Snake Eater Osprey in Flight

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While the first Marine Osprey squadron floats its way to the Persian Gulf for a deployment to Iraq, Air Force Special Ops pilots are in the middle of a test, evaluation and training period to get their own CV-22s into the fight.

With all the previous disasters in the program, it's good to see the plane finally seems to be somewhat out of the woods. I know a clutch of defense reporters who have their pencils sharpened for the day an Osprey crashes in Iraq - that "see, we told you so" theme running through the story won't be hard to miss.

But after flying in it myself - and flying in a lot of different helicopters as well - let's just say it's good to see a bit of "normalcy" descending on a program that is going to take vertical take-off and landing flight tactics to a whole new level.

Military.com reported today...

"There are a couple of routes out there," said Lt. Col. Todd Lovell, commander of the 71st Special Operations Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base. "On the route from Clovis to Albuquerque, Moriarty is right under the route."

The Ospreys practice landings and takeoffs at the local airport as they fly the routes.

Lovell, who started training at Kirtland in the summer of 2006, is the head of the training force for the CV-22 Osprey.

"Anyone who will fly an Osprey comes through here," Lovell said in a phone interview.

The CV-22 is an Air Force modified version of the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey. The Air Force first tested the aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in California in September 2000. Lovell was part of that team.

Lovell said the unique aspect of the Osprey, in addition to its speed and range, is the fact that it can land in the same amount of space as a helicopter.

At almost 60 feet long, 22 feet tall and with a wingspan of 84 feet, the Osprey's cruising speed is 277 mph.

The crew is two pilots and two flight engineers.

"There are very few planes with navigators anymore," Lovell said. "With GPS and inertial navigation systems it simplifies the task ... One of the (pilots) is flying while the other is doing the navigation function, helping to think ahead as to where the mission is going. You work as a team."

One flight engineer sits in the back and is responsible for the troops while scanning the area for anyone who might shoot at the aircraft. The other engineer sits in the jump seat in the front and helps with navigation functions.

Training for the pilots lasts 10 months.

"Training is done in two phases," Lovell said. "First phase is that pilots go to North Carolina and train with the Marines for four months on an MV-22, then they come back here for the CV-22 course. The first phase is how to fly a tiltrotor. Then what we do here is mission training, getting them ready for combat flying at night, flying low level and threats."

The Osprey is uniquely helpful for transporting up to 24 troops into battle.

"An airplane would have to land in an airfield," Lovell said. "Or the guys would have to parachute out the back. (The Osprey) is a lot safer for troops and they can all land in the same area. Twenty- four guys running off together is much safer than twenty-four guys separated by 50 yards, even."

Lovell said the CV-22 Osprey is a complex machine for complex missions.

"The airplane is absolutely unique," Lovell said. "There's nothing else in the world that can do the things that it does. We're quite lucky that we've got it finally in service. We absolutely love flying it."

Estancia Valley residents can expect to see them overhead again as they train in the area.

-- Christian

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