Visitors to the Farnborough air show are being treated to the first return visit by the US Marine Corps' Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport since 2006, as both parties are mounting a drive to score the first export sales involving the type.
Assigned to the USMC's VMM-264 squadron at its Camp Lejeune base in New River, North Carolina, the aircraft on display this week are accompanied by 40 personnel, including four flight crews of four each. Two of the aircraft are Block B production examples, with the others built in the new Block C configuration, which has a weather radar and other upgrades.
Getting the aircraft to the Hampshire site required around 15h of flight time over a three-day period between 29 June and 1 July, says Marine Aircraft Group 26 commanding officer Col Christopher Seymour. The route included stops at Bangor in Maine, St John's in Newfoundland and Lajes in the Azores. Tanker support was provided from the last location.
The visit by the personnel of VMM-264 - also known as the Black Knights - represents the Osprey's first time at Farnborough since 2006, when two aircraft from the USMC's VMX-22 operational test and evaluation squadron made the transatlantic journey.
Gunnery Sgt Timothy Batchler, VMM-264's quality assurance chief, was also involved in the previous deployment, and says perception of the Osprey from within his service has evolved since.
"The aircraft is a lot more reliable than in 2006, and has also been combat tested. For most people, the stigma involved with the V-22 has gone," he says.
Bell Boeing has so far delivered 152 MV-22s to the USMC and 26 CV-22s to the US Air Force, with the operational fleet having amassed a combined 148,000 flight hours.
Production activities are currently being performed under a multi-year procurement deal for 174 aircraft, with plans in place to sign a second deal before the end of the year to cover 98 more to be delivered between 2015 and 2019.
"We are hearing favourable language from both the House and the Senate," says USMC Col Greg Masiello, V-22 joint programme manager. Bell Boeing and the service are also trying to attract export customers to add to this total.
"We are working officially with a number of nations, with paperwork going back and forth," Masiello says. "We are targeting to have a contract within 2013."