By Deb Murphy
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s none of the above.
Despite the bird name, V-22 Osprey, the official definition of the helicopter/airplane marriage is a tiltrotor military aircraft. Four of them landed at Bishop Airport late last week. The Ospreys and a crew of 40 Marines are here for the next two weeks.
The Ospreys and Marines are regular visitors to the Owens Valley, but watching the birds fly never gets old.
Their mission is to provide support for mountain training at the Corps Mountain Training Center in Pickel Meadows northwest of Bridgeport. The Center doesn’t have the room or facilities to handle the fleet of Ospreys—so the aircraft and crew stay in Bishop.
The Marine Medium Tiltroter Squadron 161 didn’t make it to Pickel Meadows Monday, opting to head east into the Whites instead. With U.S. 395 closed from Mammoth Lakes to south of Bridgeport, nobody was getting into the mountains.
Few of the details of the training regime were available—it’s a military thing.
The Osprey was developed after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980. What the military needed was a long-range, high-speed, vertical-takeoff aircraft. Bell Helicopter and Boeing Helicopters got the job. Since the Osprey was the first of its kind, it took a while—until 2000 for crew training and finally fielded in 2007.
The aircraft has seen operations over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Kuwait.
During landing and takeoff, the Osprey operates like a helicopter. Once airborne, the proprotors rotate 90-degrees in as little as 12 seconds for horizontal flight with the fuel efficiency and higher speeds of a turboprop aircraft.
The Osprey’s stats are impressive: maximum speed, 316 mph; service ceiling, 25,000 feet; maximum range, over 1,000 miles; maximum takeoff weight, 60,500 lbs.