This Picture Could Very Well Be the Future of U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers

Sebastien Roblin

Key point: This could be a game-changer for the Navy.

Only time will tell whether the pricy CMV-22B brings about the revolution in logistics the Navy is hoping for.

For over fifty years, the Navy has operated C-2A Greyhound cargo haulers with twin turboprop engines to ferry personnel, supplies, mail and spare parts to its massive aircraft carriers at sea—a mission known as Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD). The Greyhound, which is derived from the Navy's E-2 Hawkeye radar planes, can haul up to five tons of cargo or 26 passengers while still managing to land and takeoff from the three-hundred-meter-long carrier flight deck—and then fold its wings to fit in the hangar deck below.

In the late 2000s, however, the Navy began looking to replace the aging Greyhound. Candidates to take up the COD mission included modernized C-2s and the Navy’s recently retired S-3 Viking anti-submarine jets. In the end, though, the Navy gave in to urging from the Marines and decided to pursue the most expensive option—the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

The Osprey has been in development for decades—and the promise of its revolutionary and exceptionally flexible helicopter-to-airplane flight capabilities have been tempered with concerns over deadly accidents and high procurement and maintenance costs. Let’s just say this change is less than universally acclaimed.

Still, the V-22’s strengths are a big deal—the nacelles of its twin Rolls-Royce T406 turboshafts can rotate 90 degrees, switching from vertical helicopter-like flight mode to a horizontal airplane-like configuration. While surface ships love the flexibility of using helicopters to land and takeoff from virtually any cleared deck or surface, helicopters are limited to significantly lower altitudes and speeds, and can't fly nearly as far as airplanes. For example, a typical Blackhawk helicopter has a maximum speed of around 170 to 200 miles per hour and a range of 350 miles—while the Osprey can attain 350 miles per hour in horizontal flight mode (about as fast a World War II Spitfire fighter) and fly up to a thousand miles away.

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