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Thu, Jan 24, 2008

Marines Report Ospreys Are Handling Combat Duty Well

Tiltrotors Achieve 68.1 Percent Reliability Rate In 'Sandbox'

Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 arrived at Al Asad, Iraq on October 4, 2007 to support air operations in the Al Anbar province... and so far, according to USMC officials, the squadron and its MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors have performed admirably.

The 'Thunder Chickens' took over the entire range of combat medium lift assault support missions in support of Multi-National Forces -- West from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 to include battlefield circulation, raid and Aeroscout operations, helicopter/tiltrotor governance, Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel alert and casualty evacuation alert, flying everywhere within MNF-West throughout the battlefield from Baghdad to Al Qaim providing an operational capability over distance and time that has effectively collapsed the battlespace.

The squadron has completed more than 2,000 ASRs in the first 3 months of the deployment, keeping approximately 8,000 personnel off dangerous roadways and accruing approximately 2,000 flight hours. The squadron notes it has accomplished every mission, and met every schedule, while maintaining an average mission capable availability rate of 68.1%. (That's on the low side for a commercial aircraft... but impressive for a new military-spec aircraft in a combat zone -- Ed.)

Officials note the New River based MV-22 squadron has experienced a higher operational tempo while deployed, with the squadron completing missions and accumulating flight hours at a sustained rate well in excess of anything they've done before.

"The area of operations has, in a number of ways, highlighted the performance of the aircraft," said Lt. Col. Paul Rock, VMM-263's commanding officer. "Our area of operations is large and the aircraft's speed and range has been much-appreciated by many of the folks the squadron has supported. In addition, the precision navigation and situational awareness systems in the aircraft have enhanced our ability to perform such tasks as desert landings in brownout conditions."

In brownout conditions, the MV-22's unique hover coupled capability significantly increases the safety of troops in the execution of combat missions enabling the Ground Combat Element to be safely and precisely inserted on the desired combat coordinates. No other helicopter or aircraft in the inventory has this unique operational capability and safety enhancement. It reduces and mitigates risk while significantly increasing both Ground Combat Element and aircraft survivability.

Cpl. Bob Cowan, a crew chief with VMM-263, believes the aircraft has performed better than expected. The normal wear and tear of the desert hasn't been as harsh on the bird as was originally expected.

"The aircraft has performed better than expected," said Cpl. Daniel Stratman, a '263 crew chief. "We haven't had to replace any major parts like prop boxes or anything; the main problem out here is getting the parts for this aircraft. We can fix just about anything, the only thing that slows us down is getting the parts."

As a new aircraft, the supporting logistics system is new and this deployment provides valuable maintenance and logistics lessons learned that will enhance support of the aircraft in the future.

The squadron, which was the Marine Corps' first Tiltrotor squadron, has been training for this deployment since they stood up in March of 2006. Aside from the normal pre-deployment and Desert Talon training, the unit has completed two deployment-for-training operations to practice landings in brown out conditions and they also completed training with infantry Marines practicing inserting troops during raids and other ground operations.

"We had some snags at the beginning, but we've learned from our mistakes," said Cowan, a Cookeville, TN native. "We've done the training back in the rear, but performing the missions out here is different, so we've ironed out the wrinkles."

The Marines of the squadron have kept their heads held high throughout the deployment and have done well at keeping the 'Osprey' mission ready.

"Our Marines are doing great; it's incredible to watch them work," said Sgt. Maj. Robert VanOostrom, the unit's sergeant major. "The weather is getting worse everyday ... but they have to ensure a certain amount of aircraft are prepared to fly every day. The amount of time and energy they put in every day to make sure the aircraft fly, is incredible."

Almost every service member has heard of the new aircraft, but most Marines haven't even seen the aircraft fly, not to mention fly in it. Now, many service members are getting their first flight in the Corps' faster, farther traveling and heavier lifting aircraft.

"In North Carolina you see the 'Osprey' flying every single day and it's just another aviation platform. ," said VanOostrom. "It's ironic to see the individual Marine who gets on the airplane for the first time and sees what it can do and says 'This is the coolest thing I've ever seen.'"

The 'Thunder Chickens' have transitioned from a trained squadron to an experienced combat squadron that has completed every tasking and succeeded in maintaining the deployed operations tempo. VMM-263 has flown 5 Aeroscout missions, 1 raid, more than 1400 combat sorties and maintained an average mission capable readiness rate of 68.1% during their current deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.

(Aero-News salutes II MAW (FWD) PAO, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (FWD)

FMI: www.2maw.usmc.mil/MAG29/VMM263/default.asp

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