Osprey flights in Japan to begin next month, says Marine Corps

The half-helicopter, half-fixed wing aircraft will begin buzzing the skies above Okinawa beginning in October, Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, head of Marine Corps' Pacific command, told Marine Corps Times. 

The start date for Osprey operations in Japan comes weeks after Tokyo and Washington reached a deal earlier this month to begin allowing the aircraft to conduct flight operations in the country. 

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The announcement also comes after a recently completed goodwill tour by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to the Pacific region. 

Marine Corps units stationed at the service's air base in Iwakuni will start off flying training missions "so the crews get used to flying the aircraft in and around that area and the different rules that’ll be put on us,” according to Robling. 

The first group of Ospreys have been on station at Iwakuni since late July, to replace the older CH-46 helicopters flown by Marine Corps units attached to Marine Expeditionary Force III stationed in the region, according to the Pentagon.

Aside from familiarizing Osprey aircrews with Tokyo's operating procedures for military aircraft, the initial training flights should help ease concerns of Okinawan residents over the aircraft, the three-star general added. 

"Once the Okinawans see this is a quieter aircraft than most other helicopter type of aircraft ... they’ll actually be pleased," Robling added. 

Despite their initial deployments in July, Osprey flight operations in Japan had been suspended since August, while the Pentagon was working with Tokyo to ensure the V-22's safety. 

Prior to the September agreement with the Pentagon, Japan said it would not allow the Osprey to fly in Japanese airspace until DOD provided information on a number of incidents where the Osprey crashed during U.S.-led operations. 

One inquiry conducted by the Marine Corps on a fatal Osprey crash in Morocco cleared the plane of any fault for the incident.

Japanese defense officials were briefed on the Marine Corps' findings in late August, Deputy Commandant for Marine Corps Aviation Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle told reporters on Aug. 18. 

A second inquiry by the Air Force into a V-22 crash during a training mission in Florida is still under investigation.