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12-11-05, 10:46 AM
II MEF gets first combat-ready V-22 Osprey
December 10,2005
staff and wire report

The first combat-ready V-22 Osprey was delivered to Camp Lejeune's II Marine Expeditionary Force during a ceremony in Texas on Thursday, according to a published report in the Amarillo Globe-News.

The Block B version of the Osprey - which was designed by The Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter -- represents the latest upgrade of the $71 million tilt-rotor aircraft that can fly like a helicopter and an airplane.

Lt. Gen. James Amos, II MEF's commanding general, was at Amarillo's Bell Helicopter plant in Amarillo, Texas, to accept the craft.

"The Osprey remains at the very soul of our Corps' ability to fight future conflicts across a widely disbursed battlefield," Amos said at the event, according to a Bell-Boeing news release. "Our Ospreys will operate in the enemy's back yard; they will do it quickly and quietly.

"And when they come, they will deliver the deadliest of weapon systems - United States Marines."

According to the news release, the Block B aircraft has "software upgrades, reliability and maintainability improvements over existing V-22 aircraft."

This Osprey will be delivered to New River Air Station and will eventually enter service with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263. That squadron, previously known as the "Thunder Chickens" of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, is expected to stand up as an Osprey fighting force in 2007.

The Osprey program has had, until now, a shaky life. Two fatal crashes in 2000 - one which killed four Marines from New River Air Station just outside Jacksonville - put the program in apparent jeopardy. But the aircraft passed last summer's operational evaluation, conducted by Marines from the New River's Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22 (VMX-22).

Then in September, the Defense Department approved full-scale production of the Osprey. Current plans are to deliver 360 Ospreys to the Marine Corps, 50 for the Air Force and 48 for the Navy.

At its peak, Bell-Boeing will be producing 48 Ospreys per year.

Billed as the aircraft of the future, the Osprey will replace the Marine Corps fleet of aging CH-46 Sea Knights. According to promotional material, the Osprey will be able to carry 24 "combat-loaded" Marines compared to the CH-46's 12. It can also fly twice as fast with five to six times the range.