Flying Into the Fire

With its sister aircraft the MV-22 Osprey conducting missions for the United States Marine Corps in Afghanistan and the Pacific, the Air Force Special Operations Command version of the Osprey, the CV-22, has been quietly and capably supporting combat and humanitarian missions for the Special Operations community.

Along with hover and vertical flight capabilities, the CV-22’s speed allows it to reach objectives much faster than other rotorcraft assets and in fixed-wing mode, the aircraft is much quieter – a key combination during special operations missions in hostile areas. These advantages became apparent to crews of the 20th Special Operations Squadron during a nighttime raid in the Kajaki Valley region of southern Afghanistan, a mission in enemy territory.

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Flying low and fast in a CV-22, Capt. Will Thompson skillfully maneuvers the aircraft through a narrow, rugged mountain pass in the dead of night. With zero visibility, he depends solely on terrain following radar and skill to navigate.

Part of the elite 20th Air Force Special Operations Squadron, Thompson is inbound to drop 27 special forces assaulters on a covert mission in southern Afghanistan. Flying alongside another CV-22, the tandem is unaware of what they’re about to face.

With the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, or SOFIC, opening this week in Tampa, Fla., Thompson recalls a mission in late spring of 2011 that exemplifies the unparalleled skills and capabilities of U.S. Special Operations Forces and the CV-22.

“Approximately one mile out, we began experiencing small arms fire,” Thompson said. “And right as we were passing over it, I could say the valley exploded with fire. I’d never seen anything like it before.”

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