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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tour of town aboard Osprey is one hot time

The U.S. military ruined my ability to fly comfortably.

In September 2006, I took a flight with Air National Guard Major John Klatt across Northeast Ohio before the Cleveland National Air Show.

Klatt was serving as an aerobatic pilot during the event and took me on a ride that included loops and rolls over Lake Erie.

I got a little queazy and overheated during the experience, after Klatt kept up the rolls in an attempt to get me to keep my eyes open as we came back around to horizontal.

It was a warm, sunny day, and the plane was pretty small, so, as you can imagine, it heated up pretty quickly. Add a queasy stomach, and I couldn’t wait to get back on terra firma. Once on the ground, Klatt popped the dome of the plane so I could get some fresh air.

That flight honed my skills to know when a plane I’m in is turning or just flying out of normal formation.

And, yes, it always brings back some unsettling memories of those rolls over the lake.

That’s why it’s all the more shocking that I agreed to head up into the friendly skies with the U.S. Marines this week aboard a V-22 Osprey.

Let me get technical first: This is neither a plane nor a helicopter. It’s a tiltrotor craft that combines the functionality of a helicopter with the flying speed of a plane.

In other words, it flies really fast and can do vertical takeoffs and landings.

When I got my first look at the Osprey, or V-22 to the Marines, it was on the tarmac at Burke Lakefront Airport in its resting position. It looks like a helicopter giving a shrug in answer to a question, with its propellers facing forward.

When it starts moving, the props lift up to vertical and start spinning.

If you’re nearby, I hope you’re wearing earplugs, because these things are loud. And, they produce a lot of wind.

Our preflight instructions advised us to be careful walking out to the Ospreys, because we’d feel a good deal of wind low on our legs. They weren’t kidding. I honestly wondered how a couple of the really thin ladies kept from getting knocked over.

Once on board, we strapped into our seats via the flotation devices that we’d previously strapped to our chests. Pulling wooden beaded handles on the sides would create a giant boat-like floaty that the Marines said would prevent us from getting off the craft safely. So, yes, we heard “DO NOT PULL THE BEADED HANDLES!” over and over while preparing to head out to the Ospreys.

As we headed out to the Osprey from inside the Burke building, one of the crew who’d gone over the pre-flight instructions asked if we wanted to take with us what they termed “air-sick bags.”

Remembering that queazy feeling after my time with Klatt, I grabbed the quart-size zippered plastic bag.

We loaded through a rear hatch that lowered to the ground to create a pseudo-ramp. Once we were ready to head out, it raised up and became part of the Osprey’s floor.

They left the hatch open so we could view the skyline as we traveled around the lakeshore for about 30 minutes.

I was sitting about five people deep on the right side of the cabin and could make out landmarks as they came into view on the left side of the hatch.

We followed the shoreline out to the Pennsylvania line, before heading back with a move that showed off the Osprey’s speed and maneuverability. The ground suddenly appeared as we peeked out the hatch, a hint that we were actually flying straight up off the ground.

The roll-spin combo felt impressive inside, but probably looked cooler to those on the ground.
It was at that point that I thought of those who travel on the Osprey during combat. They fly with the hatch closed, so they have no idea what’s going on outside.

There are a few tiny windows high up on the sides, but since they’re strapped in, it’s impossible to glimpse outside.

When that hatch opens, they’d better be ready for whatever awaits, no matter what form it takes.
On the return ride I started to realize how warm the Osprey can get. It brought back those memories of Klatt and his acrobatic flight.

Luckily the rear was open, so fresh air was pretty easily obtained.

Later, when I stood up to walk back outside, I noticed I’d sweated through my shirt and pants. Then, once inside the terminal, when I took off my helmet, which had protective ear covers attached, I realized my hair was sopping wet.

Our guides that day, Marines whose duty it is to fly these Ospreys, showed off nerves of steel. One sat on the floor in the open doorway of the hatch, ready to jump up in case we needed assistance while onboard. One sat on the floor outside the cockpit, facing us next to an open side door. He spent most of the flight watching the coastline as it passed by.

The Marines amassed to share their $67 million aircraft with the public were eager to tell us what these machines can do, how fast they can go (290 mph, since you asked) and how ideal they are for the missions they fly.

They pointed out in no uncertain terms that, as U.S. taxpayers, these machines are our property, and they’re thrilled that we’re letting the Marines and Air Force use them every day. There currently are about 110 V-22 Osprey deployed in the Marine Corps and Air Force. Most are used by the Marines, however.

These young men and women are eager to discuss their work, and show off the tools of their trade. And, this week, they just happen to be in your back yard.

If you want to check out an Osprey that’s actually been in combat, head over to Voinovich Park in Cleveland, where there’s one on display that’s done duty in Afghanistan.

And, remember, as the temperatures rise this weekend, you’re in for one hot time.

For details on other events taking place this weekend as part of Marine Week, head to for a full schedule.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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