FIRST OSPREYS LAND ABOARD KEARSARGE

By JO2 Robert Keilman, USS Kearsarge Public Affairs

USS KEARSARGE, At Sea (NNS) - For the first time, the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) conducted landing operations with the MV-22 Osprey.

The landing operations Dec. 7-13 was to qualify 23 Marine Corps pilots from Marine Tilt Rotor Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 22 on day deck landings, as well as provide a “foundation” of experience for future operations.

“These operational landings are not only giving us a foundation for operations in the fleet, they’re also giving us time to find things that we don’t like about the Osprey and what we want done differently,” said Marine Corps Maj. Robert Freeland, an Osprey pilot and the assistant operations officer for VMX-22, located at Marine Corps Air Station New River, Jacksonville, N.C.

To complete their qualifications in accordance with the Marine Corps Training and Readiness Manual for air crew, the pilots performed a minimum of five landings on the ship’s port side of the flight deck; two spots on the forward end of the flight deck and two on the aft section. In addition to their landing qualification, the pilots performed a minimum of two short takeoff procedures.

Of all the landing spots on the flight deck, the most difficult is near the ship’s island, which narrows the landing space for the aircraft. However, with the skill of the pilots and the ship’s flight deck crew, the operation encountered no problems.

“Before the operation began, the flight deck crew was a little skeptical about the safety of the operation, because of all the news reports of incidents and accidents that occurred with the Osprey four years ago,” said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Robert Sacks, Safety Department leading chief petty officer on board Kearsarge. “However, I think the operation went well, and I feel everyone else agrees.”

The Osprey was introduced to the Marine Corps in September 1999 to replace the CH-46E and CH-53D medium lift helicopters, but was put on hold during its testing phase after a mishap in 2000 killed 23 Marines. Since that time, Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing have redesigned the aircraft, making it both lighter and safer.

The Osprey can now carry up to 24 combat-equipped personnel or a 15,000-pound load. It can vertically take off like a helicopter, and then rotate its engines 90 degrees, turning into a turbo-prop aircraft that can travel at speeds over 240 knots.