Osprey at War
Can the MV-22 pass muster in Afghanistan?
- By Ed Darack
- Air & Space magazine, May 2010
(Page 4 of 5)
Once -261’s seven-month tour is complete, another Osprey unit will take its place—and learn from VMM-261’s
experience. In Afghanistan, for instance, Captain Chris Meixell explains, “Many of us fly the initial leg of the spiral approach a little tighter, as the forward operating bases here are a little smaller than those in Iraq, where the spiral approach was first used for the Osprey.”
Maintenance crews are also learning from the new environment. Sergeant Frank Mershon, an avionics technician, typically works 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. (In addition to his primary job, Mershon is an aerial observer, so he often flies to aid a mission.) “Every day is different,” he says. “We get certain gripes [problems or parts needing repair], and once we get our gripes, we go out and troubleshoot them.” Mershon moved into -261 from a CH-46 squadron. He seems to thrive on the challenges posed by southern Afghanistan’s austerity. “The V-22 is definitely more of a challenge, but it definitely makes you think to the next level,” he tells me in the squadron’s small chow hall, filled with cards and letters from squadron members’ families. “The -46 was pretty simple, and the Osprey is brand new…. We’re experiencing maintenance issues that the Osprey has never experienced before.”
Perhaps the most powerful endorsement comes not from the Osprey squadron’s pilots or maintainers, but from one of its passengers. “The grunts are the proving ground for the Marine Corps. What [the Osprey] does for the grunts is what its true capability is,” says Gunnery Sergeant Morris. “Something may look good at the Miramar airshow, but what does it do for the infantry Marines? And that Osprey, in my opinion, closes the gap.... It is a huge push forward for the infantry.”
At the end of my stay with VMM-261, I asked to visit a remote outpost on the shores of Helmand River. I’d be traveling by Osprey, but this time as an anonymous passenger, not a media embed given the privilege of sitting in the cockpit jumpseat. With the temperature dipping below freezing, I stood with a small group of Marines and civilians as four CH-53s and two Ospreys idled on the edge of the runway.
When given the word, we hustled up the Osprey’s rear ramp, and I wrestled my backpacks onto my lap, crammed so tightly into the aircraft that I could hardly find my seatbelt. When we were all strapped in, the pilots taxied the aircraft onto the runway. By the anticipation on their faces, I could tell that most of the passengers had never flown in an Osprey before. The crew chief made sure everyone knew to hold on; once he’d answered the pilot’s question—“Ready to go fast?”—we’d all shift toward the open rear ramp.
As the Osprey began its spiral climb, I felt the same powerful G-forces as everyone else, although I had one advantage: My watch had an altimeter, so I knew when the steep climb would stop.
After making two stops, we reached my destination, a small camp dotted with tents, generators, and a few high antennas for communication. I dragged my gear out of the way of the rotor wash, then watched as the Osprey disappeared, the only visible lights the dim green glow of the pilot’s night-vision goggles.