The Marines have landed -- at Fort Carson
The rotors of a seldom-seen aircraft in the Pikes Peak Region plan to test themselves soon against the area's thin air.
Eight MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft plan to train downrange at Fort Carson and at the post's Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site this month, said Chief Warrant Officer Michael Madura, who plans aviation exercises at Fort Carson.
About 200 Marines will take part in the training, with the first flights likely coming this weekend, he said. Training will continue through Sept. 24.
The Osprey is one of the Defense Department's most unique aircraft because it features wings with helicopter-like rotors that tilt, allowing it to change mid-air from a double-rotor helicopter to twin-propeller plane. The Osprey can take off vertically and can fly faster than helicopters.
Its rotors, however, are challenged at high elevations -- where the thin air leaves pilots dealing with sluggish controls.
"Altitude is a huge factor for aircraft ... especially helicopters and helicopter-like aircraft," Madura said.
Helicopter brigades from across the country routinely choose Fort Carson as a training ground before deploying to Afghanistan, which features terrain and elevations similar to Fort Carson.
Three units trained in the mountains west of the post in 2011, and another three are expected to have trained at Fort Carson by year's end.
But this is the first time that so many Osprey have visited the post, Madura said. In the past, one or two flew to the post for test flights, Madura said.
The Osprey -- which are designed to transport troops -- will not conduct the same landing exercises that helicopters fly in the mountains west of Colorado Springs.
Rather, they'll do small-arms fire drills downrange at Fort Carson. They will also conduct landing exercises in Pinon Canyon.
Osprey crews expect to use Federal Aviation Administration fly zones on their trip to the maneuver site in southern Colorado -- meaning they'll stay at least 1,000 feet above the ground in transit, said Maj. Earl Brown, a post spokesman.
Pilots are also expected to tilt the Osprey's rotors to make the aircraft more like typical fixed-wing plane, further reducing noise during flights to Pinon Canyon.