CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
The Marine Corps’ MV-22B Osprey is the world’s first production military tiltrotor aircraft. Since the inception of its concept in the early 1980s, the Osprey has seen many trials and tribulations. Unsuccessful prototypes took Marines' lives, while negative press slammed the project for being too expensive.
Despite these hurdles, the current iteration of the Osprey is alive and well, operating daily from U.S. Naval vessels and supporting coalition troops in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.
In 2007, the Osprey began replacing the CH-46E Sea Knight, which had been in service since 1962, with providing assault support and transport for the Marine Corps. For veteran pilots, like Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 executive officer Maj. Steve Turner who has piloted both platforms, the Osprey is a clear improvement.
“Everything that has always been advertised about the Osprey in terms of replacing the last medium-lift platform, the CH-46, is true,” said Turner. “With the Osprey we are able to increase the air speed almost three-fold, double our transportable payload, and fly at much higher altitudes keeping us out of the reach of the enemy’s weapons envelope.”
Turner’s squadron is currently deployed to southwestern Afghanistan, from Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. From Camp Bastion, the tiltrotor squadron supports Marines and their NATO International Security Assistance Force partners operating in Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
Turner said the Osprey’s ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter, and then cruise at more than 250 miles per hour, makes it a prime candidate for conducting troop inserts and combat resupplies in unsecured landing zones in Afghanistan. This mix of fixed and rotary wing capabilities is something Turner said is “the best of both worlds.”
“The big advantage with the Osprey is we can go from one runway to another runway, or from a runway to any landing zone in our area of operations faster than the other assault support squadrons we have here,” said Maj. Doug Thumm, the assistant operations officer at VMM-264. “The rate we cruise at allows us to move to just about any point in Helmand province in about 40 minutes.”
Marines who work daily with the Osprey said the replacement parts can be harder to come by than for more seasoned aircraft and that mechanics haven’t yet accrued the decades of mechanical experience to learn tricks of the trade that cut down on maintenance man-hours.
Additionally, the Osprey squadron’s Marines, from pilots to maintainers, said the biggest challenges they have faced with the Osprey are similar to those faced by other aircraft operating in Afghanistan’s intense heat, dust and altitude.
“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is what we call the high, hot and heavy,” said Thumm. “The temperature goes up and increases the density altitude diminishing the aircraft’s ability to achieve lift, but that is something that affected the CH-46 as well.”
And Turner, who flew the Sea Knight during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said he feels the Osprey is a worthy successor to the CH-46.
“I would much rather fly the MV-22 in this theater any day than go back to a legacy platform like the CH-46,” said Turner. “Both were good aircraft to fly, but you have to progress at some point. “
The Osprey being a platform with a lot of potential is a sentiment echoed by newcomers to the medium-lift community, veterans who cut their teeth on the CH-46, and Marines on the ground who benefit most from the Osprey’s unique versatility.
“It is phenomenal what we are able to do with cargo and passengers in the Osprey,” said Staff Sgt. Joel Giuliano, the flightline division chief for VMM-264. “It would take us five to seven hours to carry out the same mission in a CH-46. With the speed of the MV-22 we are cutting that time almost in half.”