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Leatherneck: Marines and the Osprey

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How V-22 is progressing and what the users think

Story by Margaret Bone

SgtMaj Roderick Fuller, VMX-22 squadron sergeant major, acknowledges that the almost 350 leathernecks of the squadron are acutely aware of the historical significance of their efforts. That awareness makes them even more diligent in their daily efforts. (Photo by PFC Jonathan A. Tabb)

Who knows for sure if the Marine Corps really does have a crystal ball that reveals the future, or if there's a swami burning incense at Quantico, or if a bunch of cammied-up psychics are reading tea leaves in the basement of the Pentagon. Whatever it is, the decision made years ago by the Marine Corps to acquire the V-22 Osprey is about to pay off in double digits. It is precisely the right platform for the world of the 21st century, although the need for it was made painfully obvious way back in 1980, in what was tagged the "Desert One Debacle." The sad state of U.S. military helicopters with their short legs and slow speed was a contributing factor that led to tragedy during a failed American hostage rescue attempt in the Iranian desert. It was a wake-up call.

The V-22 tiltrotor was considered the answer. It was fast, refuelable and could more than assume the medium assault role assigned to the aging fleet of Marine CH-46 helicopters. Those capabilities were deemed critical to traditional warfighting in a theater where you knew who the enemy was. Now some 25 years later, we still have those same needs, with another layer added on: asymmetrical warfare in the age of a global war on terrorism with an enemy that melts in and out of civilian populations, appears suddenly and slips away, and is not in uniform. These parameters have made quick, forceful response more critical than ever, and V-22 brings that to the table.

Marines will be the primary users of the tiltrotor aircraft. The Corps expects to have a fleet of 360 Ospreys, followed by the Air Force Special Operations Command with 50, and the Navy's 48.

The sad state of U.S. military helicopters with their short legs and slow speed was a contributing factor that led to tragedy during a failed American hostage rescue attempt in the Iranian desert. It was a wake-up call.

In terms of firsthand knowledge about the technologically advanced aircraft, Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Schneider has plenty. Currently assigned as V-22 Developmental Test Crew Chief, Marine Aviation Detachment, Patuxent River, Md., Test and Evaluation Squadron 21 (HX-21), V-22 Integrated Test Team (ITT), with the MOS 6167, he has 11 years of experience as a crew chief. Six of those years have been in the Osprey. To date, he has logged more than 400 flight hours in the Osprey and is one of seven Marines assigned to the V-22 ITT at "Pax River"—four are pilots, three are crew chiefs. Their job is to test and evaluate any new gear or systems, to "push the envelope" and establish safe operational parameters, then turn that proven data over to VMX-22 (Marine Tiltrotor Test and Evaluation Squadron) at Marine Corps Air Station, New River, Jacksonville, N.C.

The job at New River is to develop TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) to operationally employ those systems, within the safe "envelope" limits established at Pax. Eventually, many of the Marines currently assigned to VMX-22 will move on to the new Osprey training squadron, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron (VMMT) 204, when it becomes operational.

"I've been a developmental test crew chief for three-and-a-half years and did the first V-22 shipboard trials on USS Bataan and Iwo Jima ," SSgt Schneider said. "The MV-22 is built to go on a ship. It has very little metal in it; it's a full composite airplane."

He was part of 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) that spent 11 days steaming to the coast of Liberia to get close enough to evacuate the embassy there.

"If the V-22 had been available, we could have done it the same day," he said. "It's an over-the-horizon capability; it can fly into the objective area past the shoreline. Personally, I can't wait to be with the first MEU to take it out. It represents such a leap forward.

"As an Osprey crew chief, I take care of the 'back of the bus,' from start up to shut down, just like a normal fleet crew chief, and back up the pilots with situational awareness. We're working on a ramp gun concept, and in the Osprey the duties will be the same as in a CH-46 or -53. The crew chief will be the aerial gunner. Here at Pax we are flying with one crew chief, but in the fleet that may change."

What has SSgt Schneider observed with passengers and pilots at Pax? "When you watch new crew chiefs and pilots fly in the Osprey for the first time, they go, 'Wow!' The acceleration, the speed, the 'oompf' the airplane has, there's nothing I can say that touches what they feel when the rotors tilt forward and the plane accelerates. Until Marines experience it, talking doesn't do it justice," Schneider said.

"The acceleration, the speed, the 'oompf' the airplane has, there's nothing I can say that touches what [passengers] feel when the rotors tilt forward and the plane accelerates. Until Marines experience it, talking doesn't do it justice."

—SSgt Michael Schneider

"Since I've been here, there have been some improvements made that will benefit Marines. For instance, the seats have been redesigned for more comfort and safety. It's a better seat," Schneider explained. "Actually, it's the safest seat out there; it has 'crash attenuation,' meaning it can stroke down toward the floor, absorbing shock. The 53s and 46s don't have that. The V-22 was built with survivability in mind.


"There's an onboard oxygen system that can be installed for flights over 10,000 feet," he added. "We can fly to a ceiling of 25,000 feet if needed. Also, the rope and hoist system used to be in the front of the aircraft, but the forward door downwash was hard. We decided to put a hoist above the back hatch ramp, where there's not as much downwash and the hoist is out of the way. Now the fast-rope attachment is there all the time; you don't need to go get a kit and install it. We want 100 percent of our capabilities 100 percent of the time. We want to get rid of the kits."

