SAN DIEGO: It’s no secret that when the impossible looms, a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) has an ace-in-the-hole. Assault support, humanitarian relief, aircraft, and personnel recovery, or embassy reinforcement are just a few missions on a broad MAGTF list. A challenge for the Marine Corps is to access widespread global conflicts in many austere locations. The multi-mission MV-22 Osprey, with her unique rotating nacelles, is able to boldly call, where other aircraft cannot.
Why? Because the MV-22 tiltrotor can hover or land anywhere, fly faster and farther than a helicopter, self-deploy, and launch from a ship or shore on short notice. Troops/equipment/supplies insert at the crisis within hours. Part helicopter, part fixed wing – the MV-22 proves that imagination and technology can solve tactical demands.
Congress, banding together with the Marine Corps, made the tiltrotor concept a reality along with private defense contractor, Bell-Boeing. Now in its 11th year, the Osprey is working harder than ever.
An MV-22B and its pilot embark on a heroic mission.
On April 25, 2015, a magnitude-7.8 tremor collapsed mountainsides in Nepal, triggering landslides and avalanches. Multi-story buildings toppled in the capital, Katmandu, and hundreds of aftershocks followed. Weeks later, another 7.3 convulsion rocked the region. Major Jason Noll, a Marine Corps MV-22 pilot, suited up with VMM-262 Marines to respond to a magnitudinal crisis.
As part of Operation Sahayogi Haat, Noll and his squadron joined with other humanitarian efforts. World Vision reported that hundreds of thousands of people lost everything and faced extreme poverty.
The tectonic fury took out roads and bridges, water and power systems, health centers, schools, destroyed over 600,000 homes and damaged thousands more. Noll flew his Osprey through the Himalayas to get to the victims.
Few creatures can navigate hypoxic air; you might see a bar-headed goose at 28,000 feet or a Ruppell’s griffon vulture at 37,000 feet. Because the tiltrotor converts to a powerful turboprop – it can reach to up to 26,000 feet. I don’t know how the birds do it, but Noll has to compute how altitude density will affect propeller lift with the payload on board.
“…It’s a lot different flying up at high altitude, especially in Nepal, just due to scope of the size of the mountains [and] weather constantly changing. You have to be very aware of the wind direction that’s coming; how high you’re crossing the ridge lines for updrafts, downdrafts; and then ingressing and egressing different zones…power available versus power required is very critical,” says Noll.
The deadly earthquakes hit hardest in remote rural areas, creating extreme challenges for response team access. The clock ticked away for those with urgent needs.
MV-22’s revolutionary combat system: a friend, a workhorse, and firepower on the move.
“Each aviation platform in the Marine Corps’ inventory has specific capabilities that make them preferable for different missions, however the MV-22 can accurately be compared to the CH-46E, the aircraft it replaced,” says Capt. Joseph Butterfield, spokesperson for Headquarters Marine Corps.
“The MV-22 is able to carry a significantly greater payload than the CH-46, at twice the speed and range [700 miles] – more than 60% greater range than any other rotorcraft, and more with aerial refueling.”
“Lifting into a hover and transitioning, (Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) to airplane), is unique to the MV-22. The aircraft has plenty of power and the acceleration as you rotate the nacelles will throw you back in your seat…Our preferred transit method is as an airplane.”
The VTOL mode is typically in use for takeoff and landing. However, Noll has the option to fly in VTOL/conversion mode to conform to weather conditions or fly helicopter approaches and routes. He can cruise from 220 Knots Calibrated Air Speed (KCAS) – 240 KCAS tactical speed, or higher at cruising altitudes. Those KCAS speeds equate to 253-276 mph.
High mountains and low valleys create difficult flying conditions.
There would be times in Nepal where Noll had to ingress (enter) a zone at 9,000 feet (as an airplane) then spiral down to land like a helicopter on the valley floor. He was out on the deck getting fuel when the second Nepal earthquake struck.
“I was shut down at the time, but it felt like a car like literally hit the plane. We were shaking,” says Noll. “We did a lot of casualty evacuations (CASEVACs). It took us a little bit to get refueled, because the airport shut down. We took off, went out, and we grabbed some people that were injured.”
Air Force medics set up a triage on the flight line. Noll brought the injured there. Then ambulances took them to the hospital in Katmandu. In the end, these violent acts of nature claimed the lives of over 9,000 people and 22,000 suffered injuries.
As crisis challenges increase and disperse – so must the force meet the day.
The MV-22 is so flexible, that it spurs re-thinking military operations, as well as how to find room in the budget for tiltrotor technology.
Marine Corps Times says,
“The Marine Corps is considering a new plan to arm the MV-22 Osprey fleet and is now thinking of putting rockets, missiles or other forward-firing weapons on the tilt-rotor aircraft. A more capable and heavily armed Osprey will be able to provide its own escort protection, a development the Corps has been pursuing for several years now from lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marine officials say.”
However, the Marines’ Osprey is not a bird without a lethal peck. Capt. Christopher Harrison, Communications Strategy and Operations Officer at HQMC, the Pentagon, explains,
“The Defensive Weapons System (DWS) is a removable GAU-17 and sensor mounted to the belly of the aircraft. It’s remotely operated by a crew chief and the turret allows all-quadrant defensive fires against enemy targets. This system augments the ramp mounted weapons system (RMWS)…Ammunition choices for MV-22 weapons: 7.62mm and .50 cal.,” says Harrison.
