17 July 2006
Farnborough Day One: Fifty Percent Solution for MV-22A Seems Radical Enough Right Now
by David S. Harvey
Farnborough, UK: A USMC Osprey – Storm 22 – lifted off the Air Show runway here today and climbed like a homesick angel aiming for an almost lyrically beautiful section of the Salisbury countryside.
Aboard was an invited audience of aviation press and what was about to happen to them was an extraordinary personal introduction to tiltrotor flight that would prove to all but hardened skeptics that this aircraft is ready for the business the US Marines do.
This is hard uncompromising work involving radical arrivals and departures, survival-protecting corkscrew turns at LZs , in short an exploitation of the unorthodoxies of the flight regime that modern times – and the exigencies of global terror warfare - demand.
It was not without note the Osprey flights this year at Farnborough coincided with a steadily expanding security emergency in Israel and the Lebanon, an event that sort of gave the show, with its emphasis on commercial airliners and corporate breast-beating an air of unreality.
Not so much aboard Storm 22 where pilots Steve Grohsmeyer and Matt Rising (a US Navy Lieutenant Commander) managed to convey a sense that here was a whole new way of looking at aviation agility.
It’s often said Osprey flies like a plane and lands and takes off like a helicopter – but that is both a cliché and an understatement that hides the synergy that comes from combining both.
This aircraft today twisted, turned, climbed and dove like no helicopter or turboprop transport ever could.
One could almost imagine the frustrated missile and RPG firers below the random flight paths it followed, desperately trying to get in their shot but unable to get the necessary tracking solution.
In truth, though, the aircraft here is not performing to its maximum potential. Back home at New River, NC., where rehearsals are actively underway for the first ‘go-to-war’ MV-22B squadron (VMM 263) , pilots routinely take the aircraft further into the flight envelope.
On a scale of one to ten, officials said, the Farnborough pair are about a five to six, the result of mainly airspace restrictions (they don’t have airspace rules for tiltrotors), but also because company test pilots - rather than USMC line pilots – are at the controls for various reasons having to do with airshow flights overseas.
That’s not to say company pilots can’t hack it (Grohsmeyer plainly can: he flew many of the famous vortex ring state tests a while back) but they say the combat crews are ‘into’ maneuvers that constantly develop further in the training squadron where the name of the game is to apply them in a tactical context. Ospreys are also under a ban on lateral (banking) maneuvers that take it beyond 60 degrees – although the aircraft have performed ‘aileron’ rolls on many occasions.
In the end, the Osprey story is about confidence building – establishing a track record that diminishes the power of the naysayers who continue to challenge – although less and less stridently as time goes by.
The challenges have been equally about money as they have been technical, and for most of the time actually a mix of the two. The Osprey team is now able to split those in two and concentrate on both according to the individual merits.
Technically – based on 30 minutes of flying through a combined mix of rapid climbs, descents, turns, LZ-type combat maneuvers, one of which involved a rapid spiraling arrival with the cabin eerily ‘flat’ through the dive – it must be conceded, by anyone sitting through it at least, that the vehicle is sound, stable and agile in areas way beyond anything helicopters can currently do.
There are moments, for instance, when passengers must hold on to the seat rails to combat the acceleration. Through the ramp door it is easy to judge the rates of climb and ascent involved – and it is an experience not to be missed.
Which actually speaks to the whole game; proponents have always said the V-22 proof will come when the chips are down and the mission demanding to a point which would be impossible with other – existing – assets.
The evidence here today says this something they’re well on the way to achieving. If this was a fifty percent performance, then one is left wondering what the full capability will be like. It is already performing to a point at which it radically pulls ahead of helicopter parameters; what will it be like in a couple of years when the new rules of combat power available have been scrubbed down and put into the doctrine book?