Marine MV-22 Ospreys
Make First Trans-Atlantic
by Margaret Bone
Was the mission accomplished? Hey, it’s the Marines, and yes of course the mission was accomplished. Was it pretty? Well … pretty enough to get the job done. Two Ospreys and two "Battle Hercs” made a round trip of over 4,000 miles, an extraordinary accomplishment that included flying through nasty North Atlantic icy weather and then into sweltering heat in England. The mission — from inception to completion — was one for the record books, as Marine MV-22s completed the historic first trans-Lant (crossing the Atlantic Ocean) under their own power.
By day one of the Royal International Air Tattoo Military Airshow on 15 July, and for the following weeks at the Farnborough International Airshow in England, two Marine MV-22 Ospreys did it all. They flew 17 events and get this — Ospreys were the only aircraft to always perform on time. They never missed a mark. Their flight demos were superb, causing even the normally reserved Brits to gawk and applaud with abandon. More international VIPs than could be accommodated lined up for rides. While this was not the first time a V-22 or its precursor, the XV-15, had appeared in European airshows, it marked the first time Ospreys had arrived under their own power, self-deploying across the North Atlantic to arrive in southern England amid much publicity and hoopla. In the annals of military aviation history, this singular accomplishment marked an important milestone for the tiltrotor aircraft.
The Royal Tattoo and Farnborough Airshows bring together commercial buyers and sellers, defense industries and militaries, politicians and civilians, in a mega-show of what’s hot and what’s not in global aviation. Those who have aircraft come to sell, and those without, come to
buy. And if the failure of the British firm Airbus to secure any globe-rattling sales contracts kept the newspapers and Aviation Week busy wringing their literary hands in consternation (while probably buying Boeing stock online), then it was the success of the Osprey that stole the
limelight and became the buzz. Because after both MV-22s got there, they were spectacular.
Preparation for this Osprey trans-Lant had been intense. This first overwater self-deployment represented a major milestone in the continuing process of bringing the aircraft, combat ready, to the fleet. Already, VMM-263, the first operational MV-22 Marine Medium Tiltrotor MV-22B Block A Osprey attached to VMMT-204, the Osprey training squadron, flies along the eastern North Carolina coastline during training operations. Squadron had stood up at MCAS New River, N.C. Under command of LtCol Paul “Rocket” Rock, the Thunder Chickens are scheduled to deploy wherever they are needed in 2007, marking IOC (initial operational capability) of the world’s first operational MV-22 squadron. When -263 deploys, it will be under its own tiltrotor power, lugging on aerial refuelers as needed, or operating from a base or boat.
VMX-22 (Marine Tiltrotor Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22) under command of Col Glenn “Bluto” Walters, had the lead in conducting the trans-Lant. The squadron is charged with developing TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) for MV-22 operations before the aircraft is delivered to the fleet. VMGR-252, based at MCAS Cherry Point, under command of LtCol Dave “Maynard” Krebs would be refueling the MV-22B Block A Ospreys as well as using the weather radars of the KC-130J Battle Hercs to find ways over, under, around and through various weather systems that plague the North Atlantic. While the follow-on Block B Osprey has de-icing capability, the Block A does not. However, it was Block A’s that would be making the trans-Lant, because of certain vagaries within the spiral development system that precluded sending the Block B’s. The B’s have a new, improved retractable refueling probe that was, at the time of the trans-Lant, uncertified for use, but it’s up and running now. The older, fixed refueling probe on the Block A was mission capable, though now being replaced. Call it the spiral development downside: two steps forward — one step backward … your best manufacturing concepts at work.
As part of the work up to the trans-Lant, VMX-22 planned a cross-country flight from New River, N.C., to MCAS Miramar, Calif. The distance (2,100 nautical miles) approximated the leg they would later fly from Goose Bay, Newfoundland, to Farnborough, England. They would take two Ospreys and be supported by two KC-130Js. In a moment of extraordinary creative inspiration, the cross-country flight was dubbed “the rehearsal.”
