The pilot strode across the flight line to his aircraft, and after climbing into the tight cockpit, began running preflight checks on the MV-22 Osprey he would be spending the next hour flying. The steady whir of the engine slowly became a roar as the rotors spun violently before taking off from Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., Jan. 9.
Marines attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, Marine Aircraft Group 26, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing conducted a troop transport operation with Marines attached to Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry East. According to Capt. Stephen Smith, a pilot with VMM-263, the unit conducts similar operations at least three-to-four times a week and supplements with a variety of other training.
“[The Osprey] has one of the broadest mission sets of any of Marine Corps aircraft,” said Smith. “So I like the various things we get to do. We don’t get stuck doing the same thing every day.”
The Osprey has been an operational asset to the Marine Corps for over a decade. Typically, Osprey pilots conduct missions such as transporting external loads, aerial deliveries, low altitude tactics and putting troops on the ground.
“Since it is such a versatile platform, and a lot of people want to employ the Osprey in various missions, we have a lot of work on the table,” said Smith. “There are a lot of things we can do so it keeps things varied and exciting.”
Smith considers the biggest structural difference between the Osprey and any other aircraft to be the double rotors on top and its ability to fly as a fixed wing aircraft.
“Not to take away at all from what other helicopter pilots do, but it does impact the way we fly to have two propeller rotors side-by-side rather than the typical one with a tail rotor,” said Smith.
Some missions are more intensive for the pilots, but according to Cpl. Matthew Santilla, a crew chief with VMM-263, some flight operations require the pilots to rely on the crew chief.
“Aerial refueling is more intensive on pilots,” said Santilla. “External lifts where we pick up loads with a rope and hook are more intensive on crew chiefs. Day-to-day, I assist with maintenance, but on days when I fly, I am the pilot’s backseat driver. We keep the pilots true in what they do.”
As technology has steadily developed in aviation, Marine Corps Osprey pilots have continued to make good use of the aircraft’s unique capabilities to get into areas that are reserved for helicopters, but at the same time transition into airplane mode to cover much more ground.
“The mission of our squadron is primarily to provide assault support to the various units we are coordinated with and provide them training opportunities,” said Smith. “Abroad, we support them in their mission and ensure to get the Marines safely to their objectives.”
Story by Cpl. Mackenzie Gibson