An often ridiculed aircraft for its cost, high-profile accidents, and program delays in its infancy, the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey has been consistently fielding new capabilities and is now adding yet another role to its burgeoning repertoire: air refueling.
Having undergone proof-of-concept testing on an Osprey in Texas in August 2013, last week Naval Air Systems Command awarded a $58+ million contract to Bell-Boeing for “non-recurring engineering and logistics services in support of the development and integration of the V-22 aerial refueling system for the MV-22.”
The initial testing included a modular, “roll on/roll off” kit with a single drogue hose trailing out the open ramp door. The massive 38-foot diameter rotors on the Osprey move a lot of air, but during testing the F/A-18 Hornet pilots reported no issues, with stability behind the Osprey similar or even better than that of a KC-130.
According to a Boeing press release, “adding aerial refueling tanker capability to the V-22 will enable operators to execute a wider variety of missions with greater flexibility and autonomy,” said Vince Tobin, Bell Boeing V-22 program director. “This will save time and money by maximizing the efficient use of aircraft and personnel.”
This capability also gives the Marines greater autonomy when deployed aboard amphibious assault ships, since fighters such as the F-35B will not solely rely on larger, fixed wing tanker support such as the KC-130s which operate only from land bases. The 2015 Marine Corps Aviation Plan calls for the Osprey to field the V-22 Air Refueling System (VARS) for tactical aircraft, and to be ready in time to support the F-35B WESTPAC deployment in 2017. Later testing will add the capability to refuel other Ospreys and USMC rotary wing assets and the system should be fully fielded by June 2019.
So far the Navy’s not interested in pursuing the V-22 other than for COD duty as a replacement for the C-2 Greyhound, but perhaps if the VARS proves successful we’ll be seeing USN Ospreys passing gas to F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-35C Lightnings in the future.