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USMC general: Ospreys in Okinawa by October

Sep. 23, 2012 - 01:34PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 23, 2012 - 01:34PM  |  
An MV-22 Osprey aircrew conducts test flights Sept. 21 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
An MV-22 Osprey aircrew conducts test flights Sept. 21 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. (Lance Cpl. Benjamin Pryer / Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps will begin flying its MV-22 Ospreys in Okinawa by October, a top general told Marine Corps Times, marking the end of a months-long stalemate with the Japanese government punctuated by bitter local protests and fears about the aircraft's safety.

"Once they get down there, we'll expect them to get into their training," Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, the head of Marine Corps Forces Pacific, said during an interview late last week from his office at Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii.

"First, we'll start with orientation flights … so the crews get used to flying the aircraft in and around that area and the different rules that'll be put on us," Robling said. "I think once that happens, and once the Okinawans see this is a quieter aircraft than most other helicopter type of aircraft because it does stay in fixed-wing [mode] going in and out of the training areas, they'll actually be pleased."

The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft, called a tiltrotor, that takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane. Following two recent crashes, tens of thousands of Okinawans protested the planned deployment to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, saying they are unsafe and should not be allowed to fly in the densely populated areas around the base.

Japan's central government OK'd Osprey flights to begin last week after a visit by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said the Pentagon is confident in the aircraft's safety. Initial operations began Friday at MCAS Iwakuni, an air station in southern mainland Japan where several Ospreys were temporarily deployed this summer while the U.S. awaited approval for their transfer to Okinawa.

"We always felt that we would get there after all the facts were laid out on the table," Robling said. "I think we finally allayed a lot of the fears about the safety of this aircraft."

The next step is getting Ospreys in the air and aircrews trained to operate in and around Japan, and the Marine Corps has wasted no time doing that. The first set of maintenance check flights began Friday at Iwakuni.

"By October" the Ospreys will get down to Okinawa, Robling said, and familiarization flights will begin there.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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