Harrison assures, “the RMWS can be dismounted and used by the crew to defend the aircraft or personnel during escape and evasion. Combat assault transport sorties are routinely escorted by fixed or rotary wing aircraft and over the last several years by UAS.”
Another mission for Noll and the Osprey.
Noll deployed to Iraq 2015-1016 and a short time in 2017. U.S. troops returned, this time to ‘advise and assist’ Iraqi Security Forces in their bloody urban battles against ISIS. Ramadi, Mosul and other territories (previously stabilized with the help of U.S. forces) were now overrun with insurgency. During his deployments, Noll was on the hook for general support, Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP), and any isolated event or any contingencies.
An Osprey pilot flies high to stay out of range of small arms fire and shoulder-launched missiles. Rapid insertions and extractions, external loads, and deliveries are all under his wing – over a geographical expanse. Noll makes ready to meet the ‘Golden Hour’, a U.S. Secretary of Defense mandate to get the wounded to appropriate medical care within 60 minutes of injury, improving survival.
The Osprey helps pilots like Noll get to the wounded in far off, remote locations faster and with greater room on board. The Osprey can carry 24 combat troops or 20,000 pounds of internal cargo, in contrast, the CH-46E carries 17 troops or a maximum of 4,000 pounds of internal cargo. Armed Forces without the Osprey have to rely on multi-site helicopter squadrons spread out, or dust off aircraft teams of four (incl. one Flight Medic) that fly to the wounded.
Failure often precedes invention.
The tiltrotor would have been handy during the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1980 when pro-Ayatollah students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. President Carter’s Operation Eagle Claw rescue attempt failed, in part having to coordinate both planes and helicopters (of which there was a shortage of). As a result, fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were hostages for 444 days.
Developed in response to this failure, the MV-22 not only facilitates rescues better but is also an optimal readiness tool to maneuver, insert troops for military advantage.
Commanders worldwide want the MV-22 for its capabilities, to enhance joint force assets.
“Since 2007, the MV-22 Osprey has continuously deployed in a wide range of extreme conditions, from the deserts of Iraq and Libya to the mountains of Nepal, as well as aboard amphibious ships,” says Marine Corps official, Butterfield.
Pilots like Noll and his aircraft help Special Purpose Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) to increase force distribution across the Middle East.
USNI News reported that Col. Christopher Gideons, who led SPMAGTF-CR-CC Aug 2017 – April 2018, had
“forces operating in 24 separate locations in 10 countries, from Egypt to Afghanistan. Units ranged from a two – or three-man explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) detachment support special operations forces to a reinforced rifle company operating in Afghanistan.”
The Osprey is indispensable to commanders like Gideons, who stretches resources to accomplish time-critical tasks.
To quell crisis timely – both water and land-based forces deploy.
We lament the lives lost in Benghazi, in what appears to be a convoluted political failure to respond in time. Military resources were based far apart, across a large geography. Time was of the essence to save Americans under a fiery siege of terror. The Marine Corps recognized a need for a ‘floating force’.
An Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is power projection base at sea, with a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) on board. The ARG stages strategically on the world’s oceans, near rising tensions. SPMAGTF units embark from amphibious assault ships in the ARG, on MV-22s, both ship to ship and ship to shore.
Providing the right force in the right place at the right time is a Marine Corps mantra.
What the Osprey does for those it serves is what its true capability is.
Noll joined the Marines to fly aircraft in a tactical setting, inspired by a grandfather and uncle who served. He currently flies an average of 20 hours a month (above the official standard). He has 1660 flight hours to date. Yet even the best trained pilots face sudden, overwhelming conditions.
A Marine crew in a UH-1Y Huey helicopter chose the most direct route to get urgent treatment for five injured in Nepal’ devastation. It is believed that a rapid weather front enveloped Vengeance 01, causing its pilot to lose visual reference. The UH-1Y crashed into steep terrain, killing all 13 on board, according to a 2015 Marine Corps news release.
Marines mourn the brave they lose, yet honor them by continuing the work.
Noll searched for Vengeance 01 and on the way back stopped into a local airfield to offer help. A helicopter brought in three people with crushing wounds, one a little girl with a broken pelvis. Below bingo (minimum) fuel, Noll stood by to transport them to medical help, at risk of a flameout (engine failure) before landing safely.
Re-fueled, Noll lifts off – a Marine on a mission at 17,000 feet. He reported ‘still looking out, seeing mountains level with his Osprey’.
“We’re dodging [peaks], and we’re above the clouds,” says Noll.
A hybrid aircraft with its own re-imagined identity is transforming the way the Marine Corps conducts business globally. One life saved, one freedom granted – is one battle won in the greater war.
Featured Photo: SPAIN, June 27, 2017. Marines exit an MV-22B Osprey aircraft during assault training at Sierra Del Retan. The Marines conducted limited crisis response and theater security operations in Europe and North Africa. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jodson B. Graves | VIRIN: 170627-M-SW506-0160C.JPG “The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DOD endorsement.”