For the Marines, a typical flight is a bit more complicated. "Learning to fly the V-22 is easy," says Smith. "Learning to fly it well is hard."
That's where training levels 200 through 600 come in.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul
Rock, commanding officer of VMM-263, says a typical day's work for his pilots might include a combination of formation flying, giving paratroopers a lift, ground-skimming night flights on night-vision goggles, aerial refueling, flying from the deck of a ship, hoisting vehicles and supplies, or "fast roping," in which Marines get to the ground by sliding down a rope from the Osprey's open rear deck. Rock previously flew CH-46s with HMM-263 but has been flying the Osprey since early operational testing trials in 1997. Rock, also an instructor pilot for advanced manuevers in VMM-263, says tiltrotor training differs from traditional CH-46 training in that pilots must become proficient in quicker ground operations, like approaching a landing zone, and flying longer-range missions at higher altitudes with aerial refueling, skills that are not an option for CH-46 pilots. As such, Rock says tiltrotor pilots, whether from a fixed-wing or rotary-wing background, take about the same time to complete training: Fixed-wing pilots tend to already have the higher-speed-approach skills down, as well as navigation and control abilities for long-range flights and aerial refueling, but need to become proficient in low-altitude troop and equipment-moving tasks, especially at night on night-vision goggles; helicopter pilots, on the other hand, are generally unfamiliar with the long-range, high-altitude operations.
Newbies need all of the above.
Lieutenant John Alan Sax was the first of two Marine pilots selected for the Osprey, coming to VMM-263 directly from flight school late in 2004. Sax had wanted to fly since his days as a marketing major at Old Dominion University in Virginia, but he didn't want the fast metal. "I was pretty turned off by jets—I wanted to fly the C-130 transport," he says. "I hadn't heard of the V-22 at that point."
Why no jets? "More or less bad rumors," he says. "Even though you're a Marine, you don't get to know your Marines." Sax feels that jet pilots are isolated from the grunts. "I wanted to be a little lower."
After his mandatory post-college non-flight Marine training, Sax started flying, first the single-engine Piper Tomahawk for 25 hours, then the T-34C at Corpus Christi, Texas. At that point, Sax and one other pilot candidate for the first time had four options: transports, helicopters, jets, or…tiltrotors.
"My ops officer had called me to tell me that I'd be flying the V-22," Sax recounts. Sax thought he'd been selected for the F-22 Raptor, the military's newest single-seat fighter jet, a dream job for practically any other military pilot; oddly, he was disappointed.
Sax: "I don't want jets."