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Flying the V-22 Osprey is a dream I could not have imagined happening in my lifetime.  However, through a serendipitous meeting with Dr. Kevin Hutton, CEO of MedEvac Foundation International (the organization that sponsored me to be the keynote speaker at the Association of Air Medical Services, Air Medical Transport Conference) Kevin said he could arrange for me to ‘fly’ the Osprey simulator.  It was an invitation too good to pass up.

Marine Major Jeff White sat in the right-hand seat of the Marine MV-22B Osprey simulator, patiently going over the controls with me prior to my first attempt to lift off from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California.  “Helicopter pilots suffer what we call ‘helicopter dyslexia’ the first time they try to fly the Osprey,” he said.  “The stick in front of you is the cyclic, just like in any helicopter, and it works the same way.”  He pointed to the throttle control lever, what I recognized to be the collective pitch lever.  “Here is where the dyslexia comes in.  In helicopter mode, push this forward and the aircraft will go up.  Pull it back, it’ll go down.  In airplane mode, forward is faster and back is slower, just like in a conventional fixed wing.”

Hmmmm, I thought, this is going to be interesting, with “interesting” being a euphemism for scary and potentially embarrassing, and knowing I’ll need to fight 44 years and over 13,000 hours of flight time doing the opposite.  I was aware that my ingrained habit had to be broken if I didn’t want to crash this thing.  I’d know soon enough.

Jeff continued his briefing, now pointing to a little vertical thumb wheel on the throttle control lever handgrip.  “Where your left thumb is, Randy, you see this little grey thumb wheel here?”

“Yep, got it.”

He demonstrated, “Roll it forward, the nacelles tilt down, roll it back, the nacelles tilt up.  Simple.”

“Yeah, simple,” I said with more than a little sarcasm in my voice.

Jeff pointed to a very small round gauge on the instrument panel.  “All you have to do in the transition is keep this needle here, in the green arc, and you will know the thrust vector is where it should be for the mode of flight you are trying to achieve.  As you accelerate, just use the thumb wheel moving it forward or aft to move the needle up or down to keep it in the green.  You do that and you’ll be just fine.”

“Yeah, just fine,” I repeated, not convinced. 

“Ready then?” he said.

“OK, ready.”  With my right hand on the cyclic, I put my left hand on the throttle control lever.  No pressure.  Just my king-size ego ready to be trounced in front of this very experienced Marine pilot and his Marine buddy, Patrick Robinson, another sim instructor observing, plus Dr. Kevin Hutton, observing from behind.  Last but never least, my wife, Kaye, had the video camera ready to capture for posterity me rolling this thing up into a ball!

But surprisingly, I didn’t.  I kept telling myself to push the power lever forward, as if ‘pushing’ myself away from the ground.  That’s how I overcame my dyslexia anyway.  The hovering was easy; honestly any helicopter pilot can do it.  But I did surprise myself that I could do it. 

The take off was a little weird.  Instead of pushing the cyclic forward to accelerate the machine through translational life, I was told to keep it neutral and ‘roll’ the little thumb wheel forward, tilting the nacelles forward and adding (pushing) throttle to keep from sinking.  Soon we had transitioned into fixed-wing mode, and I was flying at 295 knots low-level, 1000’ over the blue Pacific.  Just as I was beginning to relax, I noticed tracer rounds being fired at me from a patrol boat below.  Jeff encouragingly said, “Just avoid fire like you would in Vietnam!”  I needed no further coaxing as I threw the cyclic to the left.  The horizon went vertical as I performed some pretty radical evasive maneuvers to avoid being shot down.  It was a blast.

Jeff said, “Now here come the Migs.”

“Migs!” I exclaimed.  “What should I do?”

“Fly straight at them.” 

“What?  Are you nuts!”

“Trust me.”

Which I did, flying against all my instincts.  I wanted to dive and hide, but where?  I was over the ocean. Luckily they missed me.

For one hour and fifteen minutes I flew the thing, landed on a naval vessel (successfully) and practiced mid-air refueling on a C-130 at 200 knots (more practice needed there). 

It was cool and I am so glad I was given the wonderful opportunity to do it.  Would I want to fly the tilt-rotor all the time?  I don’t think so.  I think I’ll stick with flying ‘real’ helicopters --- and live with my dyslexia.

Posted in: Human Interest

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