Osprey at War
Can the MV-22 pass muster in Afghanistan?
- By Ed Darack
- Air & Space magazine, May 2010
(Page 3 of 5)
The Marines of VMM-261 understand their place in V-22 history. The squadron’s experiences, particularly combat deployments, will have far-reaching consequences, and the squadron’s suggestions will help determine not only what hardware gets used, but also potential software upgrades.
“We are going to write a whole new chapter in Osprey employment out here,” says Colonel George Amland, deputy commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. He acknowledges the great strides made by the three MV-22 deployments to Iraq, but notes that the two theaters have many differences. As planners at VMM-261 develop a mission that will take the Osprey from Bastion to the Pakistani border, 850 miles round trip, Amland comments on the Osprey’s benefits.
“The Osprey can collapse the battlespace, and go into areas that are not suitable for landing a [KC]-130J,” he says. And because helicopters are transported to Afghanistan as cargo on a C-5, and the Osprey arrives there under its own power, it can free “a tremendous amount of strategic lift by self-deploying,” says Amland.
The squadron has 10 Ospreys, and missions usually run four to six hours, with some lasting as long as eight. Both aviators and ground crew serve either day or night shifts, but as missions change, flights are often extended, and day pilots often “hot seat” with night pilots, meaning the pilots and crew just swap places while the MV-22 refuels, and the aircraft never shuts down. The squadron is preparing for the coming troop surge, and that, along with the regular day-to-day resupply and delivery operations, keeps the Ospreys running round the clock, 18 or 20 hours straight, requiring maintenance crews to perform basic fixes in between “hops” with the proprotors spinning above them.
The history of the V-22 used to bother Staff Sergeant Brian Freeman. He rejoined the Marine Corps after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, hoping to return to a CH-46 squadron, but his only option was an Osprey unit. “In the beginning, nobody wanted to fly on the Osprey,” Freeman says. The 2000 Osprey crash had killed a friend of his from boot camp. “I went into the program not trusting the aircraft, and with the mentality that the MV-22 was going to have to prove itself to me. And through the years, it did.” (To date, Freeman has logged more than 1,300 hours in the Osprey, one of the highest numbers in the V-22 program.)
Freeman is now convinced that the Osprey is safe. “I like that it tells you what’s wrong with it,” he says. “I like that once you understand how to use the computer system, the multi-function displays, the aircraft will give you information that as a CH-46 guy, you had to know what to smell, what to hear, and really have an intimate knowledge of the aircraft to diagnose. There’s really nothing that I dislike about the Osprey. I used to love flying on the CH-46, until I flew the Osprey. There are lots of things I don’t miss about the CH-46, because the Osprey’s capabilities make that aircraft obsolete.”
Major Larry Nichols came to the squadron after flying single-seat F/A—18C Hornets. “It’s as if a CH-46 and an F-18 had a baby,” he says. “I feel like I’m stealing when I fly the Osprey; it is a fantastic aircraft to fly, taking off like a helicopter and the [high] performance of it in aircraft mode.”
He does think the cockpit design could be improved, and he also has a minor quibble with the software: “The number of keystrokes to get to certain menus is time-consuming and excessive. There are some real tedious steps to manage certain functions that are significantly simpler and more intuitive in a Hornet, specifically regarding communication and navigation.”