Ops officer: "No, stupid; it's the Osprey."
Path chosen, Sax began flying the C-12, the twin-engine turboprop Beechcraft King Air. During 100 hours of flight training, he learned skills like aerial refueling and low-altitude flying, "building the way forward," he says, "for what we were going to do later with the Osprey." Next it was on to Pensacola, Florida, where he spent 50 hours flying Bell TH-57 helicopters. Focus areas included autorotations (engine-out landings), hovering, and confined-area landings. Sax earned his wings on September 29, 2005, and moved to New River, where he began MV-22 transition in preparation for flying with an operational squadron.
Other squadron pilots had transitioned from fixed-wing aircraft, like Smith, or from helicopters, like Spaid. "My original intent was to be a Marine," says Spaid of his time as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, where he majored in geography. "I had no preference for air or ground." It turned out that the only slot available was for a pilot, and one demonstration ride in a T-2C Buckeye a week later sealed his fate. "I was hooked," he says.
In early 2004, after a stint flying CH-46s with the -263, Spaid submitted an Osprey transition request. "I love the -46, but missions could get kind of boring," he says. "You do the same long, slow [missions], day in and day out. With the Osprey, there are a variety of missions you can do in one event—take off as helo, flying high, doing aerial refueling, external loads, and landing as a helo. Time goes by superfast when you're flying [the Osprey]."
Smith has similar feelings: "What is truly cool for me is sitting 50 feet above the ground, just hanging there at zero speed, eyeball level with other aircraft. Then I'm 250 knots. That's still a rush."