Demand for Older Norfolk-Based Cargo Planes Surges After Navy Stand-Down of Osprey Fleet

Aviation electrician's mate Jakari Probst works on the port engine of a C-2 Greyhound
Aviation electrician's mate Jakari Probst works on the port engine of a C-2 Greyhound at Naval Station Norfolk on Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Kendall Warner/The Virginian-Pilot)

After a fleetwide Osprey stand-down, the Navy continues to rely on its remaining C-2 Greyhound squadron — 15 planes based at Naval Station Norfolk — to fill in the gaps for cargo and personnel deliveries to aircraft carriers across the globe.

“There’s more demand on us than ever. There is a clearly defined need for us to continue this role in carrier onboard delivery,” said Cmdr. Andrew “Tweedle” Dumm, commanding officer of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40, also known as the Rawhides.

The squadron had to pivot from a downshift in operations to what Dumm described as an unprecedented demand in December when the Department of Defense grounded hundreds of V-22 Ospreys after a part failure led to the deaths of eight service members in a crash in Japan.

The Osprey, which can fly like an airplane and then convert to a helicopter, was approved to return to flight in March but enhanced maintenance requirements mean the need for the Rawhides has not let up, according to Naval Air Force Atlantic. A return to flight isn’t the same as a return to mission, a spokesperson said.

The stand-down came as the Navy nears the end of a multiyear effort to replace the service’s aging C-2 Greyhounds with the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

The Navy began disestablishing the Rawhides’ sister squadrons in 2019. West Coast-based aircraft carriers were the first to make the transition to Ospreys, with the last of the sister squadrons, Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30, shuttered on Dec. 8 — two days after the Osprey stand-down.

The Rawhides squadron, established in 1960 in Norfolk, had slowed its operational tempo in preparation for a 2026 decommissioning, but quickly deployed detachments to support the Navy fleet while the Ospreys remained on the ground. One detachment is made up of two planes and about 50 sailors.

“We would split the world in half, effectively,” Dumm said. “But now, we have taken on that entire role.”

Historic round-the-globe deployment

One detachment deployed with just three weeks’ notice to support San Diego-based carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Typically, Dumm said, sailors have around six months to plan for a deployment.

“The entire squadron saw what happened and they understood the mission,” Dumm said. “They understood the focus, and they are seeing how they fit in. It is one line removed from a direct impact. It is ‘when I bring this, I am helping protect freedom of navigation. I am helping to protect civilian traffic. I am helping to protect the world.'”

As of May, four Norfolk-based detachments had deployed to Bahrain, Singapore, Japan and San Diego to support carrier strike groups for the Roosevelt, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Abraham Lincoln. A fifth detachment is scheduled to deploy later this year to support the USS Harry S. Truman’s upcoming deployment.

It will be the first time in the history of the Rawhides, Dumm said, that five detachments will have deployed from the squadron in the span of one year — a significant uptick from two to three detachments per year. With 200 sailors deployed and another 50 preparing to depart, it means the bulk of the squadron’s 400-person unit will be spread across the globe.

“And we are waiting to see what else is next; what else will be tasked,” Dumm said.

The remaining 200 sailors and five planes will support aircraft carriers training off the East Coast. The squadron can also be tasked with responding to humanitarian crises, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

The demand, Dumm said, has increased the “perceived pressure to perform” — to maintain the aging aircraft, to prepare for deployments and to respond to each task.

“It is the maintainer, it is the sailor, it is the people that continue to inject life into this aircraft,” Dumm said. “Without them, it’s just a piece of cold steel and aluminum.”

Recently, the squadron’s hangar bay was occupied with five planes in various states of repair as civilian contractors and sailors worked on them. Two planes were undergoing a 30-day planned maintenance interval while others were undergoing faster routine maintenance.

‘We will do whatever it takes’

Chief Veronica Deck, 34, an aviation maintenance administrator,  said the increased operational tempo has meant sailors work longer hours and may even sacrifice a weekend to ensure aircraft are fit to fly. She said she has pushed through the demanding workload by considering the big picture.

“We might have to work a weekend, but we have people out there that don’t have a weekend off, period, that we are supporting — providing them assistance and supplies,” Deck said.

Deck reported to the Rawhides in March after deploying with a helicopter squadron aboard the Eisenhower. The Eisenhower, deployed to the Red Sea, is supported by a Rawhides detachment based in Bahrain.

Petty Officer 1st Class Phillip Nigbur, 39, a mechanical aircrewman and crew chief, said switching from a divestment mindset to readying all aircraft for the mission has challenged the procurement of replacement parts. Units that previously supplied the Rawhides were disestablished, he said, and planes from sister squadrons were retired from service and sent to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s aircraft boneyard.

“But wherever there is a will, there is a way and we always find a way to get it done,” Nigbur said.

Nigbur has been assigned to the Rawhides squadron for nine years. He will deploy with the Truman later this year as part of a detachment.

“There is pressure, but at the same time there is pride for us as a whole to say that, yes, we were called upon and we will do whatever it takes in a safe way to get these birds out the door so we can provide support and pick up for our brothers, the Osprey community,” Nigbur said.

The timeline for the squadron’s disestablishment in 2026 has not changed, but Dumm said the planned divestment of detachments is not occurring as scheduled.

“We were in the mindset of preparing for a sundown of this platform,” he said. “We are still working toward that end, but it’s a little less certain right now.”

The accelerated workload is expected to persist through the end of the year, Dumm said.

A vibrant mural depicting a C-2 Greyhound flying over the ocean stretches across a hallway wall in the squadron building. Displayed at the bottom right corner is the Rawhides’ orange-scripted motto: “We deliver.”

“When something breaks on the carrier and there is not a replacement, there is not a spare. It just stays broken until someone brings it,” Dumm said. “We are that lifeline, and we will continue to rise to the challenge.”

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