic glide path backward, just to show that backing up can be done with an added task like shooting an instrument approach. These are the simple pleasures of the test pilot life, and Gross is quick to add, trying to keep a straight face, "This will not be normal procedure."
Has he ever done an autorotation, the power-off maneuver in a helicopter in which the rotor blades freewheel in a descent to an emergency landing? His cautious answer: "Autorotation has been evaluated. Actually there are three phases to autorotative descent. The entry to the autorotation, the descent itself in a steady-state condition, and then there's the flare at the bottom. We have done the autorotative descent in flight test. The entry and the recovery still have yet to be done, and I don't know if we actually will in EMD or not. That's a pretty big decision above our pay grade." Gross explains that this rotor system is not like a helicopter's in that the system is not free-turning with power off and there is not the same collective power to flare with at the bottom by pulling the blades to abnormally high pitch angles.
On the way home from the simulator flight, it dawned on me that the test pilots are continuing the process of invention: They are inventing how to fly the thing. Someday soon, someone will have to sit down and write a pilot operating handbook. Gross and his colleagues on the test team talk frequently about the coming day when the "lieutenants" get the airplane"When the lieutenants fly it," "We wonder how the lieutenants will handle this."
They freely speculate about some of the things they've done with the V-22, exploiting its talent for hovering in a very stable manner while they use the nacelle switch to alter the deck angle of the fuselage, a condition in which both pilots are looking down at the runway, which fills the windshield at a startling angle. "No other aircraft can do this," they say. But they don't know how many of these capabilities will make it into the syllabus and be taught when they "take it to the schoolhouse"their term for flight training.
They are surely aware that Marines inevitably discover the unusual corners of any aircraft's flight envelope. The British invented the Harrier, but a U.S. Marine invented "viffing," or vectoring in flight. No one had thought to try moving the nozzles of the jets' engines at high speed. It turns out that the use of this peculiar talent can make the Harrier a very difficult target to hit in aerial combat. The service pilots on the V-22 test team tacitly accept that this aircraft will perform feats as extraordinary as its appearance.
Residents of the coastal Carolinas will soon start seeing the V-22 in the skies near Marine Corps Air Station New River near Camp Lejuene in North Carolina. They are likely to stop their cars, jump out, and stare. Switchboards will light up all over Onslow County with reports of alien craft that look like two windmills attached to a big gray schoolbus with a forked tail.
And perhaps someday, a lonely gunman walking guard on American captives in a besieged embassy will hear a soft whirring sound in the night that comes closer and closer until suddenly he is faced with an apparition that stares back as if to say, Hey, buddy, hostage THIS!