You might say that Osprey pilots are neither fish nor fowl.
- By John Croft
- Air & Space magazine, September 2007
(Page 2 of 5)
Smith was largely oblivious to most of the Osprey turmoil in those early years—he had jets to think about. He soloed at age 16 in his dad's 1958 Cessna 172 Skyhawk. After graduating from Wilmington College, Smith did what all future Marine pilots do—he went off for 10 weeks of officer candidate school followed by six months of basic school. He survived the indoctrination and moved on to flight school in Corpus Christi, Texas, flying the Beech T-34C Mentor. Then he was offered a choice: flying the C-130 Hercules transport, helicopters, or jets (the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier, or EA-6B Prowler). No reason to dither: Smith was a jet guy from Day One.
The jet route took Smith to intermediate flight training in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1996, during which he flew the T-2C Buckeye, then on to advanced training and his pilot wings with the TA-4 Skyhawk. Soon after, Smith was assigned to fly F/A-18s with a squadron in Beaufort, South Carolina. Then Smith went to Expeditionary Warfare School with the Marines in Quantico, Virginia, where he and his classmates had to choose a research project. He selected the V-22. "I was promoting it for the assault support mission, as the future of Marine aviation," he says. As part of his research, his group traveled to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, where Marines were testing the new and improved Block A MV-22s after the crashes of 2000. He "flew" a tiltrotor full-motion simulator and, despite having no helicopter experience, flew it well. He was hooked.
"But I was a Hornet guy," he recalls of the new temptation. "Someone said, ‘Hey, there's an exchange tour going on—you can go fly the V-22 for a couple of years and go back and fly the F-18. If you believe in [the V-22] so much, why don't you go do it?'
"I put in for it, knowing in the back of my mind, back from college, that I thought I might one day be flying it," says Smith. "Sure enough, I got selected."
Back then, the Marines weren't sure how tiltrotor pilots should be trained: Should they train in both helicopters and airplanes? A study to determine the best course of action for training tilters indicated that for Smith and other new recruits already trained as Marine fixed-wing pilots, MV-22 simulator time at VMMT-204 in New River would be adequate.
All Marine Corps pilots start primary flight training in fixed-wing aircraft, then enter the pipeline to jets, props, helicopters, or tiltrotors. Tilters take multi-engine training in the TC-12B, the military version of the twin-turboprop Beechcraft King Air 200, then an abbreviated helicopter course in the TH-57, the single-rotor Bell JetRanger helicopter. About one-third of today's tilters come from medium-lift helicopter squadrons, one-third are from fixed-wing and heavy-lift squadrons, and the rest are newbies.
"Being that the V-22 doesn't have a collective control [a helicopter control for vertical velocity, it governs the pitch of the rotor blades], all I had to do was focus on flying the aircraft," says Smith. "I already knew the gauges, so there was no need to go fly the TH-57." It seemed that tiltrotor controls were similar enough to those of fixed-wing aircraft that fixed-wing pilots could get by without rotary-wing training.
A pilots flies the V-22 from the right or left seat using a thrust control lever in his left hand, a device that takes the place of the throttle in an airplane and the collective in a helicopter. In their right hand is the floor-mounted control stick, which takes the place of the yoke in an aircraft and the cyclic control (which governs movement about the pitch and roll axes by tilting the entire rotor disc) in a helicopter. Flight crews include a commander (a pilot with at least 500 hours of total flight time and 100 hours in the V-22) in the right seat, a copilot in the left seat, and a crew chief in the back.