Digital fine art render of a U.S. Air force V-22 Osprey.
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The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey is an American multi-mission, military, tiltrotor aircraft with both a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. It is designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft. The V-22 originated from the United States Department of Defense Joint-service. Vertical take-off/landing Experimental (JVX) aircraft program started in 1981. The team of Bell Helicopter and Boeing Helicopters was awarded a development contract in 1983 for the tiltrotor aircraft. The Bell Boeing team jointly produce the aircraft. The
V-22 first flew in 1989, and began flight testing and design alterations; the complexity and difficulties of being the first tiltrotor intended for military service in the world led to many years of development.
The United States Marine Corps began crew training for the Osprey in 2000, and fielded it in 2007; it is supplementing and will eventually replace their CH-46 Sea Knights. The Osprey’s other operator, the U.S. Air Force, fielded their version of the tiltrotor in 2009. Since entering service with the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force, the Osprey has been deployed in both combat and rescue operations over Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
The Osprey can be armed with one 7.62×51mm NATO (.308 in caliber) M240 machine gun or .50 in caliber (12.7 mm) M2 machine gun on the loading ramp, that can be fired rearward when the ramp is lowered. A .50 in GAU-19 three-barrel Gatling gun mounted below the V-22’s nose was studied for future upgrade. BAE Systems developed a belly-mounted, remotely operated gun turret system for the V-22, named the Interim Defense Weapon System. This system is remotely operated by a gunner inside the aircraft, who acquires targets with a separate pod using color television and forward looking infrared imagery. The belly gun system was installed on half of the
first V-22s deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, but found limited use due to its 800 lb (360 kg) weight and restrictive rules of engagement.
As of February 2012, eight Interim Defense Weapon Systems were available to the Marine Corps, with 24 more fielded by June 2012. At the time, the IDWS had not yet been used in combat. The reason was because Ospreys worked with supporting helicopter gunships and close air support aircraft that engaged threats before V-22s could, allowing them to focus on their transport role. Squadrons often flew without the belly gun, as the added weight reduced its cargo-carrying capacity. The Marines continue to support the IDWS, despite its limitations and lack of use, as the Corps emphasizes small-scale expeditionary operations in post-Afghanistan conflicts. The Osprey’s speed means it can outrun supporting conventional helicopters, requiring it
to be able to defend itself on long-range missions and operate independently at times. Even though the gun had not been used, the infrared camera on the system has proven valuable for reconnaissance and surveillance. Other weapons are being studied to provide an all-quadrant defensive weapon system, including nose guns, door guns, and nonlethal countermeasures to work with the current ramp-mounted machine gun and the IDWS.
U.S. Air Force
Two USAF CV-22s in a staggered pattern with their rotors vertical preparing to land at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
The Air Force’s first operational CV-22 Osprey was delivered to the 58th Special Operations Wing (58th SOW) at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico on 20 March 2006. This and subsequent aircraft will become part of the 58th SOW’s fleet of aircraft used for training pilots and crew members for special operations use. On 16 November 2006, the Air Force officially accepted the CV-22 in a ceremony conducted at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
The Air Force first used the Osprey on a non-training mission to perform search and rescue from Kirtland Air Force Base on 4 October 2007.
The U.S. Air Force’s first operational deployment of the Osprey sent four CV-22s to Mali in November 2008 in support of Exercise Flintlock. The CV-22s flew nonstop from Hurlburt Field, Florida with in-flight refueling.5 AFSOC declared that the 8th Special Operations Squadron reached Initial Operational Capability on 16 March 2009, with six CV-22s in service.
In June 2009, CV-22s of the 8th Special Operations Squadron delivered 43,000 pounds (20,000 kg) of humanitarian supplies to remote villages in Honduras that were not accessible by conventional vehicles. In November 2009, the 8th SO Squadron and its six CV-22s returned from a three-month deployment in Iraq.