2013-07-31 The Osprey has often been under fire Inside the Beltway.
Recently, the pilots of an Osprey team have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for surviving under combat fire.
The two Osprey pilots are the recipients of the first Distinguished Flying Crosses along with their Air Crew, which received Air Medal honors for their performance in Afghanistan.
This is the first time pilots of an Osprey have received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The performance of the pilots, the crews, and of the airplane itself under extreme battle conditions are a clear measure of the maturing of the Osprey.
A USMC news release summarized the award, but really did not tell the story.
Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hedelund, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general, presented Marines from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 with two Distinguished Flying Crosses and five Air Medals in their hangar aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, June 28.
The Marines were awarded for the bravery and courage shown during a mission to insert a reconnaissance raid force into a heavily-defended enemy landing zone in Afghanistan in June 2012.
This is the first time Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey pilots have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In this discussion with Captain Haake, we discussed the events on the occasion of the Osprey coming under battlefield fire, not political fire. The plane was built for the first, and has survived the second.
SLD: We talked earlier to Major Hutchings about the events. You were the pilot of the second Osprey in the two-ship formation?
Captain Haake: I was. Major Hutchings was the aircraft commander for the lead aircraft. I was the aircraft commander for the second aircraft.
And when we came in for the second wave, that’s when we had all the small arms, RPGs. Basically we came in from the South. It was anywhere from our 11:00 to 5:00. The only way I could describe it is it looked similar to a dance club in terms of illumination. So obviously it was a hot zone.
The call was made from the Cobra Huey Section in overhead above us to wave off, so I waved off, made a hard left turn, and reached back out to the holding area, which was about 10 miles away.
I assumed Major Hutchings was doing the same thing and didn’t realize until a minute or two later that he landed and dropped his guys off and shortly after, he said he was heading back home as they had taken some rounds on the right side of the plane and they were reverting back to our home base, Camp Bastion.
Our agreement with the ground guys was to have no less than 34 Marines on deck and we around half of the contingent so we had to land.
We worked with the Cobra Huey squad or Cobra Huey section to come in from a different direction. I didn’t see any fires to north of the zone when we first came in. We decided to land just north of where we saw all the bad guys.
When we were about 150 feet, I hear Sergeant Moreland, who’s my gunner on the back, with his 240 just laying down lead and so I knew right away that we were getting shot at.
We’ve been in situations like that a couple of times. You’re pretty vulnerable at that altitude and that airspeed, so we just continued on down to the ground. We could see some of the fires off to our nose, which was then the original area where the fires were coming, but they were a non-factor.
I don’t think they saw us, but we happened to pass right the bad guys. Of course they peppered the bottom and the right side of our plane, actually all sides, the bottom right left and rear end with multiple machine gun rounds and we landed on the deck.
The Marines in the back ran off. One of the crew chiefs said, “Hey, we got a casualty in the back. Looks like he’s been hit in the leg.” We hoped to have him back at Camp Bastion in less than 10 minutes and so we took off.
Immediately after I took off, I could feel that the controls weren’t normal at all. The automatic flight control system in the plane had gone out because usually you can fly holding with two to three fingers. I was basically steering the pot at that point and I couldn’t transition to airplane mode because after I started bringing the nacelles down, the airplane wanted to go down and to the right.
And then after about two miles out, we decided to stay in the helicopter mode. Then after about 2 miles from the zone, I noticed we had lost several thousand pounds of fuel and the thought was: We can’t go back to Camp Bastion, which was 40 miles away. There’s a FOB about 18 miles away, FOB Edinburgh.
I knew they had a medical staff at that FOB as well and so that’s where we decided to divert to.
Our biggest worry at this point was having fuel starvation, or running out of fuel.
SLD: At this point, the race was on to get to the FOB prior to running out of fuel and you are flying in helicopter mode?
Captain Haake: We were. Either the Cobra or the Huey, attached over the landing zone and then tried to join us at the zone because I thought we were going to either have an uncontrolled crash landing into the open desert or we’re going to have to set it down because of fuel starvation.
But the fuel leak slowed down after two of the main tanks were completely depleted. Two of the feed tanks that are in the nacelle engines still had fuel. With the projected fuel burn, we calculated that we would land with about between 700 and 800 pounds of fuel. We basically flew 50 to 100 feet of the deck in helicopter mode all the way back.
As I said, we could not transition to airplane mode. The plane wasn’t able to go to airplane mode because of what turned out to be damage to what they call drive two which allows movement of the pitch on the prop rotors. The right side wasn’t getting any kind of movement because a round or bullet fragment had sheered the ridges on the drive two, which wasn’t allowing a shift in the power. You have to have a lot more power as you transition to airplane mode; because of damage to the drive, I could not do that.
We did make it all the way back to FOB Edinburgh. It was squirrely landing just because of controllability issues. We offloaded the Afghan soldier who had been injured and got him medical help as well.
SLD: After you landed, what did you assess to have damaged the Osprey, preventing it to fly in airplane mode?
Captain Haake: We sustained damage to three systems. I not only had lost a hydraulic system, but I had physical damage to the actual prop rotor system. When you combine those two with damage to my automatic flight control system that meant that there three things preventing me from going to helicopter mode. Of course, we also had a major fuel leak as well.
I can’t think of any other aircraft in the inventory that I know of that can endure something like we experience. We have significant redundancy built into the aircraft and a very well trained crew.
Nobody died that day, so we’re definitely all lucky, and I think it was a combination of the aircraft and the entire crew that led to that result.
In addition to the two pilots, five Air Medals were awarded to the crew:
Co-pilot Captains Austin and Vandenende; Crew chiefs Sgt Leist, Belleci, and Moreland; and LCpl Rhorer.
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