Chinook News

A Quiet Triumph of American Resolve

By Maj Michael A. Boorstein, USMC

Reprinted with permission from Defence Helicopter


USMC Photo by Cpl. Tyler Hill

As our markets fall and production lines slow, as our schools produce fewer scientists and engineers, and as our military struggles to maintain its capability after almost a decade of continuous combat deployment, it’s worth noting that American ingenuity and perseverance can still produce remarkable results. The V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft – the result of a revolutionary aviation concept doggedly pursued by the Marine Corps, Air Force Special Operations Command and industry partners over several decades – now stands as a testament to America’s continuing technological prowess.

In 1980, our citizens helplessly watched as their military failed in a valiant attempt to rescue American hostages held in Tehran by Islamist students. The fiery crash of US military aircraft in the Iranian desert was a sobering reminder that the world’s superpower lacked the technology to reach deep inside hostile territory to protect American lives.

We now have that capability. When we deployed onto today’s battlefield in Iraq in the MV-22 Osprey, we had an asset that combines the speed, range and safe flight profile of a propeller-driven aircraft with the flexibility, precision and austere landing capability of today’s most advanced helicopters.


Thunder Chickens in Iraq. USMC video produced by Staff Sgt. Ryan O'Hare



USMC Photo by Cpl. George Papastrat

Constructed of carbon fibre and titanium, outfitted with an advanced fly-by-wire system that makes flying simple and safe, and fitted with a transmission manufactured to the highest tolerances available in modern manufacturing, the aircraft represents a formidable expression of American know-how.

With rigorously tested and triply redundant systems, it provides a level of safety and survivability unequalled in military assault helicopters. The aircraft can literally fly itself from a sanctuary several miles above the earth travelling at five miles per minute, to a hover within several feet of a selected point on the ground.

It can fly above many surface threats, descend while nearly invisible to shoulder-fired missiles, and enter and depart landing zones with less exposure time than a traditional helicopter.


USMC Photo

On a typical mission, Ospreys fly many hundreds of miles around Iraq with dozens of troops and tons of supplies, and land at remote outposts as well as major airfields. These aircraft are avoiding and evading hostile fire, landing in the dustiest zones and performing raids on high-value targets.

The Osprey easily refuels in the air at altitudes and speeds similar to fixed-wing aircraft, making its range and endurance nearly unlimited. This gave Iraq’s military commanders the ability to reach almost any point in the country in less than an hour.


USMC Photo by Lance Cpl. Lindsay Sayres

Perhaps the most important role it played was in supporting leaders (both Iraqi and American) assisting the development of governance in Iraq. The V-22 enables a senior commander or political adviser to have breakfast in Baghdad with a key Interior Ministry figure, visit an important sheikh at a remote outpost on the Saudi border before lunch, and meet with a Syrian border transition team in the afternoon. En route, advanced on-board systems provide over-the-horizon communication, enhanced situational awareness and protection from surface-to-air threats.


Boeing Photo

Over its 18 months of deployment, the V-22 has had an enviable safety record. In both training and combat, through tens of thousands of flying hours, Ospreys and their crews experienced no crashes, fatalities or combat losses. This is remarkable, given the inherent hazards of aviation and the environment in which the aircraft were flying.

Though its critics disinter issues resolved years ago and claim limitations long since disproved, the Osprey has become an unlikely hero in today’s war zone, appreciated most by those whose lives rely on its effectiveness and safety – the soldiers, marines and civilians who ride in it. (June 2009)