MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
Pilots and crew chiefs with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadrons 163 and 363, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, conducted division-form training followed by confined-area landings aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Feb. 14. This training evolution was a joint effort between the VMM-163 “Ridge Runners,” and the VMM-363 “Red Lions”.
The division-form flight consisted of four MV-22B Ospreys, one of which was designated the division lead. Of the four aircraft, the division lead served as the guide for the rest of the aircraft in the formation.
“This is the first time that I've flown with three other aircraft,” said 1stLt. Jamie Bunce, a pilot with VMM-163, and an Arvada, Colo. native. “There's a huge learning curve when you have to consider that you have four planes involved, and you need to use the airspace in a way that provides room for all of us to be able to do what we need to do and go where we need to go.”
According to Bunce, the Osprey gives the Marine Air Ground Task Force commander the flexibility of a helicopter as well as the speed of an airplane. The Osprey takes off vertically, allowing the aircraft to land and deploy closely together and without the use of a runway. Confined-area landings occur when multiple planes navigate into as small a landing zone as possible.
“This training basically simulates what we would do in a combat situation,” said Bunce. “We can fit about 24 combat-loaded Marines on one plane... so if we had to take in more guys than could fit into one plane, we could take two or three or four planes as the mission may call to bring everyone in at once.”
Confined-area landings allow multiple aircraft to rapidly amass large groups of Marines into a small area, which is often the case in a deployed environment.
“We could've inserted just shy of a hundred Marines into an area literally 200 to 300 miles away from Miramar in less than an hour,” said Gunnery Sgt. Mark Mosholder, a crew chief with VMM-163 and a Chatsworth, Iowa native. “It’s something a battlefield commander might like to do in areas like Afghanistan or if we’re operating in Africa or anything like that.”
As Mosholder recalls, flying division-form flights and confined-area landings is typically how the Osprey is employed.
“I was with the first deployment of Ospreys into Iraq, and what we did today was on par with what we did in Iraq as far as inserting a company of Marines into a town for a raid,” said Mosholder.
The collaboration between VMM-163 and VMM-363 was another aspect of the training that was similar to his experience in Iraq.
“The opportunity we had today in particular was important because we had two squadrons jointly training together, so it brings those two units together as a cohesive unit,” said Mosholder. “That joint operation is something that we do a lot of in country.”
Flying in formation and performing confined-area landings also solidifies the relationship between crew chiefs and pilots. The pilots rely on them to be their eyes and ears, especially when multiple aircraft are flying together.
“We’re just depending on the crew chiefs to guide us to where we need to move the plane to get it down on the deck, so there’s definitely a lot of trust that's required there and it's something that builds over time,” said Bunce.
According to Bunce, this professional relationship is at the core of a successful flight.
“This [crew chief and pilot relationship] is one of the coolest things about working with assault aircraft,” said Bunce. “It takes all four of us to get to what the ultimate end state of what the mission is.”
All four Marines aboard each aircraft had something new to learn from this joint training effort, regardless of their prior experience.
“For me, [this training] is just a great opportunity to get reengaged with flying with four aircraft, which I haven't done since flying in Iraq,” said Mosholder. “Today, I was flying with a brand new pilot so as a way for me to gain additional information to better train the newer pilots it’s a new experience too.”
This training on division-form flights and confined-area landings enable the squadrons to perform their primary mission: to be a transport element capable of inserting Marines and equipment under any condition.