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American Forces Press Service

Osprey Aircraft to Make Combat Debut in Iraq

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2007 – A Marine aircraft with dual personalities -- part airplane, part helicopter -- will soon buzz and hover above Iraq’s deserts, providing assault and medical support.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway announced at the Pentagon this morning that the MV-22 Osprey aircraft will make its combat debut in Iraq this September, when Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, with 10 Ospreys and 171 personnel, deploys to Al Asad Air Base.

“This deployment directly supports our Corps’ number one priority, the Marines and sailors in contact at the tip of the spear,” Conway said. “This is a great day for our Corps and for my aviation folks in particular.”

The Corps’ tiltrotor MV-22 alternates between fixed- and rotary-wing capabilities, a unique attribute that gives U.S. fighting forces the versatility of a helicopter, with the 300 mph speed and increased altitude of an airplane, reducing the threat from small-arms fire.

“It goes twice as fast, three times as far, it’s more survivable by six or seven times (than) the aircraft it replaces,” Marine Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, deputy commandant for aviation, told reporters at the Pentagon. The MV-22, which can travel up to 900 miles before refueling, is set to phase out the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter introduced in the 1960s.

In 2000, the Osprey came under controversy when an MV-22 crashed, killing 23 Marines.

Castellaw said the accident resulted from rapid descent in “helicopter mode,” a risky tactic not normally used by pilots. Newer models are equipped with warning systems to help prevent a similar situation, he said.

In conjunction with the commandant’s announcement today, media members were invited to Landing Zone Seven at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., to observe the aircraft up close. Later, 20 press members would climb aboard for a jaunt above the clouds in what Marines call a “familiarization ride.”

Around 1 p.m., two Ospreys roared overhead, sending dust and blades of grass into the faces of reporters and photographers. During a downwind turn, the Ospreys’ prop-rotors pivoted perpendicular to the ground and into helicopter mode.

The crafts hovered over their landing spots, floating smoothly on a vertical descent until their wheels met grassy terrain. Lt. Col Paul Rock, the commanding officer of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, hopped out of one MV-22 and approached the bouquet of microphones poised on a makeshift podium.

“The mission is medium-lift assault support,” Rock said. “We carry combat troops, supplies and equipment across the spectrum of expeditionary operations.

“It’s not an F-18 Hornet or an 88 Harrier,” he said. “We’re not looking to put bombs on people’s heads, we’re going to put the most lethal thing the Marine Corps has -- the individual rifleman -- on the deck.”

Rock told reporters the Corps has a three-phase, 18-month logistical program in place to train pilots and aircrews on the new craft. The first of the six-month phases includes “qualifications training flights,” followed by a half-year of “maturation training.”

During the final pre-deployment phase, Marine aviators undergo Operation Desert Talon training in Yuma, Ariz. -- a location selected for its desert climate and conditions, Rock said.

As the outdoor briefing closed, the 85-foot rotors soon reappeared over the tree line. Eager press members pulled rudimentary white helmets, appropriately called “cranials,” and their attached headphones into place.

Inside the Osprey, chests harnesses held reporters and photographers fast against the fuselage making tangible the low-frequency hum of the spinning propellers. From the rear hatch, which remained open during the flight, a network of exposed wires ran along the ceiling toward the cockpit like nerve bundles.

Without warning, the MV-22 separated from the ground. A mid-range humming seeped under the headphones and signaled the craft’s metamorphosis from helicopter to airplane mode. For roughly the next 20 minutes, press members on board climbed, descended, yawed, pitched and rolled in the Osprey like paint in a mixer.

In moments of sheer beauty, the second Osprey fell back and appeared through the rear hatch, gliding along in parallel formation and eliciting composer Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” as in the famed UH-1 Huey scene from the film “Apocalypse Now.”

As a testament to the Osprey’s sheer power, one photographer onboard was compelled to use a complimentary airsick bag. Another passenger, a news correspondent, wore a yellow hue on her face that was absent before the flight.

At the edge of the landing zone, Sgt. Courtney Joseph, an MV-22 aircrew member and mechanic, watched the disoriented press members deplane -- rather de-helicopter -- the Ospreys. “The quickest way to turn anyone into a believer is to ride on it,” she said.

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