09 October, 2023

‘More plane than helicopter’ – UK Royal Navy pilot flies US Marines’ unique Osprey from HMS Prince of Wales

This is the impressive sight of an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor lifting off at dusk from the deck of Britain’s biggest warship.  And at the controls one Fleet Air Arm pilot – on exchange with the US Marine Corps.

His crew was one of 14 from 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing who qualified to operate from the deck of HMS Prince of Wales – one element of a key theme of the Portsmouth-based warship’s autumn deployment to the USA: interaction and cooperation with our US allies.

The MV-22 Osprey has a similar payload capacity to the Merlin Mk4 used by the Royal Marines – a couple of dozen troops fully kitted out – but can carry them higher, faster (up to 150mph) and further (upwards of 400 miles) into battle.

“The key difference is that the US Marine Corps views the MV-22 as a fixed-wing asset which can land and take off vertically – as opposed to a helicopter that can fly faster and further,” explained the pilot whom we cannot identify for security reasons.

He’s a wealth of front-line experience in Merlin Mk2s and trained Fleet Air Arm pilots of the future at RAF Shawbury and 705 NAS before coming the exchange on the MV-22.

With the Osprey flying 90 per cent of the time in ‘aeroplane mode’, it’s treated and flown as such (the fast jet community had a lot of influence on how it is operated, especially low-level tactics and formation flying).

And some of the controls and manoeuvres in the Osprey demand actions the reverse of those helicopter pilots are used to.

So unless a former F-35 pilot fancies a change, “learning to operate a MV-22 is a complete restart for any future Royal Navy exchange pilot,” he warns.

Ospreys have been operating from the flight decks of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships fairly regularly over the past decade, but still US crews need to get used to the RN’s ways of working: different deck layouts, procedures, radio calls, lighting and so on.

“Everyone was very eager to be involved and take advantage of an excellent training opportunity for their aircrew,” says the Osprey pilot.

He says US personnel are very impressed with the new carrier – making her debut in American waters.

“They say ship is huge, very clean, awesome….the deck and Flyco team are great. Everyone I met afterwards has been glowing in their praise of the crew and of the ship.

“They were especially grateful for the hospitality shown to the Marine Corps personnel whilst onboard and also very impressed with the professionalism of the deck team. ‘I’ve never had chains attached so quickly…’

“All of these pieces together added up to a very positive view of HMS Prince of Wales and of the Royal Navy in general.”

The ship has also been hosting junior US Navy warfare officers to give them an insight into Britain’s biggest warship – and (with her sister HMS Queen Elizabeth) the world’s only fifth-generation aircraft carrier.

Officers from destroyers USS Donald Cook and Winston S Churchill (which, due to its historic connections always has a Royal Navy navigator) joined the carrier for the voyage from Mayport to Norfolk.

The ensigns integrated fully in the ship’s routines, enjoyed life in the wardroom, where they were also quick to integrate into mess life on board. And while they appreciated the bar (the US Navy is alcohol-free) they were particularly impressed by the carrier’s tech.

“It’s been great seeing how you operate on the bridge; the automation and technology on board is amazing,” said Ensign Rowell from the USS Donald Cook.

“It’s my first time coming in to Norfolk Naval Base, and to be able to tell people I did it on the British carrier is amazing. Everyone has been so friendly.”



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