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Jacksonville (NC) Daily News

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  • Jacksonville (NC) Daily News

    Jacksonville (NC) Daily News
    August 28, 2003

    Osprey Spreads Its Wings

    By Eric Steinkopff, Daily News Staff

    The formation of a test squadron for the MV-22 Osprey at New River Air Station will begin today, military officials announced Wednesday.

    Marine Col. Glenn M. Walters is expected to take command of Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22. The squadron, which will stand up after a 10 a.m. ceremony today at New River, chould eventually include 101 aviators from the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

    The squadron is scheduled to take the Osprey through its next round of tests called an operational evaluation. Testing is scheduled at New River in late 2004 to 2005 barring any unforeseen circumstances.

    "We are transitioning from developmental testing to operational testing," said Osprey program spokesman Ward Carroll. "It's a very significant milestone."

    The current phase of developmental testing at Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland began May 29, 2002 and followed a prolonged period when the tiltrotor aircraft was grounded after a pair of fatal Osprey crashes in 2000 that claimed the lives of 23 Marines and experienced aviators. One crash occurred just outside Jacksonville in the Hofman Forest.

    Nearly 18 months of investigations led to the relief of a Marine Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204 commander and a series of recommended aircraft improvements.

    Officials pointed out that the new VMX-22 group is not strictly a Marine Corps squadron. It will answer to the commander of Operational Test and Evaluation Force Rear Adm. David Architzel in Norfolk, Va.

    This command also oversees Air Test and Evaluation Squadron One at Patuxent River; VX-9 at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, Calif., a detachment from VX-9 at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif. and works closely with Marine Test and Evaluation Squadron One at Quantico, Va.

    "We've answered most of the aeromechanical suitability issues and now we are transitioning to the operational use and environment to be prepared for the operational evaluation," Carroll said. "They will get their first Osprey in the late fall and then at regular intervals for a total of six aircraft."

    According to Carroll, aviators need the six Ospreys for the operational evaluation, a five-month long process that is like the final exam before the introduction of the aircraft to the fleet.

    According to a New River Air Station public affairs media advisory, many of the people from VMMT-204 will be transferred to VMX-22 for the operational evaluation. Once the aircraft is approved for Marine Corps-wide use VMMT-204 staff will train pilots and aircrews to make the leap from their aging fleet of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters to the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.

    But VMX-22 will likely not disband once the Osprey goes into operation because military officials are planning to test other tiltrotor aircraft the military is looking to bring into their arsenal in the future, Carroll said.