9-May-2017 Source: Hawaii
Four Hawaii-based Marine Corps Osprey tiltrotor aircraft made history when they landed in Australia, April 28, 2017, after flying there from Oahu, Hawaii. This marks the first time ever the MV-22B Osprey made a trans-Pacific flight.
These four aircraft with Marine Tiltrotor Squadron 268 (VMM-268), 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, left their base at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on April 19, 2017, and flew approximately 6,000 miles in about 21 hours, making scheduled stops at Wake Island and Guam, according to Maj. Jordan Vannatter, officer in charge of the Aviation Combat Element of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin.
Self-deploying the Ospreys saved the Marine Corps the four to six weeks it would have taken to transport them using contracted shipping.
VMM-268 deployed to Australia as part of MRF-D 17.2, which is an annual six-month rotation which started in 2012 and strengthens the U.S.-Australia alliance.
Unique to the MV-22B Osprey is its ability to take off and land like a helicopter and tilt its 38-foot rotors forward to fly like a traditional airplane – transforming it into a high-speed, turbo-prop aircraft.
The MV-22B Osprey, which has an aircrew of three and can transport 24 combat-loaded Marines, is capable of a “combat radius of 600 air nautical miles (690 miles),” said Maj. Thomas Keech, Operations Officer for VMM-268.
“What the Ospreys bring to MRF-D are speed and range,” said Keech. “It can go quite a bit farther, quite a bit faster and conduct that assault-support mission, do humanitarian service, and brings speed and agility to the Marine Air Ground Task Force.”
Extensive and exhaustive planning and training went into this historic flight to mitigate the risks associated with an aviation effort of this magnitude.
Prior to the trans-Pacific flight, U.S. Marines with Marine Refueler Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152), based out of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, flew out to Hawaii to train and rehearse with VMM-268.
“We first got word of the mission in early fall. So we started detailed planning, and around February or March we flew a crew and myself out to Hawaii to do some rehearsals with the MV-22s,” said Maj. Kevin Herman, operations officer for VMGR-152. “Then about a week before the actual mission, we flew out another KC-130J Super Hercules, and they did about four days of rehearsals, and then we brought the two tankers on that Friday to launch the following Wednesday (from Marine Corps Base Hawaii).”
“So that piece worked out pretty good, but it took a little pre-planning just to think about that part and try to wargame what could go wrong and how are you going to deal with those issues as they happen,” said Keech.
The rehearsals between VMM-268 and VMGR-152 proved effective during aerial refueling operations.
“The Ospreys were very smooth and methodical around the basket [the probe on the tilt rotor aircraft is inserted in the drogue refueling pod] and had no issues getting in first try in the basket, and got their fuel and pressed on to their next AR (aerial refueling) point,” said Herman.
Refueling mid-air also provided an opportunity for the air combat element to exercise the capability to self-deploy over longer distances when necessary.
Despite the success of the aerial refueling operation and the smoothness of the flight, the Marines were unaccustomed to the extended duration flights.
The duration of each leg more than doubled their average mission flight time.
“So the first day was 8.5 hours, and that was the longest day. The second day was about five hours and 15 minutes, then today about seven hours and 15 minutes,” said Keech. “So it’s a long time to sit on an aircraft that you usually fly a three-hour mission in.”
This flight sets the standard of what can be achieved with the MV-22B Osprey.
This accomplishment sends a strategic message: Ospreys can now range across the Pacific, according to Keech.