Jacksonville, North Carolina, July 14 (Jiji Press) — A flight and maintenance training involving the Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force has been shown to Jiji Press at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina.
This was the first time that media access has been allowed to an Osprey carrying a Japanese flag.
The training at the Marine Corps’ Air Station New River in the southern state was shown on Thursday.
Japan plans to start deploying Ospreys in March next year, but the deployment has drawn opposition in a host candidate municipality due chiefly to safety concerns.
As any accident can be fatal, GSDF personnel were conducting training to ensure the reliability of the aircraft’s safety.
A few dozen Ospreys were parked in a sprawling tarmac of the base.
Among them were three, each with a Japanese flag and the name of the GSDF printed on the rear section. The three were delivered to the base in stages from May, including one that arrived this month.
They have the same capability as the Marine Corps’ Ospreys, except for wireless and satellite communications equipment designed exclusively for use by the GSDF.
While one of the three was in flight training, GSDF maintenance personnel were checking brand-new aircraft with U.S. military members.
“The Osprey is a mass of aviation electronic equipment,” said Capt. Takahiro Sasayama, who was learning Osprey maintenance.
Osprey maintenance is complex as the aircraft uses more electronic devices than conventional helicopters do, according to Sasayama.
There are strong concerns in Japan over the safety of the Osprey, following accidents, including the crash-landing of an Osprey in Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan, in 2016.
But the electronic devices give the Osprey high safety performances, featuring a triple backup system intended to prevent the aircraft from becoming dysfunctional, according to GSDF trainees.
“If you study the safety of the Osprey, you will be too scared to board conventional helicopters,” Maj. Akira Takeuchi, who was receiving training as an Osprey pilot, said with a smile.
The Osprey has a component called nacelle, which combines propellers and the engine. Osprey pilots need to tilt nacelle during flights, an operation unique to the aircraft.
“It feels like switching from an analog mobile phone to a smartphone,” said Takeuchi, who has long experience in boarding the UH-1J multipurpose helicopter.
“It takes a while to get used to the Osprey, but it is much more convenient than conventional helicopters,” he said.
“The Osprey has immeasurable benefits in terms of flight speed and ranges in contingencies,” Takeuchi said, suggesting that the Osprey deployment will contribute to Japan’s national defense, including the defense of remote islands.
The training of GSDF personnel at the New River base started in the autumn of 2016 and is slated to end in May next year.
Maj. Christopher Corbeille of the Marine Corps, who oversees the GSDF training, said that GSDF members in the training are “extremely professional” and “outstanding.”
“I don’t mean that…to give false praise or excessive praise,” he said.
Asked about safety concerns over the Osprey, Corbeille said, “I wouldn’t want to do a job that I actually thought was going to get me hurt or keep me from going home to see my family every night.”
Japan’s Defense Ministry plans to deploy a total of 17 Ospreys by around the end of fiscal 2021.
The ministry initially considered deploying them to Saga Airport in southwestern Japan, but has faced a delay in obtaining an agreement from a local fishery group.
Against this background, the ministry currently plans to deploy the Ospreys to the GSDF’s Kisarazu base in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, as a provisional measure.