MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS: The MV-22 Osprey, long touted by the Marines as an advanced, flexible, transformational and all-around “great piece of gear,” didn’t do anything spectacular in a landing zone capability exercise at LZ 16 at the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital here Tuesday.
The tilt-rotor helicopter flew in relatively quietly, hovered, kicked up a little dust and then landed smoothly.
To some, the low-key landing would seem anticlimactic and disappointing; to Combat Center planners, onlookers and Navy medical personnel, it was about as motivating as it could get. Successfully landing the Osprey has great medical implications, said Navy Capt. Michael Moeller, the executive officer of the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital, who is from “just a stone’s-throw away from Camp Lejeune” in Emerald Isle, N.C.
Since the Ospreys were already training in the area conducting combined aerial landings, reduced-visual landings and low-altitude tactics, Combat Center range personnel and hospital officials asked the pilots to add one more exercise to their list.
Scott A. Larson, the Combat Center’s range operations officer, from Kankakee, Ill., said they wanted to test how landing on the hospital’s main medical evacuation LZ would affect surrounding equipment, an adjacent parking lot and patient care operations.
Larson said officials took safety very seriously. They were concerned the rotor’s downdraft would hurl debris or rocks, damage vehicles or hurt bystanders, so they cordoned off the area and stopped traffic from coming into the parking lot during the landing. The landing exercise was very successful, he said.
The Osprey is replacing the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter in the Marine Corps’ arsenal. It combines the range and speed of a fixed-wing aircraft, and the vertical lift and transport capacity of a helicopter. The Osprey can travel 1,100 nautical miles at speeds up to 300 knots to transport up to 24 combat-loaded Marines and sailors in and out of remote and austere environments. If needed, it can evacuate 12 litter casualties or a combination of litter casualties, ambulatory patients and medical personnel, said Maj. David L. Lane, an MV-22 pilot and operations officer from Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron 161, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego.
Lane, a Paris, Ark., native, and his crew; Maj. Kevin Grindel, the co-pilot and tilt-rotor training instructor, Master Sgt. Michael Brodeur, the crew chief and Lance Cpl. Steven A. Froehlich, a crew chief under instruction, all from VMM-161, are part of the first West Coast Osprey Squadron.
Soon after landing, the Marine aviators gave hospital leaders and personnel a tour of the Osprey and explained its capabilities.
“Hospital personnel were very excited about the prospect of having the capability to transport casualties during the very important golden hour,” said Lane, referring to the critical period immediately following a serious injury in which lives can be saved if necessary medical attention is provided.
In the event a Marine or sailor at the Combat Center suffers a serious injury, an Osprey can reach a trauma center in Yuma, Ariz., 116 miles away or Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, 109 miles away, in less than 30 minutes after lift-off, Lane said.
“We have a large number of corpsmen and [casualty evacuation] staff who deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, so this is an opportunity for them to go through and see the aircraft and get some familiarization,” Moeller said.
Thanks to the teamwork and hard work of everyone involved, the hospital now has one more emergency transportation option to help save lives, Moeller said. “We look forward to seeing the Osprey in the skies here soon.”