Transformers arrive at Mildenhall base

An Osprey in vertical take-off mode
An Osprey in vertical take-off mode
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The USAF’s new ‘transformer’ aircraft created a small problem for the Ministry of Defence — where should its crews practise low flying?

Col Christopher Ireland, commander of the expanding 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall,said the UK low flying areas are split into helicopter and fixed wing zones.

Col Christopher Ireland

Col Christopher Ireland

“We’re flying both,” the colonel said. “The RAF has been marvellous in sitting down with us to work it out.”

By tilting the engines through 90 degrees, the CV-22 Osprey can take of vertically and hover like a helicopter or fly like a conventional turboprop airplane, admittedly with 38ft diameter propellers.

Its crews say it combines helicopter versatility with the fuel efficiency, speed and range of a turboprop.

Col Ireland said most low flying would be in Wales and Scotland, though they will also use the Stanta training ground near Thetford.

He said the squadron’s World War Two forefathers were based in East Anglia and the 352nd has been here since 1994. “We view ourselves as part of the community and are keen to keep up that relationship” he said. “Our families live here in the community and we’re treated well.”

The Ospreys bring back the 352nd’s vertical take off ability lost when the MH-53 Pave Low helicopters left Mildenhall, though at 227mph they are more than twice as fast.

The 352nd’s 10 Ospreys and 12 new Hercules MC-130J Commando IIs, which have also begun arriving, will bring about 900 more Americans into the Mildenhall area when families are included.

The MC-130J is the latest incarnation of the world’s longest produced military aircraft.

But where the MC-130Ps they replace were continually updated veterans — one at Mildenhall saw Vietnam action — the MC-130J is all new. Improvements include modern avionics, multi-function screens replacing dials and quieter yet more powerful and efficient engines.

They also look smarter, having lost the 130P’s bulbous ‘Snoopy nose’.