Marine Ospreys Back from the Sandbox

The MV-22s of Marine Medium Lift Squadron 263 have just returned home from the first combat deployment of the tiltrotor aircraft to Iraq. And, according to squadron members who spoke to reporters May 2 in the Pentagon, they were a lot busier than they thought they would be during the seven-month deployment. “They put us to work immediately,” said Lt. Col. Paul Rock, the unit’s commander. Flying missions began Sept. 21, 2007, with the Ospreys performing mostly general support by flying personnel and equipment around Al Anbar province out of Al Asad Air Base. They also flew casualty evacuation missions, raid operations, and aero scout sorties (armed reconnaissance coupled with a quick reaction force), he said. The harsh conditions of Iraq’s western desert did not appear to hamper MV-22 operations—despite some issues early on with the aircraft’s slip rings, said Rock, and adding that each aircraft required 9.5 maintenance hours per flight hour in theater. (In comparison, a CH-46 requires about 24 maintenance hours per flight hour.) In total, the squadron flew more than 2,500 individual sorties, with seven of 10 Ospreys mission-ready on a given day. “We were flying the pudding out of them,” he said. Each Osprey averaged about 62 flight hours a month over the course of the deployment. Together they racked up 700 hours in March alone. Rock noted that Air Force personnel participated in the deployment, both in pre-deployment training and during the tour itself. One USAF master sergeant maintainer stayed with the squadron for about a month to collect lessons for Air Force Special Operations Command which would like to get its version of the Osprey, the CV-22, into the fight as soon as this fall.