Flying Tigers provide unique relief capabilities to storm-ravaged Philippines

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit
Story by Sgt. Jonathan Wright

Date: 11.17.2013
Posted: 11.19.2013 22:54
News ID: 117043

PHILIPPINES - Hundreds of thousands of pounds of relief supplies have been ferried through the skies above the weather-torn archipelago in the Philippines, and among all the birds in the air, eyes are drawn to Flying Tigers.

Eight MV-22B Ospreys with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262, currently assigned to 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade in support of Joint Task Force 505, supplemented the aircraft supporting the Armed Forces of the Philippines in delivering humanitarian aid and transporting evacuees Nov. 17 at Clark Air Field, Pampanga, Republic of the Philippines, as part of Operation Damayan, the U.S. relief effort following Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall.

The squadron, known as the “Flying Tigers,” brings the high-visibility Osprey to the humanitarian aid and disaster relief operation, providing unique transport and observation capabilities for the international mission.

“The Ospreys offer the ability to deliver large amount of supplies virtually anywhere, a vast amount more than the UH-60s that are running here,” said Sgt. Maj. Debon A. Lee, the sergeant major of VMM-262, 3rd MEB. “Our vertical insert ability is just one of the Osprey’s features that are proving beneficial during our overall relief effort.”

The Osprey is twice as fast, can carry three times the payload and travel four times farther than conventional helicopters, providing a unique and much needed capability to Operation Damayan. The ground-breaking tiltrotor capability transitions the aircraft midflight from a “helicopter mode” to a “propeller mode,” allowing the Osprey to cover more distance at a significantly faster pace.

“We’re running at least two Ospreys back and forth from the affected areas, the pilots and aircraft work in shifts to keep continual operations going,” said Lance Cpl. Dilon A. Kichter, an Osprey crew chief with VMM-262, 3rd MEB, and a native of Columbia, Ind. “(We are) bouncing between Tacloban, Luzon, Cebu, Guiuan and other locations, dropping off supplies and replacing that space with the locals who need evacuation.”

A forward arming and refueling point was rapidly emplaced in Guiuan, allowing for extended flight operations to remote affected areas. Clark Air Field, where the Ospreys are based out of, is approximately 400 miles from Tacloban, the main distribution hub for relief supplies, while Guiuan is approximately 100 miles from the hub. The reduction in travel time for necessary refueling increases pick-up and drop-off flights to the affected areas.

The FARP is one example of how the combined U.S. and AFP team is streamlining their relief efforts in a timely and efficient manner.

“We got on deck and immediately started setting up shop, and the next day we were in the air with supplies and personnel,” said Lee, a native of Alexandria, Va. “Immediate response and assistance, that’s what it’s all about.”

Operation Damayan is the second time the Ospreys have been utilized during a large-scale HA/DR mission. Ospreys with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit provided crucial and unique lift/transport capabilities in January 2010 in support of Operation Unified Response following an earthquake in Haiti.

“We’re ready, willing and able to support for however long we’re needed,” said Capt. Eric R. Mann, an Osprey pilot with VMM-262, 3rd MEB, and a native of Clarksville, Tenn. “The Marines are excited to be able to help the Philippine military and the local people. This is one of the biggest parts of our overall Marine Corps mission, to do what we’re doing right now; helping others.”

Additional Osprey support is provided by the Tigers’ sister squadron VMM-265, the “Dragons,” currently attached to the 31st MEU. The entirety of the 31st MEU is scheduled to arrive off the coast of the Philippines to deliver further relief support.

The 3rd MEB is currently supporting the Armed Forces of the Philippines in providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief to areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, having delivered nearly 200 tons of relief supplies and transported more than 10,000 evacuees to date.