The V-22 Osprey is built to transport U.S. special operations commandos long distances, and mid-air refueling comes with the territory. This video certainly makes Osprey refueling look like a harrowing experience, yet this is a job the aircraft carry successfully out around the world every day.
The Air Force made the decision to buy a fleet of long-range special operations transports after Operation Eagle Claw, the 1980 failed attempt to rescue American hostages from Iran. The complexity of the ad hoc rescue mission, which saw Air Force pilots flying Navy helicopters and refueling from a secret staging area in Iran, contributed to the mission’s failure. The Air Force wanted its own fleet of aircraft that could fly a similar mission profile without landing.
Today the U.S. Air Force has a fleet of . The above video shows a CV-22 from Cannon Air Force Base flying over the valleys of New Mexico before linking up with a KC-10 Extender aerial refueling tanker, a military version of the now defunct DC-10 jetliner.
The KC-10 rolls out an refueling drogue, basically a weighted hose dragged from the back of the aircraft, and the CV-22 gently steps up to start taking on gas. The CV-22 is one of the few Air Force planes that uses the drogue method for refueling, as most of the service’s fighters, bombers, transports and special mission aircraft take on gas from a pylon that is slowly lowered from the tanker into a receptacle built into the aircraft.
The Osprey's tilt-rotor design further complicates this mission. Before meeting up with the tanker, the crew rotates the tiltrotor’s twin rotors from the vertical position-where it flies like a helicopter) ninety degrees to the horizontal position (where it flies like a fixed-wing aircraft). You can see how Osprey refueling is theoretically more dangerous than other forms: You now have two large sets of whirling rotors ripping away at thousands of rotations per minute mere feet from the refueling drogue.
Is it dangerous? In 2016 off the coast of Okinawa, a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey clipped a refueling drogue during a nighttime exercise. The Osprey flew on but the pilot decided to ditch in the water near shore. All five Marines on board were injured, but fortunately no one was killed. The Marines .
So yes, it is possible for a catastrophic incident to take place. That said, there are more than two hundred Ospreys in service worldwide with the Air Force and Marines, and aerial refueling missions almost certainly take place every day--and at night. Training, training, and more training make all the difference between something that seems almost crazy dangerous and routine.