Released: 4 Nov 1998
Air Force personnel and their families tour two Marine Corps V-22 Ospreys at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The V-22 is the forerunner of the CV-22 that will become Air Force Special Operations Command's next generation aircraft. The V-22 has a maximum speed of 342 mph and can fly at a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet. (Photo by Joan Prichard)
by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Lowe
Air Force Special Operations Command
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFPN) -- Look. Up in the sky. It's a helicopter. It's a plane. It's . . . a V-22 Osprey?
Recently, residents of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., got their first up-close look at th e new tiltrotor aircraft that will become Air Force Special Operations Command's "prime mover" on the battlefield for the next decade.
Two Marine Corps V-22s soared over Hurlburt Field then landed at nearby Eglin Air Force Base Oct. 23 for a week of pre-operational testing. The V-22 is the forerunner of the CV-22, which AFSOC will start receiving in 2004. Eventually, AFSOC will get 50 CV-22s to replace most of its rotary and fixed-wing fleet. The CV-22 can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane.
"When Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. (Michael) Ryan flew the V-22 recently, he described the aircraft in one word: 'versatility,'" said Col. Steve Connelly, AFSOC's director of operations. "All I can say is that the V-22 will revolutionize how we do our missions." Connelly was one of three senior officers showing off the V-22 to area media at Eglin Oct. 24. He told reporters that "smart" pilots will soon discover things to do with the V-22 that no one has ever thought about doing before.
AFSOC plans to send its most experienced helicopter and MC-130E/H pilots through the school pipeline to come up with "hybrid" pilots for the new CV-22, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Jay, chief of AFSOC's V-22 program. Aircrews and maintenance personnel will learn V-22 "basics" at the Marine Corps Air Station in New River, N.C. Aircrews will then go to Kirtland AFB, N.M., for mission qualification training with the 58th Special Operations Wing. The wing is scheduled to get four initial CV-22s in 2003, Jay said. Maintenance crews will further refine their skills at their permanent duty station, he said.
AFSOC has needed an aircraft like the CV-22 ever since the failed attempt to rescue 52 Americans from the Iran embassy in 1980. Numerous problems plagued that mission, including equipment failure. Additionally, because of range limitations with the C-130 and helicopters, the mission would have taken about three days to complete. Analysts said later that the mission failed because the military did not have the right aircraft. The CV-22 is that aircraft, said Col. Gary Weikel, AFSOC's deputy director of plans, programs and acquisition.
"We had six months to prepare for the failed 'Desert One' mission," said Weikel. "But if anyone thinks that we're going to have six months to prepare to go in and rescue someone from the hands of terrorist in the 21st century ... they're crazy."
The CV-22 will give AFSOC the ability to fly long distances in one period of darkness "to do its mission and get out," said Weikel.
Made of 45 percent composite materials, the CV-22 will have a longer service life than any aircraft currently in the Air Force inventory. It also will be easier to repair, said Chief Master Sgt. Earl Harden, AFSOC's deputy chief of logistics and acquisition.
Harden and four other team members worked directly with contractors to make sure things like fuel lines, environmental control systems and some other components were located in easy to reach areas.
"Engineers are great at designing these aircraft, but they've never had to work on them in the heat and cold or while wearing chemical warfare gear. We have," said Harden. He said costs precluded making some changes, "but maintainers will probably be pleased with what we've done."
About 130 members of the multioperational test team, or MOTT, accompanied the V-22s from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, Md. The MOTT included Air Force and Marine Corps pilots, flight engineers, maintainers and contract personnel. Eglin's 46th Test Wing assisted the MOTT in assessing the V-22's potential to survive using self-defense mechanisms such as chaff.
The MOTT also looked at the aircraft's compatibility with the special operations mission, including its ability to take on fuel from AFSOC's aerial refueler, the MC-130P Combat Shadow. The 9th Special Operations Squadron did not actually refuel the V-22 in flight, but practiced hooking up to the probe to make sure aerial refueling will be possible, said Jay.
Additionally, members of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron practiced infiltration and exfiltration maneuvers from the V-22 and deployed with a rubber raft over water during the first few days the Ospreys were in town. Members then filled out questionnaires which will be used with the other data to determine if anything needs to be fixed before the V-22 undergoes actual operational testing next year, said John Parker, programming engineer with the 46th Test Wing's Detachment 1 at Hurlburt Field. Det. 1 conducts developmental and qualification ground and flight tests on all Air Force rotary-wing and AFSOC fixed-wing aircraft.
This evaluation were like "test driving a car without options. We'll add the options later and then test the aircraft again, " said Jay.
The basic V-22 costs about $34 million. AFSOC will spend another $5 million per aircraft to add special operations features such as terrain following/terrain avoidance radar, an electronic countermeasures suite capable of detecting and countering both infrared and radar threats, a multi-mission advanced tactical terminal that can provide near real-time intelligence of the battlefield, and three auxiliary fuel tanks -- one on each wing and another in the cabin. The additional tanks will enable the CV-22 to travel 2,100 miles with only one aerial refueling, Jay said.
AFSOC will also modify the V-22's cockpit to accommodate a flight engineer. Unlike the Navy and Marine Corps, Air Force needs that "third set of eyes, ears and hands in the cockpit" to accomplish complex special operations missions, Jay said. A second flight engineer will be in the cabin area.
The CV-22 also will be equipped with a turret-mounted machine gun in the nose of the aircraft; a "trapeze" in the rear for fast roping, which is a quick exit method special tactics members use; and an internally mounted hoist at the side door for rescuing downed crewmembers, Jay said.
The V-22 was actually configured for the Marine Corps and will be part of its MV-22 fleet. The Marine Corps, the lead service in the V-22 program, plans to buy more than 350 V-22s to replace its CH-46 and CH-53D helicopters. The Navy plans to get a third version of the V-22, the HV-22, for fleet logistic support, special warfare, and combat search and rescue. Currently, the V-22 is still undergoing flight tests at Patuxent River.
* MC-130 Combat Talon
* Air Force Special Operations Command
* Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
* Hurlburt Field, Fla.
* Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
* U.S. Marine Corps
* U.S. Navy