On 12 June, the flight launched from New River. For most of the next nine hours, Osprey aircrew wore oxygen masks as they cruised at 14,000–16,000 feet in the non-pressurized aircraft. (Passengers can fly up to 13,000 with no oxygen; aircrew must be on oxygen above 10,000 feet.) Sustained speeds were between 240-300 knots. The cabin area of both Ospreys was configured with internal fuel tanks called MATS (Mission Auxiliary Tanking System). While MATS tanks are not required for long-range missions, VMX-22 wanted to further validate requirements for their use. They tanked twice en route. And though nobody claimed it, the aircrew probably established a new world’s record for length of a flight in the Osprey, including the use of now necessary tiltrotor piddle packs. Since the great majority of Osprey pilots have a background in either CH-46s or CH-53s, these long flight legs represent a major change, indeed.
The return on 15 June was even smoother, as tailwinds cut about an hour off the flight time. According to Col Bluto Walters, “The mission planning computers onboard helped us manage our long range flights within a quarter percent of predicted performance — it was just three
minutes off the predicted flight time for a trip of over 2,000 miles.” LtCol Chris “Mongo” Seymour added, “We’re writing the book on how to do this. In coordination with the KC-130Js, this is invaluable in establishing the TTPs for missions like this.” With the rehearsal considered a success, the trans-Lant was now about three weeks out. The squadron would fly the same two Block A Ospreys to England that had been flown to Miramar, and a third Block A would be added as a backup. However, it would be flown without the internal fuel tanks and was labeled the “no-MATS” bird.
Ready … Set …
On Friday, 7 July, officers from VMGR-252 met with VMX-22 flight crews at New River to brief the first leg of the flight that would leave Cherry Point the next morning. While weather reports would be updated several times before launching, a big concern was the possibility of icing conditions on the other end, at Goose Bay, Newfoundland. The movement of all the pieces — five aircraft — was reviewed along with every possible contingency plan anyone could imagine, theorize or invent, personal embarrassment notwithstanding. embedded deeply somewhere in the Marine mind-set is that mission accomplishment is totally a given. The only question is planning for all the stuff that can even remotely go wrong. Thus, contingencies in mind-numbing numbers were conceived for the trans-Lant. The aircrews were ready, enthusiastic and anticipating the mission, well aware of its importance. Maintenance Marines at VMX-22 spent the day checking and rechecking the aircraft, making certain the Ospreys were ready. Col Walters and LtCol Seymour would be flying Storm 81; Maj David “Zorro” Lane and Maj Brian “Opie” McAvoy would be in Storm 82, and Storm 83, the backup bird would be flown by Maj Frank “Sissy”
Conway and Capt Donald “Spicy” Bland. Flying the two Battle Hercs would be LtCol Dave "Maynard” Krebs in Otis 87, and his XO, Maj Tim “Tiny” Patrick in Otis 88, along with other officers. LCDR Matt Rising, the lone Navy presence within VMX-22 and an Osprey pilot, would go as a passenger in one of the Hercs. A Naval Aviator with Test Pilot School among his credentials, he would soon find himself making Marine Corps history in less than a week, unexpectedly.
Early Saturday morning the Ospreys left New River for MCAS Cherry Point, to join with the Hercs. A pathfinder KC-130J launched about 45 minutes prior to the “flight of five,” and the smooth movement up the eastern seaboard was clockwork perfect, as the Ospreys came in
with their fixed refueling probes and tanked from the drogue and basket Sergeant Fletcher II pods. Chatter from air traffic controllers up and down the coast was a testament to the newness of the Osprey. With each communication to the various air traffic control centers of “Otis, flight of five; two KC-130Js and three MV-22 Ospreys,” the air traffic controllers — after first making it clear that no aerial refuelers should be planning on refueling in their airspace — would then inquire “Osprey?” One guy couldn’t figure how a “helicopter” could be flying over 200 knots; another couldn’t pronounce it; a third guy tried to Google it but needed help with the spelling.
