Marine Wing Commander Endorses Aerial Refueling Mission for V-22 Osprey (Updated)

By Stew Magnuson

SAN DIEGO — A Bell Helicopter-Boeing Co. proposal to use the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft as a refueling tanker has the endorsement of one of the Marine Corp's wing commanders, and at least one of his higher-ups.

Maj. Gen. Steven Busby, commanding general of of the third Marine aircraft wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., said Nov. 20 at the Milcom conference that he would welcome having some of the service's MV-22 variants serve in that capacity.

"Having a tanker version of the MV-22 coming off an amphibious platform is going to be able to extend the range of the Joint Strike Fighter beyond what we currently have with the F-35B and is going to be able to provide potential refueling capabilities maybe for the CH-53," he said.

The Bell-Boeing consortium that manufacturers the tilt-rotor V-22 Ospreysuccessfully demonstrated the aircraft's ability to be used as an aerial refueling tanker last summer, using their own research-and-development dollars.

In a test carried out over north Texas in August, a V-22 equipped with a prototype aerial refueling system deployed, held steady and retracted a refueling drogue with an F/A-18C and an F/A-18D Hornet as test subjects.

In a statement after the test, Vince Tobin, Bell Boeing's V-22 program director, said: “Adding aerial refueling tanker capability to the V-22 will enable operators to execute a wider variety of missions with greater flexibility and autonomy. This will save time and money by maximizing the efficient use of aircraft and personnel.”

Busby said: "It will show in my mind to everybody that the MV-22 is not a helicopter. It is an aircraft that can land like a helicopter."

"To be able to put fuel in the back of the MV-22 is going to greatly increase the power of the amphibious force ... It's going to significantly change I think how we push some of those platforms from the sea," Busby added.

Lt. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle, Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation, is also interested in the idea and he is "starting down the road to demonstrating" the capability, he said.

While the tiltrotor aircraft tested its refueling capabilities with the jet fighters, the hoses employed are universal, and the Osprey could refuel any other aircraft, so long as it was going at the proper speed, Boeing officials told National Defense shortly after the test.

No fuel was actually transferred during the test, but the V-22 was able to deploy and retract its refueling equipment as the fighters flew behind.

The Marine Corps and Air Force Special Operations Command are the U.S. military customers, however the companies are marketing the V-22 overseas. A refueling capability would make the aircraft more attractive to foreign buyers, a company official said.

A previous version of this story omitted comments about Lt. Gen. Schmidle being interested in the aerial refueling capability. 

Topics: Aviation, Rotary Wing, Logistics

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