Carl Forsling is from Ames, Iowa. “I pretty much had the standard Midwestern upbringing. School, football, and wrestling”, he said. He is a MV-22B Osprey instruction pilot and he was kind enough to answers some questions for RotorNation.
Tell us about yourself
After high school, I went to school at the University of Pennsylvania, which I was able to attend on an ROTC scholarship. I studied business, thinking I would serve out my service obligation for the scholarship and go on to a business career, yet here I am, almost twenty years later.
I was always interested in aviation, probably from when my dad took me to the Air Force Museum in Dayton or the Air and Space Museum in DC. When I started doing ROTC, though, I thought I wanted to be a Marine infantry officer. It sounded like the hardest thing I could do, so that’s what I wanted at the time. Still, when one of my ROTC instructors told me I could get a guaranteed slot at flight school by taking an aptitude test, I jumped on it. When I ended up doing okay on the test, I applied for and got the aviation contract.
I’ll have to confess that I went into the process wanting to fly jets, like a lot of people do, but during initial flight training in the T-34, I ended up with a lot of helicopter pilots as instructors. I looked up to those guys, so I asked for helicopters when I had a chance. I got helicopters, just like I asked for. At the end of helicopter training, though, I got CH-46E “Phrogs,” instead of the Cobras I’d hoped for. That was a blessing in disguise, as they say. I found out that I’m more of an assault support, which is Marine-speak for “transport,” pilot, than an attack guy. I like working directly with and for the ground troops. It’s blue-collar flying.
I got to do a lot of interesting flying in the -46. On my first deployment in 1999, we did a little bit of everything. The former Yugoslavia was falling apart, so we ended up doing all sorts of missions. We flew into Albania to deliver assistance to Kosovar refugees, then after a peace agreement was reached, we flew into Kosovo to support the grunts enforcing that treaty. After all of that, an earthquake struck Turkey, so we flew aid to the victims of that crisis.
Shortly after we got back from all of that, there was a small crisis where protestors were preventing the Navy and Marines from using the training ranges in Vieques, Puerto Rico. I got to fly Marines, FBI, and US Marshals around the island to restore the use of the range, which just speaks to the varied missions one can see in the military.
Then September 11th happened. We ended up as part of the first conventional forces in Afghanistan in late 2001. We set up base in Kandahar and gave rides to everyone who needed them, from Marines, to Rangers, to Australian and New Zealand SAS, to people ambiguously referred to as “other government agencies,” or “OGA” in military-speak. I don’t want to blow it up into a bigger deal than it was, but it was some really interesting flying. It felt good to be doing an important mission, working in Afghanistan so soon after 9/11.
After I got back, I was a little burnt out. Frankly, I was a little tired of the drama and politics at our unit. I ended up getting orders to be an instructor at NAS Whiting Field, near Pensacola, where Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard helicopter pilots train. I’ve always enjoyed instructing, so it was a pretty good deal. As it turned out, the Osprey program was starting to get going again after having some well-publicized problems. I thought that I was going to get out and do something else, but the chance to fly a piece of hardware that no one else had was pretty tempting. I applied to transition to the Osprey and got it.
After a lot of sitting around, I eventually started the training to be an Osprey pilot. Back then, every time I mentioned flying the V-22, people looked at me like I said I juggled chainsaws for a living. It was slow going at first, but after the program started going, I ended up getting qualified as an instructor in the V-22, and helped train the first several V-22 squadrons in the Marine Corps.
Later, I ended up doing the first major Osprey shipboard deployment as part of VMM-263. We got to deliver the first V-22s to Afghanistan from a Navy ship. That mission was almost comically easy, is spite of the best efforts of the Corps’ leadership to make it seem like a big deal. When I contrast it to the harrowing flights into Afghanistan I did in a CH-46 ten years earlier, working at that aircraft’s maximum altitude and going to minimum fuel with the aircraft straining to get over the mountains, the two hour admin flight in a V-22 seemed almost laughable. That’s how capable that aircraft is. It makes what would be a tremendously difficult mission in a traditional aircraft seem easy.
Tell us about the MV-22B Osprey aircraft
The Osprey is an awesome aircraft. The tiltrotor configuration means that it bridges the gap between helicopters and turboprops. It can hover and land vertically like a helicopter. When the nacelles come forward, it has the capabilities of a medium turboprop. It has the range, speed, and maneuverability of a fixed-wing aircraft. It makes pilots think in three dimensions. Depending on the threat and the mission, you can fly a high-altitude profile for maximum range and avoiding small-arms, or you can a low-altitude, high-speed profile to counter a higher threat. Regardless of the enroute profile, you still have to plan the terminal area like a helicopter. Where a helicopter can only go lower in reaction to a threat, the Osprey can maneuver in three dimensions, or circumnavigate it, vertically or laterally. It hauls ass when you want it to. When the nacelles roll down, you can get out of dodge really quickly. Everyone who rides in it is blown away by the acceleration. It also has a lot of great electronics to help pilots out, like systems to assist the pilot in making a brown-out landing in the dust. One of the coolest things is that it’s all fly-by-wire. Often, the engineers have come out with huge improvements in capability just by reprogramming the software, which always amazes me.
What do you like the most about it?