Arriving in Newfoundland on time and on target, the flight had covered 1,350 nautical miles in less than six hours. The Ospreys were secured in a hangar overnight, and most of the 50 Marines, a few assorted civilians and LCDR Rising, found a joint outside the Goose gate in the town of — this is true — Happy Valley. You could grill your own steak inside by the front door, and most of the first Marines to walk in were lucky and got steaks that were thawed. Décor was a collection of stuffed animal heads hanging off every rafter and wall in the place, and the menu featured fish and fish byproducts that even guys with two combat tours in Iraq could only whisper about.
Sunday was a crew rest day, which meant in those circumstances, a crew weather briefs day. In a word, the weather was looking grim with a couple of massive fronts parked and stalled directly east of Greenland and in the projected flight path to Farnborough. Reports were pulled in from every existing official source and satellite link, reviewed, discussed, compared to other reports, looked at twice, updated — you name it, they tried it — but nothing was making those fronts move. At the last weather brief of the day — oh yeah, there’s always daylight at Goose — the options were pretty obvious. They could hold and wait for a day or two or three at Goose and hope things change; or, hope things change enough to get part way there, either to Greenland or halfway — Keflavik, Iceland — and hold if needed and really hope things change more; or, launch for England on schedule hoping the weather radars on the Battle Hercs would find holes when the flight hit the clag, and clear air for tanking.
Marines started rolling out of the military lodge on base at 0200 Monday morning, with most doing preflights on the aircraft while the officers huddled at base ops and consulted on weather patterns and conditions. The big weather fronts were still sitting east of Greenland but looked layered and less like cement. The first part of the trip from Goose Bay to Greenland was looking optimistic, and the decision to launch as planned was made. As briefed, the “climb-out bird” or pathfinder KC-130J took off 45 minutes prior. The flight would now consist of two “KJs” and two MV-22s, with the no-MATS Osprey staying at Goose Bay. After being airborne for sometime, the pathfinder KJ had problems with the mission computer onboard, which necessitates rebooting, which means flying somewhere (back to Goose), landing and shutting down before you can power up again and resume flying. While the pathfinder was a nice deal to have in your hip pocket, it was not a necessity in terms of mission accomplishment. Both KJs in the flight had the same onboard systems as the pathfinder, so LtCol Krebs’ Battle Herc, tanking Storm 81 and flying the lead also became the pathfinder, so to speak.
Say It Ain’t So
Then … less than midway into the nine-hour trip, Storm 81 called a divert into Keflavik, about two hours away. After tanking successfully at 19,000-20,000 feet, their right side jet-driven turboshaft engine experienced some compressor stalls, and engine power was interrupted for 65 seconds before being restored. Storm 82 had one at about the same time, but considered it “less than a hiccup” with no noticeable interruption of power. As pre-briefed in the dozens of assorted contingency plans, Maj Tiny Patrick in Otis 88 would now take Storm 82, piloted by Zorro and Opie, into England and literally into military aviation history.
When Col Walters told them to press on to Farnborough, you could actually hear the sound of high-fives coming from the cockpit. At that point (around 0900 some place on earth), the flight of four split to become two flights of two, going in different directions in more ways than one. Here were two freshly minted, newly trained young Osprey majors flying their bird into the history books, while Bluto and Mongo were gnashing their teeth mightily about having to divert, probably muttering words like “Oh, shucks, darnit and gee Clear skies and clear sailing on the trip up the eastern seaboard en route to Goose Bay, Newfoundland, as the Osprey’s first self-deployment begins to make aviation history. whiz,” into their oxygen masks. It was these older, senior guys who had wrestled with the program for years, shaped it, fought the wars, struggled through hard times and good times and finally, delivered the Osprey program to this place.
