In an in-flight Osprey emergency, maintenance crews take to the mattresses
In case of an in-flight emergency, aircraft maintenance Marines grab their mattresses. That’s the procedure when no amount of prodding can get the landing gear of an MV-22 Osprey to extend.
It’s a rare occurrence, but the Marines practice the procedures regularly and last week hauled out pallets stacked with twin mattresses at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to run through the drill, just as the Osprey program was about to reach 30 years since its first flight.
The exercise, known as a “hung gear” drill, allows the Marines to better understand their roles, the Marine Corps said in a statement.
“This drill is important because it is critical that we practice like we play as it pertains to emergency procedures,” Capt. Ayleah Alejandre, aviation safety officer with Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said in the statement. “Three pallets of stacked mattresses are taken out and strapped down on the landing pad — one for the nose gear and two for the main gear.”
A crew chief is tasked with guiding the descending aircraft down onto the stacks.
In an emergency, a pilot would call the tower and let them know they are having trouble with the landing gear. Then the maintenance Marines would assemble at a dedicated emergency landing pad.
The Air Force’s CV-22 has the same mattress-landing procedures in the event of gear malfunctions, said Army Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena, a spokeswoman with the 352nd Special Operations Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England.
Maj. Thomas J. Dunn, the director of safety and standardization with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 at Camp Pendleton, shared at the training site his personal experience with a hung gear malfunction.
“I was coming into a landing, and the gear did not come down, it is a very uncomfortable situation especially because of fuel requirements, enemy threat and all that,” he said in the statement. “In 2008, I found myself turning around over Baghdad International [Airport] at 1,500 feet, going through the emergency procedures, [but] we did get the landing gear to come down.”
In 2015, Capt. Paul Keller, based out of Miramar, Calif., was another survivor of a hung gear malfunction while flying an MV-22 on a routine mission in Iraq.
“We got the initial indication in Iraq, but we had enough gas to make it back (to Kuwait) and troubleshoot the problem,” Keller said in a statement. “Inside our emergency procedures checklist, there are certain steps you run through and we ran through all of them, but the gear was still stuck up.”
While running through all the maintenance checks and troubleshooting steps, Marines raced to their emergency landing pad setup.
All three of Keller’s landing gears were stuck in the raised position, and even though it was a tense situation, Keller said he and the ground crew safely landed the Osprey on five pallets of spring-filled mattresses.
The Osprey’s emergency landing procedure for gear malfunctions is not unique to the aircraft.
In April 2012, a medical helicopter conducted a landing at San Antonio International Airport. The Bell 407 rotorcraft had lost one of its landing gears after striking a cellphone tower. Kevin Campbell, the pilot, asked the tower if there were mattresses available and the airport provided them. Campbell landed with no injuries, according to news reports.
“On the surface, the drill doesn’t seem terribly difficult, but once you look at all the moving parts, it’s something that we need to exercise time and time again to be ready,” Alejandre said.
The Bell-Boeing Osprey program recently reached 450,000 flight hours and had its 375th aircraft built, Chris Gehler, Bell’s vice president and deputy director of the project, said in a recent interview with USNI News. To improve maintenance procedures, the Marine Corps is also looking at reducing the 77 different configurations of the MV-22 down to five, he said.
In its 30-year history, the Osprey program has seen its share of tragedy. In 1992, a crash killed seven, and in 2000 two separate crashes killed 14 Marines. But military officials have said the aircraft’s record compares well to others since it reached initial operating capability in 2007.
The $71 million Osprey, which the Marine Corps first deployed in 2007 to Iraq, can seat 25 Marines and was designed to replace the service’s CH-46E Chinook and CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters.
The aircraft combines the vertical flight capabilities of a helicopter with the speed, range and altitude of fixed-wing transports. The Corps has fielded about 90 percent of its total planned fleet of 360.