Here are the details of the operation as relayed to DT by Bill Sunick, Boeing’s manager of V-22 business development.
On June 1, 2010 a helo carrying 32 people went down during a special operations raid near Kunduz in Northeast Afghanistan. A severe dust storm and the Hindu Kush mountain range foiled attempts by other helos to reach the stranded crew and passengers who were under small arms and mortar fire. Two CV-22s from the 8th Special Operations Squadron launched out of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan within two hours of being alerted and flew 400-miles straight to the site — over the 15,000-foot mountains and through “very low visibility” – and back to Kandahar with the 32 stranded troops in less than four hours.
“There was a mountain range in between” the American bases at Bagram and Kandahar “so conventional rotorcraft would have had to snake through the valleys and whatnot,” said Sunick. “V-22 flew over them. The guys went up, they went on oxygen, went over the mountains, went direct as the crow flies and then when they were coming close the weather was extremely bad, I think they had less than a quarter-mile visibility. Now you’ve got your [terrain following radar] sniffing things out for you, giving you a clear picture and so the guys were able to go in there. It was a hot LZ, they were under fire, they landed, picked all they guys up — 32 folks crammed in the back of the airplane — and they got out of Dodge and made it back.”
To put things in perspective, the Libyan rescue mission was about 260-nautical miles, round-trip.
Now, the V-22 had its share of development problems [nightmares, at times] and it’s still working through problems with fine sand wearing down engine parts faster than engineers would like and it’s mission ready rates when deployed are roughly 70 percent. Still, you can’t argue that the speed and ranges at which the bird flies combined with its VTOL abilities make it invaluable for missions like this.