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Saturady March 4, 2006
New Bern (N.C.) Sun Journal
By Chris Mazzolini

VMM-263 become first operational MV-22 Osprey squadron

JACKSONVILLE, Florida, USA - It seems the osprey is mightier than the frog — and a bunch of chickens is ready to prove it.

The New River Air Station-based Marine squadron bearing the moniker “Thunder Chickens” rehatched with new and improved wings Friday as the first operational MV-22 Osprey squadron in the U.S. military.

Now known as Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, the Thunder Chickens returned to the incubator in June, standing down as a CH-46 “Battle Frog” squadron to begin training to fly and maintain the controversial Osprey, which can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane.

Now they are back; the squadron was redesignated Friday during an outdoor ceremony witnessed by a large chunk of Marine Corps brass at New River Air Station.

“This technology will have inestimable value to future presidents of the United States,” said Gen. Robert Magnus, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. “The price is very high for being slow; the price is very high for being poorly equipped, for not having enough combat power.”

The $71 million Osprey is billed as an aircraft that can fly faster and farther, carrying more troops and hauling more equipment than the Vietnam-era CH-46. The Marine Corps has already ordered 360 of the birds from its manufacturer, Bell-Boeing, with plans to replace its entire fleet of CH-46s, twin rotor helicopters.

But the Osprey’s rise has not been without bumps — and tragedy. In April 2000, a crash in Arizona killed 19 Marines, and a crash in Jacksonville killed four New River Marines eight months later. There was some fear the program would be abandoned. But the Osprey made a comeback and passed its operational evaluation in summer 2005. Then in September, the Defense Department approved full scale production of the Osprey. VMM-263 is expected to be ready for combat deployment sometime in 2007.

But even on a celebratory day, Magnus said its important to remember those who lost their lives developing the “transformational” aircraft.

“Let us recognize those that have given their lives and helped make this day possible,” he said. “There is sacrifice in getting to where we are today. The truth is what we are in this business for is war fighting. Every casualty we take is tragic, but we know full well the cost of defense and peace.”

The Thunder Chickens’ new commander, Lt. Col. Paul Rock, called Friday’s ceremony the culmination of years of “visionary effort” by Corps and country. He said he was humbled and honored to be a commander and thrilled to get started.

“There’s a lot to be done to get the most out of this (aircraft),” he said. “We’re excited to put this machine to work.” The pilots, crews and maintainers of VMM-263 have already been trained in the basics. Now that the Thunder Chickens are back in service, Rock said they will begin training to fly the Osprey in a tactical, combat environment.

“Our focus is we are the ones being trained to be deployed wherever the nation needs us,” he said. “We’ll continue to work on individual skills and more tactical and integrated operations.”

Maj. Gen. Thomas Moore, the commander of the 2nd Marine Air Wing, said he has every confidence that the Osprey is safe and battle ready.

“It’s absolutely safe,” he said. “I’ve been in the aircraft five times. I’ve got every confidence that when we start this aircraft up that the Marines working on it and turning wrenches on it have done their job.

“There’s an expectation that there will never be a problem with an aircraft and that’s not a realistic expectation. There are no aircraft in the U.S. military that is more safe than this aircraft.”

Despite the excitement over the aircraft, Magnus said the thing that truly matters hasn’t changed.

“What you are looking at here is the future of the Marine Corps,” he said. “And it’s not the aircraft. It’s the Marines. It’s the Marines, stupid.”

  • News: Bell Boeing Delivers First V-22 Block B ( Dec 8, 2005 )
  • News: DoD Approves V-22 Full Rate Production ( Sep 28, 2005 )
  • News: MV-22 resume flight testing ( Feb 28, 2002 )
  • V-22 Osprey
  • CH-46 Sea Knight
  • Bell timeline
  • Boeing timeline