His pilots eyes
Flying the V-22 provides the perfect venue for pilot's hobby
BY DOUG HOLMES
Lieutenant Colonel Ron "Curly" Culp of the U.S. Marine Corps has seen some incredible things during his 18-year military career, and he has the pictures to prove it.
Culp, one of a handful of fully qualified Marine Corps Osprey pilots, is a self-trained amateur photographer who has been snapping photos since he enlisted. A CH-46 "Phrog" helicopter pilot by trade, he joined the Osprey program in 1997 when the Marine Corps announced it was looking for the first six V-22 tiltrotor operational test pilots.
"I couldn't wait to be involved with an aircraft that's so vital to the future of Marine Corps aviation," explained the 43-year-old Florida native. "After 14 years flying the ‘Phrog,' I was ready for something new."
After a stint at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., with the Multi-Service Operational Test Team, Culp joined the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204 (VMMT-204) at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., where he now serves as an operations officer in charge of squadron flight operations. VMMT-204, also known as the Raptors, is the first MV-22 training squadron. The MV-22 is the Marine Corps variant of the Osprey.
Culp has participated in and photographed almost every key flight test event since 1997, including the V-22's Operational Evaluation and various shipboard operations. During OPEVAL alone, he shot more than 45 rolls of film.
"I started taking photos of the V-22 as soon as I arrived at ‘Pax' River, and I haven't put my camera down since," he said. "Being a Marine Corps pilot, few people have the chance to see what I see. This is good way to share my experiences."
Culp's photos have appeared in V-22 marketing material, military base newspapers and even the cover of Jane's Defence Weekly, an international trade magazine. He credits his success to trial and error and lessons from his mother, who worked as a newspaper reporter.
"I don't use fancy equipment or digital cameras," said Culp, who uses a Minolta 800 and basic Kodak film. "All of the people at the photo shop know my name."
When he joined the V-22 program, there were very few photographs of the aircraft available. Thanks in part to Culp's work, the program now has an extensive catalog of Osprey images that show its performance capabilities. When challenged, program officials have used his images to help combat myths about the Osprey.
"It's important to document the aircraft's accomplishments," he noted. "If someone says that the Osprey can't aerial refuel, I have a photo to prove them wrong. It's vital that we show the world what it can do."
Since joining the program, Culp has flown more than 220 hours in nearly every environment. No matter how many hours he logs, Culp will always remember his first time at the Osprey's controls.
"I couldn't get the grin off my face," he recalled of a brief flight from Patuxent River to Quantico, Va. "The V-22 is a state-of-the-art aircraft. As soon as you release the breaks and add power during a short take-off, you really get thrown back in your seat as the aircraft rapidly accelerates down the runway. Despite my experiences as a helicopter pilot and in the V-22 simulator, nothing could've prepared me for the thrill of flying this bird. I am constantly amazed at what it can do.
"Flying the MV-22 is comparable to trading in your old clunker for a sports car," Culp continued. "The MV-22 is fast, very maneuverable and extremely fun to fly. By combining the versatility of a helicopter and the efficiency of a turbo prop, the V-22 is the triathlete of all military aircraft. The Osprey can insert our fighting forces swiftly from much greater ranges with little warning, and complete the mission in less than one period of darkness. The MV-22 will greatly enhance our military effectiveness, greatly reduce friendly casualties and help ensure combat success."
Culp is leaving VMMT-204 this summer to spend a year in Okinawa, Japan,
where he will fill a staff position at the U.S. Marine Corps Wing Headquarters.
He plans to return to the Osprey squadron immediately thereafter, and
hopes to stay with the program for as long as the Marine Corps will allow.
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