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Osprey hits 100,000 flight hours; keeping Marines safe, enemies scared

By Sgt. Jimmy D. Shea | | March 4, 2011

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The insurgent’s nightmare: Marines descending quickly and quietly from the clouds right to their front door. The MV-22 Osprey makes this bad dream a reality.

The Osprey executes missions as the Marine Corps’ safest and most efficient tactical rotorcraft. It has proven itself over a span of ten years, 14 deployments and countless training missions, passing 100,000 flight hours on Feb. 10. An Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264, passed the milestone during a mission in Afghanistan.

“It is fitting that this milestone was achieved during combat operations in Afghanistan, given the constant operational tempo the Osprey community has maintained since its inception,” said Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Osprey lifts off like a helicopter, rotates its prop-rotors forward, flies like an airplane and lands like a helicopter. The tilt rotor capability makes the Osprey twice as fast, covering six times the distance, and carrying three times the payload of the Sea Knight, a tandem rotor transport helicopter – the Osprey’s predecessor.

“During the first 15 months in Afghanistan, the Osprey flew fewer hours per mission compared to the Sea Knight and Sea Stallion,” said Lt. Col. Jason Holden, MV-22 pilot currently working in MV-22 Plans, Headquarters Marine Corps Aviation.  “The reduced hours flown minimized the aircraft's risk to enemy action, reducing the risk to our Marines.”

Along with its unique capabilities, the Osprey can be equipped with multiple high-power machine guns around the aircraft or a belly mounted minigun. In addition to these defensive measures, the aircraft can carry up to 24 of “the deadliest weapon in the world,” a combat ready Marine.

The Osprey, a relatively new aircraft, took part in its first operations in June 2007. New aircraft are prone to accidents and malfunctions during their early years, but the Osprey’s safety record has gone against that trend.

This transformational aircraft achieved 100,000 total flight hours while maintaining the lowest mishap rate of any Marine rotorcraft since 9/11, Amos said.

Although the Osprey has reached this significant milestone, the Marine Corps continues to push forward with improvements and operations.

“Almost half of the flight hours were executed in the last two years,” said Holden. “Within the next two to three years, I expect we will reach 200,000 flight hours.”

The Osprey is the rotorcraft of choice for Marine Corps missions worldwide.

“The MV-22 has deployed three times to Iraq, three times to Afghanistan and has been used in humanitarian operations,” said Holden.

The Osprey is more versatile than legacy rotorcraft and provides the Marines being transported with more battle zone information and a safer ride.

The leader of the 24 Marines being transported sits near the front of the aircraft with access to a moving map showing the aircraft’s position. He can also sit between the pilots with a view of the landing zone and the surrounding area, increasing his situational awareness as he prepares to enter the zone, said Holden.

Pilots of the Osprey rave about the rotorcraft’s performance in casualty evacuations, transporting Marines from base to base and especially combat missions.

“Four MV-22’s conducted a daylight raid on a Taliban leader who was working with an improvised explosive device maker,” said Maj. Kirk Nelson, operations officer and MV-22 pilot with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261. “We landed in the wind, coming out of the sun right, right in the bazaar."

The Osprey landed so close that the pilots, “saw the surprise in a local national’s face as he did a jump stutter step because he had just noticed us,” said Nelson.

Upon landing, the Marines tracked and captured the target.

“Later that day, a resupply mission was conducted by a pair of Osprey’s.  In the words of the forward air controller on the ground, ‘the two MV’s came out of the sun and we couldn’t see or hear them until they were right on top of us - less than 30 seconds out,’” said Nelson.

In more than three years of operations, the MV-22 has proven itself to be as effective, agile and resilient as the Marines it transports.  While reaching 100,000 flight hours is a significant accomplishment, the Marine Corps’ research continually lowers the Osprey’s cost per flight hour and makes it more sustainable.


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