The best part about flying the V-22 is that you get the best parts of helicopter flying along with the best parts of fixed-wing flying. You fly a lot of low altitude-work flying into confined areas or austere landing zones. You still have the speed and maneuverability, and most importantly, the range of a fixed-wing aircraft. On one level it’s an easy aircraft to fly–it’s very stable, has a great glass cockpit, et cetera. At the same time, you have to be comfortable working in both the fixed-wing world, doing long-range IFR and such, while also being able to work down low like a helicopter, working out of LZs, doing external loads, and things like that. Getting to do all those things in the same day makes life interesting–and fun.
Are there any parts of the job you don’t like?
First, one of the best parts about being in the Marine Corps is the Marines. In contrast, the worst thing about the job is that some people don’t recognize that individual Marines are the key to the whole enterprise. They think that Marines are problems to be handled, rather than assets, and it reflects in how they lead. Unfortunately, some of those people are in high levels of the organization. The military isn’t hardware–guns, planes, ships, and the like. I love my aircraft, but whether we fly Ospreys or biplanes, the most important thing is our Marines. The institutional bureaucracy can sometimes lose sight of that, which can be very frustrating at times.
Are there any stories in particular you would like to share with us?
There are a lot of people who have way better stories to tell than I do. In the end, they’re all variations of the same story done different ways. We carry people and stuff where it needs to be, whether it’s dark, the weather’s bad, or the enemy’s there. Everything we do is a variation of those things. I’ve had nights I’ve flown that I just wish would be over, because they were a struggle the whole way through. I’ve also had nights flying that I wish would never end, when it’s crystal clear, you can see forever, and every landing is perfect. Those nights are why I keep flying.
Any particular mission you would like to talk about?
Our ship was on station on the south end of the Red Sea. We were making a routine supply run to Jordan with three Ospreys when we got a call from the ship that a sailor had a heart attack and needed to hurry back from the ship and take this sailor from the ship to hospital care ashore. We turned around and transited to the ship and back to Jordan just over an hour, getting this sailor to a real hospital in time for him to get higher-echelon medical care. That’s something that would have required deliberate effort in most other rotorcraft, but we were about to do it via an audible in V-22s. Of course, the hilarity started when we ran out of crew day to legally fly after we dropped him off, plus the fact that the ship’s deck just closed, so we were stuck at an airport in Jordan. Then there was the fact that we’d had swine flu aboard our ship, so we were basically in quarantine, and we slept on the floor of a customs warehouse. The airport ground crewmen were wearing surgical masks around us as they greeted the aircraft! Even another US Navy ship in port nearby wouldn’t give us cots because we might’ve infected them with swine flu. But, they were nice enough to order us pizzas. The Jordanians treated us great and let us go to the duty-free shop at the airport to get some toiletries and such. Arab hospitality. Good people. We made it back the next day, covering some three hundred nautical miles to the south end of the Red Sea like it was nothing. The whole event illustrated the flexibility of the machine, but also made us adapt over the course of a long and very interesting day. And a funny one, in a darkly amusing way.
How would you describe your job, on a daily basis?
I’m an Osprey instructor pilot, so I fly two or three days a week with student pilots in the left seat and student crew chiefs in the back. I’ve been around awhile, so I teach all the major skill sets. Some days it’s teaching a guy how to land the Osprey. Others it’s teaching NVG form to a new pilot and crew chief. Of course, Marine pilots are officers first, as they say, so I have another job as well. I’m the squadron’s head of safety and standardization, so the rest of my hours are spent trying to make sure our instruction is done correctly in a consistent and safe manner. The ground job is always the bane of any naval aviator, but it’s what we do to pay for all the free flying!
What’s the biggest challenge as a MV-22B Osprey pilot?
Sometimes it seems that the biggest challenge is seeing the headlines about my aircraft always starting with,”…the troubled V-22 Osprey…” In spite of doing real-world missions for almost ten years, there’s always a crank who has an issue or a complaint about it, and it’s usually an ill-informed one. No matter what the aircraft does, it won’t be enough. Combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, naval ops on the MEU, even flying across the Atlantic. Nothing will silence those who don’t like the airframe. We’re doing things that weren’t even possible twenty years ago. This plane is saving American lives everyday. It sounds lame, and I’ll bitch about software gripes and things I get annoyed with on the aircraft, but I really believe that high-speed, long-range vertical lift is essential to American power projection. Whether that’s the Osprey, the Sikorsky X-2, the Piasecki Speedhawk, or some other technology, we need that capability.
As a pilot, though, the challenge is being both a multi-engine turboprop pilot and a helicopter pilot. In one day, you can go from brownout landings in the desert to actual IMC flight to flying to a ship in the middle of the night. You have to be prepared for just about everything. That is the best, and worst, part of being a tiltrotor pilot. Mostly, it’s a good deal. I get to fly into confined areas like a helicopter, but I also get to fly across the country in a day, where a helo would have taken a week. It’s a great plane.
Do you get to travel a lot? What are some of the places you’ve been to?
In a deploying squadron, you go where the Navy, or world events, take you. I’ve been to pretty much all of the countries on the European side of the Mediterranean—Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, etc. Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman in the Middle East. Of course, Afghanistan is a big one of late. I’ve been there a couple times by air, but most recently by land. In keeping with the Marine ethos of “every Marine a rifleman,” I recently spent six months in Afghanistan advising Afghan Border Police. Honestly, that was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had.
The military offers some of the best flying you can find, with some of the best hardware out there. Of course, that comes with dealing with the military. Sometimes that isn’t easy. Frankly, there are a lot of demands that most jobs don’t ask of you. On the plus side, you know that your flying has made a real difference.
If you have any questions about the MV-22B or about flying in the Marine Corps, you can reach Carl on Twitter at @carlforsling.