Proving Grounds – Part 16

The sound of chopper blades slicing the wind shook Romero from his ill-timed, exhaustion-induced slumber. The indicator on his heads-up display showed an incoming V-280 Valor. It wasn’t a helicopter, but something better. It was the Marines’ new tilt-rotor insertion aircraft, a smaller version of the old Ospreys. Inside would be enough men and muscle to level the forest, a team of Marines ready to lay waste to the enemy in pursuit of him. They could burn the wilderness to the ground along with everything it. He had lost all concern for what happened to the forest. All he cared about was that getting to that bird meant his operation was over.
The Valor finally appeared over the trees. It was coming in fast. The plane’s wings began tilting as the large propellers shifted, transitioning its forward momentum slowly into a hover over a clear patch of grass before it began its final descent into the meadow. The plane was on the far side of the glade, about one hundred yards from him then. It was just beyond his reach.
As the plane began to descend, Romero abandoned his makeshift shelter. With his weapon in arms, he began a desperate sprint to the landing point. The PFC was ecstatic at the sight of this marvelous machine, as if a metal angel descended from on high to deliver him from tribulation. He just knew that in a matter of moments he would be done, secure and on his way to some de-briefing, having successfully completed his mission. He looked up to see the pilot’s cockpit. From there Romero saw what he imagined to be the pilot inside, looking back down at him. It seemed like he was watching Nathaniel run, greeting him with the warm embrace of security he had not known for such a long time then. “It was over,” the young Marine thought.
As the soles of his boots pounded the ground in an Olympian’s gallop, Nathaniel was suddenly stopped, when, to his horror, his greatest fears became realized. He was distressed to see the plane lurch upward, as if pulling its hand away from the discovery of a venomous snake, poised to deliver a fatal strike. Aghast by the threat of unseen terrors snuffing out his own life, he continued running in pursuit of the fleeing airlift. It was then he saw a faint movement from the peripherals of his vision. It was on his far right amidst the bush. In the forest, beyond the veil of the trees, a soldier, the snake, readied a weapon, directed not toward Romero, but towards the Valor aircraft.
Still sprinting, Romero saw a mote of grey streak across the meadow and burst suddenly beside the midair beast. The thunderclap roared throughout the forest and throughout the young Marine standing below. It was only a moment, one desperate and chaotic second; a trail of smoke, and the sound of a rocket-propelled grenade’s frightful cry as it burst next to the Valor’s engine. Romero stopped dead in the middle of the clearing, unsure of what he had seen, but instinctively aware that something terrible had happened. He was desperately trying then to fathom what had befallen him. Seeing the debris flying, as the plane reeled in air, Nathaniel was overwhelmed with shock and disbelief.
At first, the plane seemed to be rocked by the explosion, and being thrown from the sky seemed a real danger. Then it began to steady, and listed shakily to a hover and then to a controlled ascent. The explosion damaged the V-280, but it would recover. The plane, however, had no chance of landing here. Romero would receive no deliverance from this bird with its broken wing today. Fleeing to put itself out of enemy weapon’s range, it started to rise again into the sky.
“No! No! No!” Romero whimpered out in a forlorn cry. “You can’t leave me here! Take me with you! You have to take me with you!”
The plane was gaining altitude again as it recovered from the attack. It was indeed going to leave Romero behind. Regrettably, no pilot would deny the morbid calculus that there was no justifiable reason in risking the lives of an entire flight crew and rescue team for one doomed Marine. The plane began to move away, taking with it what one would believe to be Romero’s last hopes.
Staring in shattered disbelief, Romero’s heart sank as he stood alone in the field. It was at that last desperate moment, when all he could do was stare at his failed rescue, flying higher and higher, that a second stream of smoke tore through the sky. A second explosion, one borne from a second round and yet another hidden soldier, ripped across the sky over the meadow, utterly destroying the engine closest to Nathaniel.

Me 3The Bell 280-Valor will be the next generation of Marine Corps infantry aviation.

The Valor is the next step from the Osprey, a plane that had revolutionary systems and changed much of the way we fight. It’s tiltrotor meant that a plane could begin to act like a helicopter when it needed to. While not as a fast as other planes, it’s ability to mimic the capabilities of rotary wings meant that it could operate in places that the fixed wings weren’t. For one, wind patterns in mountains prevent many helicopter units from being able to be fully utilized at great distances. The Osprey and the Valor cut through that obstacle. Added to this, it provided infantry support, revolutionized by the helicopter in Vietnam, more than twice the range, and at twice the speed of rotary wings.

The Osprey had problems though. It was horrendous to fly and it’s role wasn’t clear early on. Once computerized, fly by wire systems began to have a more active role in piloting, it became a flexible and powerful platform.

The V-280 will be the next step up from the aging Ospreys. Set to make their way onto the battlefield in the early 2020s, they will be a smaller, sleeker combat system. They will allow the military to begin retiring the Ospreys, but even will have the ability to replace the Army’s Blackhawk fleet, as the new V-280 will (hopefully) provide the same capabilities, but much faster, fly much farther, and perhaps allow Marines and soldiers to do more with less than the already great aircraft available today.


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Cover Art

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