December 10, 2009:
For the first time, U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transports have been used in Afghanistan. The marines are enthusiastic about the performance of the aircraft, which are twice as fast as helicopters, but can land and take off like helicopters. The marines believe they have solved the maintenance problems they had initially been encountered during service in Iraq. Most of these hassles had to do with not knowing how quickly some components would wear out. As a result of that, there were shortages of some parts, and that left some aircraft out of service, or forced maintainers to cannibalize one aircraft to keep several others flying.
Three V-22 squadrons (10-12 aircraft each) have already served in Iraq (one after another.) Earlier this year, the first MV-22 squadron was based on an amphibious ship (the 41,000 ton LHD USS Bataan.)
The marines began using the MV-22 in Iraq in late 2007, and have been satisfied with the results. The only major problems encountered was engine durability. That's a common problem in the "sand box." Every other vehicle that uses a gas turbine engine in Iraq (from M-1 tanks to C-17 jet transports) have reported increased wear on their engines because of the copious and continuous dust and sand in Iraq.
Another problem was that even frequent inspections won't always catch an engine that's about to die from too much dust and sand. Several MV-22s in western Iraq (Anbar province, where marine MV-22s were operating) experienced engine failures. There have been no crashes, but there have been emergency landings (followed by quick engine changes so the $70 million, 20 ton aircraft could get home under its own power). The Rolls Royce T-406 engines weigh about a ton each, and put out 6,000 horsepower. Marine maintenance crews are trained to put a spare engine inside a V-22, along with needed tools, fly out to where another V-22 has made an emergency landing, do the engine change quickly, and get back to base in one piece.
The MV-22s used by the marines can carry 24 troops 700 kilometers (vertical take-off on a ship, level flight, landing, and return) at 390 kilometers an hour. The V-22 is replacing the CH-46E helicopter, which can carry 12 troops 350 kilometers at a speed of 135 kilometers an hour. The V-22 can carry a 10,000-pound external sling load 135 kilometers, while the CH-46E can carry 3,000 pounds only 90 kilometers. The marines are using the faster speed of the V-22s to reach the enemy in a more timely fashion, and run more flights, than a helicopter, in the same time. The V-22 also operates better at the higher altitudes encountered in Afghanistan.