Crafting, Operating and Shaping a Way Ahead for a Tiltrotor Enterprise

By Robbin Laird

The concept of having a combat “helicopter” that can fly at the speed of an airplane has been around for a long time. The challenge was actually to design and build one realistically.

And that was a major challenge. When the MV-22B was first introduced into Iraq in 2007 and a few years later the Air Force Special Forces introduced their variant of the Osprey, the CV-22, the U.S. military started to experience what such a capability could provide the operational force.

But to do so required the emergence of a team of operators, maintainers, industrial support and government engagement that made such an effort feasible.

And as the forces gained operational experience in a diversity of settings, a tiltrotor enterprise emerged. And as the US Navy developed its variant of the Osprey and as the Army committed to a new tiltrotor aircraft for its forces, the enterprise moved into the new era of multi-domain operations in a world of peer competitors.

But this did not appear overnight, and has been anchored by a core team which has provided for the ongoing evolution of con-ops and missions and capabilities.

As Dan Gouré put it in a 2021 article:

“It has been three decades since the V-22 Osprey first flew. Over that time, the V-22 has confounded its critics and more than proven itself in operations from Southwest Asia to the Western Pacific. Its abilities to fly like an airplane and land like a helicopter are particularly well- suited to an era of distributed operations…

“One reason the V-22 has succeeded is that it was given the time to work out technical problems. It also had a dedicated champion, the U.S. Marine Corps, that saw the value in the Osprey and worked hard to figure out how to operate a new kind of flying machine.”

And the team quality of the effort has been highlighted in this NAVAIR article published in 2022 on the occasion of the 40 years of collaboration in developing, evolving and supporting this capability:

Forty years ago this month, the Department of Navy (DoN) took control of what is now known as the V-22 Joint Program Office (PMA-275), responsible for the cradle-to-grave acquisition, sustainment, development and production of the venerable tiltrotor aircraft.

With more than 700,000 flight hours under its articulating halos, the V-22 Osprey is a military marvel, providing unmatched capabilities to the U.S. Marines, Navy, Air Force and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

“Not a single flight hour, from the first to most recent, would have been possible without the leadership, innovation and partnerships developed in this joint program office,” said Col. Brian Taylor, PMA-275 program manager. “As the thirteenth leader in this role, I walked through the door to a well-established and exceptional team, cross collaborating to ensure the V-22 remains ready, reliable, relevant and safe through the 2050s.”

Following the failure of Operation Eagle Claw in 1980 – the attempted and then aborted mission to rescue 53 U.S. embassy staff members in Tehran– the Defense Department saw the need for an aircraft that could support long-range, high-speed missions utilizing vertical take-offs and landings. As a result, the department initiated the establishment of the advanced vertical lift program.

In December 1982, executive leaders transferred the newly formed program, originally led by the Army, to the DoN and established the Joint Services Advanced Vertical Lift (JVX) program. A few years later, it would become the V-22 Osprey program.

As a first of its kind, the V-22 came with a complex development and testing program, integrating unprecedented technology and propulsion elements. Following first flight in 1989, the development program continued to refine the design with the Marine Corps variant, MV-22, beginning operation in 2000 and fielding in 2007. Not long after, in 2009, the Air Force declared Initial Operating Capability for its variant, the CV-22.

Over the last 10 years, the V-22’s aperture widened, welcoming the U.S. Navy (CMV-22B) and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to its portfolio, increasing the aircraft’s global impact. Today, the Osprey’s mission has grown and includes medium-lift assault support, long-range infiltration / exfiltration, at-sea cargo resupply, combat logistics, medical evacuation and more.

By acknowledging the operational success of the V-22, the program also recognizes the challenges and adversity faced throughout its development, all providing the lessons and experience required to build and maintain the aircraft’s relevance for decades to come.

“The warfighters who fly, maintain and rely on the aircraft, deserve nothing less,” said Taylor. “As a program, we keep those lost during mishaps in our memory; their sacrifice to this nation cannot be overstated.”

As a joint program office, PMA-275 works with representatives from all service branches and its international partner, Japan, that fly and maintain the aircraft. In addition, it works closely with its industry partners, from original equipment manufacturers Bell-Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and Raytheon to the hundreds of suppliers keeping the aircraft flying. Keeping these partnerships strong, both within the Defense Department and industry, ensures that all V-22 stakeholders are informed and ready to work together on all aspects of the program, from emergent to day-to-day tasks.

One way to understand the nature of the effort to craft a tiltrotor enterprise is to envisage the timelines through which the tiltrotor enterprise has evolved.

I will look at timelines in my next articles.

Featured Graphic: Commemorative poster created for the 40th anniversary of the Navy’s V-22 program office, established originally as the advanced vertical lift (JVX) program and today, known as the V-22 Joint Program Office (PMA-275). Designed by Alyse Joseph, PMA-275 Communications Specialist and Graphic Designer.

From Iraq Insertion to the Tiltrotor Enterprise: The Creation of a Multi-Domain Capability for the U.S. Forces