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Ospreys demonstrate unique aerial capabilities in Belize

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The MV-22 Osprey is one of the newest machines in the American arsenal and is still in the process of establishing its value. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 self-deployed to the small Central American country of Belize to take part in training exercises the week of Sept. 10 demonstrating the Osprey’s enhanced utility over conventional helicopters.

First, the squadron flew themselves to Belize. VMM-365 needed the support of only one other unit to successfully deploy, which was Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, who provided mid-flight refuelling. Doing so demonstrated a unique ability that can carry the squadron anywhere and handle a variety of missions. “We could fly non-stop from North Carolina all the way to the country of Belize without stopping on the ground, allowing us to deploy ourselves,” said Capt. Ryan E. Benes, a pilot for VMM-365.

“We’ve done this multiple times where we’ve flown from North Carolina to Arizona or San Diego or Key West with only the support of KC-130s refuelling us by air. We have the ability to do humanitarian relief efforts as well. With the self deploy aspect, we can launch from the United States and go anywhere they really need us.”

After arriving in Belize, VMM-365 began training it’s pilots to fly in combat-like environments where they again proved their utility. The pilots practiced confined area landings at landing zones in the Belizean jungle and Maya Mountains. This can be difficult because the pilots have to avoid obstacles like trees in the jungle. In the mountains, they cannot afford to overshoot a landing zone because of the steep hills surrounding the area.

According to Capt. Pete D. Benning, the officer in charge of the VMM-365 flight line Marines, this ability is used often when on non-training deployments.

“Overseas in a combat zone, we do confined area landings any time we go out to a forward operating base to take Marines to or from the field or wherever we take their bullets, beans and band aids,” said Benning. “A confined area landing is pretty much any landing environment away from a runway or a prepared surface.”

The pilots also practiced low altitude tactics; evasion techniques to avoid enemy fire. Because the Osprey is faster, more maneuverable and can fly higher, it can demonstrate itself as being a more survivable platform in hostile environments. The need for a more survivable helicopter-type platform was recently highlighted on Aug. 6 when 38 troops onboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter were killed when it was shot down by enemy fire.

According to Benes, the Osprey was built to replace the CH-46 Sea Knight, a helicopter similar to the Army’s Chinook. Helicopters typically fly at 500 feet, while the Osprey can fly at 10,000 feet to transport troops. Also, the Osprey can fly at about 280 knots, twice as fast as a normal helicopter, which makes it harder to hit at low altitudes.

Besides making it harder to hit, speed can also have a great impact on accomplishing time-sensitive missions.

“The sooner you can get an asset to the battlefield, the better outcome it will have,” Benes said. “If we get time sensitive information that there is a target that has to be prosecuted by Marines on the ground, we have the ability to get the Marines there twice as fast. If somebody needs to get extracted or if there’s a casualty evacuation, we can get there twice as fast and get them to a hospital that much faster as well. That’s a pretty big deal.”

While VMM-365 hasn’t practiced any such mission so far in Belize, they have demonstrated the Osprey’s speed by flying around most of the country of 22,966 square miles in about two hours.

After the 10-day exercise is complete, the Osprey will have again proved itself an able platform.

Article by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point