The MV-22 Osprey continues to prove its versatility and capability as one of the newest machines in the Marine Corps’ arsenal. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 self-deployed to the small Central American country of Belize to conduct training this week demonstrating the Osprey’s enhanced utility over conventional helicopters.
First, the squadron demonstrated the Marine Corps’ ability to self-deploy. VMM-365 in conjunction with Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 252 conducted long-range non-stop aerial refueling from MCAS New River to Belize. In doing so, they demonstrated the tiltrotor aircraft’s extraordinary capability to conduct over-the-horizon operations and deal with a variety of situations when called upon.
“We can 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 and California with only the support of KC-130’s refueling us in air. 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 its pilots and aircrew to the same high standards they do at home but with an added degree of Operational Risk Management.
“Planning a Deployment for Training outside of the Continental United States has some unique challenges that you don’t encounter when planning one in CONUS” said Lt. Col. Craig LeFlore, commanding officer of VMM-365 and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing detachment commander.
“We are going to a country where this type of support has never been set up and the knowledge on how to set it up is limited. The things that you would normally take for granted to sustain your unit stateside has to either be carried with you or contracted through a husbandry agent. This isn’t too hard when you’re just dealing with people, but when you factor in the need to maintain aircraft and sustain flight operations it becomes quite a challenge.”
This DFT provides the crews of VMM-365 the opportunity to practice basic Training and Readiness maneuvers in a much more unforgiving environment. “We have a number of junior pilots and aircrew that need some basic Confined Area Landings, Low Altitude Training and Aerial Refueling experience before we deploy again this winter. This is a great opportunity to get out of our own back yard, out of our comfort zone and conduct some tremendous training in an unfamiliar territory. Here in Belize, there are no established LAT routes, so we have to make one, there are no designated MV-22 landing zones, so the pilots have to be selective when picking out where to land, and getting here was half the fun. Being able to aerial refuel long range over the water is just another opportunity to showcase the capabilities of the Osprey.”
The pilots practice confined area landings at landing zones in the Belizean jungle and Maya Mountains. In the mountains, they cannot afford to overshoot or come up short of a landing zone because of the ruggedness of the terrain.
According to Capt. Pete D. Benning, the officer in charge of the VMM-365 flight line Marines, this ability is used often when on deployment.
“Overseas in a combat zone, we do a lot of 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.” According to Capt. Pete D. Benning, the officer in charge of the VMM-365 flight line Marines, this skill is used often when on deploymentThe pilots also practice low altitude tactics; evasion techniques to avoid enemy fire. Because the Osprey is faster, more maneuverable and can fly higher, it has demonstrated itself as being a more survivable platform in a hostile environment.”
According to Benes, the Osprey was built to replace the CH-46 “Frog,” 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.”
Demonstrating their speed, VMM-365 flew the north-south distance of the country in about 50 minutes.
This is the first operation of its kind for an Osprey squadron in Belize. VMM-365 is spearheading an effort for more training opportunities for the Corps’ Osprey squadrons in this location.
By Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point