They were diverting, and Storm 82 was continuing the mission, taking this aircraft and its vast potential into the future. It wasn’t quite like a mantle being passed, but … Before landing at “Kef,” as it’s affectionately called, Otis 87 and Storm 81 had spent radio time arranging for everything they’d need to get airborne again as soon as possible. With a handpicked Osprey crew chief aboard Storm 81, and several Osprey mechs riding with Otis 87, the talent was already assembled. They just needed to assess the situation. Once on the ground, a decision was made to change out the engine. A Rolls-Royce AE1107C engine had been pre-staged in England, and within hours, Otis 88 would be landing there with enough room behind the internal fuel tank to load it up and return to Kef. Contingencies again! Well, you know the old adage that “things happen in threes.” On the redeployment from Goose to New River, Storm 83 had a compressor stall burp while flying at similar altitudes and conditions as their buddies. The “lessons learned” list was moving right along.
Meanwhile, Amongst the Brits
When Storm 82 successfully touched down on English soil — actually on concrete — a new chapter had finally opened in tiltrotor aviation. Absolutely no one was long-faced or morose because only one Osprey had made it at that time — the moment was fully celebrated as it should have been. No matter how historic it was, nine hours in the cockpit on oxygen are still nine long hours, so there were no cartwheels or such from the pilots. And because the Royal Air Tattoo was still almost five days from officially opening, there were no paparazzi, groupies or tabloid journalists swarming the plane. A small group of supporters, including some Marines, industry reps and really curious bystanders greeted the crews from both the Osprey and Hercules, acknowledging the accomplishment they had just witnessed.
Before this very long, very historic Monday was over, Maj Tiny Patrick had been notified that Otis 88 should bring the new engine to Kef on Tuesday. But before Otis 88 left on Tuesday noon, Otis 87 arrived in England with Col Walters from Keflavik. This gave VMX-22 their senior commander on the ground in England, with LtCol Seymour holding down the fort at Keflavik, needing not only the new engine but also another Osprey pilot to fly with him to England. Remember all those contingency plans? Yet another one was put into action and Otis 88 delivered on all counts, landing in Kef about five and a half hours after launching, with both a new engine and the world’s only Navy lieutenant commander with current Osprey quals, for Mongo’s det. Wednesday was spent changing out the engine and doing a maintenance check flight. On Thursday, Storm 82, tanking from Otis 87 who had returned to Kef, completed the “rest” of the trans-Lant and flew to England with ease. The crew of Storm 82, supported by Otis 87, had now entered the history books as well.
By show time, the two self-deployed Marine MV-22 Ospreys were the rock stars that everyone wanted to see, and they were not disappointed. When the lights came up, the Marine flight crews and two civilian pilots from Bell-Boeing, Marty Shubert and Steve Grohsmeyer, flew all the demos and VIP rides. The aircraft had been leased to Bell-Boeing for this period of time, thus the participation of their pilots. Why? It’s an insurance issue, dating back to when a Marine Hornet crashed at Farnborough. No one was hurt, but when it came to replacing or paying for the Hornet, the manufacturer’s position was — well, you guys were flyin’ it, and the Marine position was — well, you guys asked us to! Suffice it to say, the outcome of the standoff was “mission accomplished.” Since then, aircraft have been leased for that airshow period of time back to the manufacturer, who then insures them with some firm like Lloyds of London or who knows, maybe Geico.
The MV-22 Osprey’s first trans-Atlantic self-deployment was a remarkable accomplishment. It served the main strategic mission of showing Marines and manufacturers where and how adjustments can be made to bring this very relevant, versatile platform to the fleet and integrate it as a fully matured combat capability. The secondary mission, showcasing two self-deployed birds at Farnborough, was a total success, a slam dunk. When squadrons of Block B’s and C’s eventually stand up, the legacy of this first trans-Lant flown by the Block A’s will be the footprint they build on. The Osprey has just winged its way into the future that visionaries have long predicted, and one which Marines, in war and peace, need now more than ever.