The Bell Helicopter/Boeing V-22 Osprey is to face combat this year when the U.S. Marine Corps deploys the tilt-rotor aircraft to support operations in Iraq.
Marine Medium Tilt-rotor Sqdn. 263 (VMM-263) is assigned to deploy with 10 Ospreys to Al Asad Air Base in Anbar province in September, the Corps’ commandant, Gen. James Conway, said April 13. The MV-22Bs will be used "for a variety of missions," said Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, the deputy Marine commandant for aviation, but its main one will be "to take Marines into combat."
About 16 years after it was originally planned to do so, the V-22 will replace the USMC’s aging fleet of Boeing CH-46 Sea Knights. The CH-46 is the aircraft against which the V-22 was designed to fly twice as fast, at five times the range, and with three times the payload. The Osprey is designed to carry 24 combat-equipped Marines or 12 litters for casualty evacuation 233 nm, or carry 10,000 lb externally or 20,000 lb internally. It can fly at more than 240 kt at sea level.
The unit, known as the Thunder Chickens, has been training for more than a year out of its base at MCAS New River, N.C. Its training included exercises in what Marine officials said is a desert environment similar to that of Iraq — Exercise Mojave Viper at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Exercise Desert Talon, run by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Sqdn. 1 in Yuma, Ariz.
VMM-263 is the successor to the CH-46 unit Marine Medium Helicopter Sqdn 263, which was stood down on June 3, 2005 for the transition to the Osprey. It was redesignated as VMM-263 on March 3, 2006.
The Marines plan to buy 360 V-22s. The Air Force Special Operations Command is slated to take 50.