RFA takes ‘giant leap’ into joint operations with US military’s iconic Ospreys

The US military’s unique aircraft-cum-helicopter has been training with amphibious ship RFA Mounts Bay – ready for further interaction in the Baltic this spring.

The US Air Force’s 7th Special Operations Squadron dropped in on the support vessel off Portland with their MV-22 Osprey, the ‘tiltrotor’ which takes off and lands like a helicopter, then rotates its propellers to fly like a conventional aircraft.

Operated by the US Marine Corps and US Air Force, it’s the main battlewagon for carrying American marines and related units into battle.

Royal Marines rely on the Merlin Mk4 to carry 24 commandos into battle at a time (based a short distance from Portland at RNAS Yeovilton with 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons).

The Osprey has a similar capacity (at a push you can squeeze an extra eight troops in the cabin), but can fly higher, further, faster than a helicopter, plus thanks to its tiltrotor design, can land in and take-off from the tight spots.

It flew into Dorset from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, making use of the HeliOperations training facility in Portland – which occupies part of the old HMS Osprey site – as a lily pad (support/refuelling etc) while working with Mounts Bay.

I can say, without a doubt, this opportunity left a lasting impression on the crews embarked on RFA Mounts Bay

2/O Jon Loughton, RFA Mounts Bay

The training – focused on safe operations on and off the Bay-class ship’s flight deck – gave Mounts Bay’s aircraft handlers/air operations team their first chance to work with an Osprey.

The Ospreys have dropped in on Royal Navy flight decks over the past decade, but not on a Bay-class ship until now. The vessels provide additional space to carry marines/troops and their equipment in support of Albion-class assault ships which spearhead any UK amphibious operation.

Further link ups are planned later this spring when Mounts Bay joins HMS Albion and the UK’s Littoral Strike Group heads to the Baltic for exercises with US and NATO forces, including the region’s largest annual naval workout, Baltops.

Second Officer Jon Loughton, Mounts Bay’s operations officer said the American crew had “jumped at the task with open arms” and shared their experience and expertise with the RFA ship’s sailors.

“I can say, without a doubt, this opportunity left a lasting impression on the crews embarked on RFA Mounts Bay,” he added.

“We’ve taken a great leap in working towards approval to operate the Osprey on-board Bay-class vessels, again building on the strong interoperability that the USA and UK have.”