Flying visit by the planes that become helicopters

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THEY look like something from the sci-fi film Avatar, but they have been visiting RAF Mildenhall.

Two of the USAF’s tiltrotor CV-22 Osprey vertical take-off aircraft flew into the base at the end of last week and have been wowing the plane spotters while making training flights with the base’s Hercules-based in-flight refuelling tankers.

A base spokesperson said on Monday that no date had been fixed for their departure and they could not say where they are going, but they are making training flights while here.

It was a Marine Corps version of the Osprey that rescued the Lakenheath pilot whose F-15 crashed in Libya last week and it is perfect for the job, combining the range and lifting capability of a fixed wing aircraft with a helicopter’s vertical take-off.

In forward flight the Rolls-Royce Allison turboprop engines on each wing tip face forward, like any conventional aircraft. But for vertical take of they are rotated through 90 degrees so the extra large propellers become helicopter-style rotors. The crew can also angle the engines for a short rolling take off to conserve fuel.

An $89 million Osprey can fly further and faster than conventional helicopters. Its cruising speed of 277mph is 93mph faster than the Pave Hawk helicopters based at Lakenheath and its range is four times greater.