Friday, January 04, 2008

V-22 Osprey in Iraq

There has been so much negative talk about the Osprey in the past few years. Well, guess what? The first Marine Corps Osprey squadron to go to Iraq is kicking butt and I don't hear a peep about it. I've been looking for any news about them now that they are accomplishing their missions and there's next to nothing. Typical.

This little bit on Fox News is the only thing I found.
When we boarded the Osprey I sat down next to the colonel and got strapped in, but before we lifted off one of the crew members came up to me and told me to unbuckle and follow him towards the front. He showed me a jump seat attached to the open door of the cockpit, handed me a helmet and gave me a quick brief on how to strap myself in, then pointed me toward the front where I stepped in between the pilots. It had been a long few days, so I still didn't realize what was happening.

I said hello to the flight team and shook their hands and turned around to see the door closed behind me. That's when I realized I would have a front row seat for one of the coolest rides most people will never see.

The Osprey's dash has four big display screens, including color GPS maps and an infrared video display. I'm no pilot so I didn't recognize most of the other gauges, switches, readouts and gadgets, but suffice it to say there's a lot going on up there. I did manage to pick out the digital altimeter and speed in yellow lights and watched the numbers climb as we did, lifting off and heading almost immediately nose up into the clouds, angled steeply to roughly 10,000 feet at an air speed of 240 knots, 280 ground speed with the tail wind (more than 300 mph, according to the pilots). The Osprey can fly up to 25,000 feet but passengers would need oxygen. Instead, my crew rode with the others in back with the rear ramp open. The pilots warned me if people didn't hang on to their stuff it would fall out for sure.

When we leveled off I was able to talk to the guys over headsets about the differences between these 22s and the 53s they usually fly.

They raved about the Osprey's performance capabilities (I think the word "awesome" was used more than once) and said the cockpit gauges were comparable in some ways to a fighter jet. They were thrilled to fly them, they told me, they believed in the birds' future and weren't worried about the lack of a forward-facing weapon.

"That's being looked at now," the Major in charge of the helicopter-borne assault force told me on the ground. "But we have plenty of backup systems. When we go in, we go in strong," he said. They're using the Ospreys for missions involving reconnaissance, interdiction and disruption. "We're just beginning to explore what it can do."

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