Those loud sounds you might hear or strange shapes you might see flying near Joint Base Lewis-McChord this week are not part of the base’s native Army or Air Force fleet.
They are the Marine Corps’ famously unusual-looking tiltrotor Osprey aircraft, known for combining the vertical takeoff of a helicopter with the horizontal speed and range of an airplane.
Four MV-22B Ospreys, normally based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, are training at the base south of Tacoma this week from roughly 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, according to Lewis-McChord officials.
They will use two helicopter training areas on base within earshot of civilian communities — one area located south of Spanaway and west of Elk Plain, and the other south of Lacey. They also will fly to and from the base throughout the week as they conduct exercises at Yakima Training Center.
“The aircraft are noticeably loud,” according to a Lewis-McChord release.
“Residents on and off base may hear the Osprey aircraft as they transition between training areas,” it continues.
Marine officials at Miramar could not be reached Friday to explain why they’re training in Washington. The Lewis-McChord release says only that the Osprey crews will practice confined-area landings to keep their skills combat-ready, and that they’ve trained here before.
The high-flying visitors come at a time when Lewis-McChord’s own Army aviation assets are growing and noise impacts on surrounding communities have increased. A News Tribune investigation published this month found that local base commanders didn’t comply with federal environmental law and didn’t adequately reach out to civilian neighbors in advance of last year’s arrival of dozens of helicopters with the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Army leaders have acknowledged the errors and pledged to do better at communicating with the public. Lewis-McChord sent a release about the Osprey training to news media Thursday. It invites people to ask questions or make comments about noise by calling a hot line at 253-967-0852, the same phone number used for late-night firing announcements.
The Osprey had a checkered history of cost overruns and training crashes that claimed 30 lives during its early development period from 1992-2000. Since, the Marines have turned it into a steady hybrid aircraft in Afghanistan, capable of everything from attack missions to cargo delivery. It still is expensive to operate and maintain.
The aircraft’s rising profile was underscored this month when it was used as a presidential escort, carrying President Barack Obama’s staff, Secret Service agents, even the family dog, to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where Obama was vacationing.
The noise generated by the Osprey is most noticeable when the aircraft hovers or runs in helicopter mode, rather than airplane mode.