By Sgt. Lillian Stephens, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Three MV-22B Ospreys flew in a large circle around a paved landing zone.
As they approached it, the aircraft’s rotors tilted upward, slowing their speed just prior to their descent.
Dust flew up around each Osprey as they lowered to the ground, limiting visibility. The crew chiefs carefully monitored the aircraft’s distance from the ground and communicated it to the pilots.
The Osprey has the ability to conduct confined area landings which aid in transporting, inserting and extracting ground units into an area. According to Cpl. Jesus Ontiveros, a crew chief with VMM-364, and an Oxnard, California native, its speed also enables Marines to complete missions quickly and efficiently.
“For example, one of our missions is TRAP, a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel,” said 1st Lt. Luqman Salaam an Osprey pilot with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 364, and a Buffalo, New York native. “If we have to recover a downed pilot, he might be in a very confined landing zone where he can’t be brought out by … Practicing Confined Area Landings are important for the V-22 because it combines the Osprey's capabilities of speed and range with the ability to land in austere environments that cannot be reached by other aircraft.”
According to Salaam, the purpose of Ospreys in the Marine Corps is to support infantry Marines.
“[Confined area landings are] the bread and butter of our mission; that’s what we do,” said Salaam. “Our goal is to land on time, at our exact spot.”
Marines with VMM-364 “Purple Foxes” and VMM-165 “White Knights” practiced this procedure, called a division confined area landing, repeatedly over the course of several hours in Southern California, April 5.
According to Ontiveros, a division confined area landing consists of at least three aircraft and a section confined area landing consists of two aircraft.
"[You’re] making sure you’re focused on landing and not hitting the other aircraft [while] making sure you’re landing on the exact spot that you intend to," said Salaam.
Over time, each aircraft exchanged positions within the formation allowing the pilots to experience the difference between each assigned landing area. Whether in the front, middle or back of the formation, crew chiefs act as additional eyes for the pilots to observe and inform the pilots of what they cannot see.
“We need to pay attention to whether we’re drifting or if another aircraft is drifting toward us or toward another aircraft,” said Ontiveros. “[We have to] make sure the crew in that plane is okay [and] make sure they land where they’re supposed to be.”
After completing division and section confined area landings, Marines with VMM-364 returned to their hangars aboard Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, and conducted a post-operations check of the aircraft.
“These [aircraft], they flew around four hours ... then we jumped on and flew another four hours. So basically, it’s like you just went on an eight-hour road trip," said Ontiveros. "You … want to check and make sure that everything’s good."
Marines with VMM-364 conduct preoperation checks prior to missions, post-operation checks after missions in addition to 24-hour and 72-hour inspections.
“You’re carrying Marines in the back so you want to give them the safest possible platform you can. It all starts with maintenance,” said Salaam. “Without safe aircraft, the pilots can’t fly and maintain proficiency in their skills. Without pilots that can maintain proficiency in their skills, they can’t support the ground scheme of maneuver. Without that, then the Marine Corps can’t meet its mission.”