Another example of cabin improvement is the floor roller system, used for cargo movement. "The old floor system was very cumbersome," SSgt Schneider noted. "We had to bring the roller system off the wall on to the floor and attach it. With the new roller system, the rollers are in the floor. You just turn the strip containing them over. It allows us to quickly roll cargo in, and there are heavier duty tie-downs to carry more internal cargo. Also, we're working on new internal fuel tanks to extend the range of the Osprey."

How does the staff sergeant feel about the history of the Osprey? "I flew in it before the accidents. I believed in it then [and] I believe in it today. It's continually getting safer. I personally believe it's the safest airplane I've ever flown in. It's part of my job here at ITT to get a safe product for the fleet."

That same sentiment is echoed by Colonel Glenn Walters, the commanding officer of VMX-22 at New River. "The Osprey is being developed for one purpose: to support Marine infantry. It's for them. While there are three variants being developed, the MV-22 is the best for Marine Corps missions.

"The IOC [initial operational capability] for the first VMM [Marine medium tiltrotor] squadron is scheduled for 2007," he continued. "They will have Block B MV-22s. The Marine Corps is using 'spiral development,' which means that all the lower block aircraft [Block A] will be retrofitted to a higher block [Block B or C]. Block B has enhancements, and Block C adds operational developments capabilities."

Currently, VMX-22 has a fleet of 16 Ospreys on the flight line. There are about 40 pilots, including three from the Air Force. The squadron has grown substantially since its standup on Aug. 28, 2003. At that time there were no aircraft and only 100 Marines.

Today, Sergeant Major Roderick Fuller leads nearly 350 Marines assigned to the squadron. Given the high number of VIP visitors who go to New River to fly in the Osprey, he is closely involved with monitoring the squadron.

"One of the most noticeable differences here—from my previous experience on the ground side—is that our Marines really enjoy having VIPs. They look forward to it every time," SgtMaj Fuller said. "Here, they don't have to change uniforms and stand in formation for the visitor. They are not putting on a show, but interacting with visitors in their own environment, usually while working on a plane. It's great for Marines, and an added benefit is that most VIPs are happy to pose for photos with them as well."

Another interesting aspect of belonging to VMX-22, according to SgtMaj Fuller, is its historical importance to Marine aviation. "I find that these young Marines are highly motivated and excited," he said. "They want to be part of the 'new ownership,' the new technology that the Osprey represents. They understand that 20 years from now, they can look back and say, 'I was a part of that,' and that's significant."

"[Marines] want to be part of the 'new ownership,' the new technology that the Osprey represents. They understand that 20 years from now, they can look back and say, 'I was a part of that,' and that's significant."

—SgtMaj Roderick Fuller

Sergeant Jason Helmstaedter, MOS 6326 (avionics technician), has been with VMX-22 for two years. He worked on F/A-18 Hornets before transitioning to the Osprey. "My duties involve supervision with work on all electronic systems, communications and navigation," he explained. "As a collateral duty, I also do inspections. Every day is a new, different challenge. I love it."

According to Sgt Helmstaedter, aircraft prep is the same, whether it's for a VIP flight, or scheduled exercise, or a normal mission. "There's no change, though for the VIP flights, we always have a back-up aircraft ready in case there's a problem with the first one."

Corporal Micah Houck, MOS 6156 (airframes mechanic), was assigned to the Osprey program upon completion of school in Pensacola, Fla., and received Osprey-specific training at New River in what is now called CNATT (Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training). On the flight line and in the hangar, Cpl Houck refers to IETMS (Interactive Electronics Technical Manual System), which runs on a laptop computer, for technical support as he deals with hydraulics, tires, landing gears and the carbon fiber skin of the Osprey. Also, he has so far logged a grand total of 15 minutes of flight time in the Osprey and is looking for more. "It was extremely smooth, and there was noticeable acceleration. I really liked it," he said.

The acceleration and deceleration aspects of the flight regime are remarkable. According to Col Walters, most first-time passengers are impressed with the aircraft's speed and handling abilities. "You can go very rapidly to 250 knots, which is about 280 to 290 miles per hour, and two miles out from the landing zone [LZ], begin to slow to zero miles per hour, which is fairly eye-watering and impressive. The digital map in the Osprey goes from a scale of 200 nautical miles to two nautical miles. You can pick not only your LZ, but which 10-meter square you want to land on."

The Osprey is definitely an aircraft whose time has come. For Marines, it will make the doctrine of vertical assault a continued reality, as will the STOVL (short takeoff and vertical landing) version of the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35B) when it comes online. Marines have always been at the front, responsive to the nation's call. The operational deployment of MV-22 will support that requirement.

Editor's note: Margaret Bone of Morehead City, N.C., serves as editor of The Marine Corps Aviation Association Journal and as editor of the MCAA's quarterly The Yellow Sheet . She also is a contributing editor for The Hook , the journal of carrier aviation. Her aviation articles appear in numerous national publications. She may be contacted by e-mail at: mbone@ec.rr.com .

© 2005 Leatherneck Magazine. All rights reserved.




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