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Ospreys and Commandos in Action
'Any time, Any place'

RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom

(AFRICOM) and Central Command (CENTCOM) operations. The squadron currently has a total of nine Commando IIs on charge, with the expectation that the squadron will receive another three aircraft, but with no confirmation of when that might be achieved.

The first CV-22B Osprey for the 7th SOS/352nd SOG, which was delivered on 24th June 2013

over rotary-winged aircraft, enabling the execution of long-range missions. The CV-22s can perform missions that would normally require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

The first aircraft to arrive (#10-5714) out of the new complement was a Lockheed MC-130J for the 67th SOS, which arrived mid-morning on 6th June 2013 as "Reach 1039". "This MC-130J left the Lockheed-Martin factory in February and was initially stationed at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. When it arrived at RAF Mildenhall, it had about 100 hours on it", said Lt. Col. John Peak, 67th SOS Director of Operations. The first two CV-22B Ospreys for the 7th SOS arrived just over two weeks later at 17.30 hours on 24th June as 'Sway 31' (#11-0057) and 'Sway 32' (#11-0058).

The flight deck of the CV-22B is very similar to the U.S Marine Corps MV-22B

The main difference being the addition of two Multi-Function Display screens (upper right centre console), which relate to the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), something which the Marine Ospreys currently lack

The CV-22's folding wings and rotor-blades enable the aircraft to be stored in confined spaces
It is particularly useful to the Marine Corps versions when on board assault ships and space is at a premium

 and has a flow-rate of between 150 to 330 U.S gallons per minute (568 to 1249 Litres/min). The unit is also equipped with the Cobham 900E 4th Generation refuelling pod, which is more streamlined and has a maximum flow-rate of 450 gallons per minute.

As dusk falls, the 352nd's activities generally start to increase
Darkness is the friend of the USAF's Special Forces operatives

#11-0057 basks in glorious sun on the 7th SOS ramp at RAF Mildenhall

The last MC-130P in service with the 352nd SOG, #66-0215 is seen departing Mildenhall for the United States on 3rd February 2014

The large rear loading ramp of the CV-22B is clearly visible in the image above

Almost one year after the departure of the first MC-130P to AMARG, the final MC-130P operated by the 67th SOS, aircraft #66-0215, departed RAF Mildenhall on 3rd February 2014. It was followed by the last of the MC-130H aircraft operated by the 7th SOS almost a year later on 8th January 2015, that particular aircraft flying off to continue in service with the 15th SOS at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

The Cobham 48-000 series aerial refuelling pod (left) fitted to the MC-130J contains Cobham’s FR-300 hose-reel system and has been standard equipment on Lockheed KC-130 Tankers for some 50 years. Cobham is the supply partner to Lockheed-Martin of aerial refuelling systems and external fuel tanks on all their C-130 models.

The 48-series pod is a state of the art system that provides in-flight refuelling to receiver aircraft using the probe and drogue refuelling method. It is standard equipment on all KC-130, HC-130, and MC-130 aircraft. It is equipped with an electrically driven fuel-boost pump to compensate for losses in fuel pressure in the system. The pod provides hose guillotine, jettison and sealing emergency provisions; and a rapid ground refuel port that enables the refuelling of vehicles, aircraft or fuel cells whilst on the ground. The pod is capable of refuelling at air speeds between 105 to 250 Knots Indicated Air Speed (KIAS)

Close-up of the Osprey's nose showing the extendable in-flight refuelling probe,
the AN/AAQ-16 FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) ball under the nose and the AN/APQ-174D Multi-Mode Radar

The 67th Special Operations Squadron 'Night Owls' operates the 352nd's Lockheed MC-130J Commando II aircraft at RAF Mildenhall, providing precise, reliable, flexible and responsive specialized air mobility. Utilising its night vision goggle (NVG) capability, the aircraft can penetrate potentially hazardous areas to conduct single or multi-ship infiltration, exfiltration and re-supply of Special Operations Forces (SOF) via airdrop or air-land operations, and conduct long-range refuelling operations of SOF vertical-lift assets. The squadron also supports information operations, humanitarian relief, medical evacuations (MEDEVAC) and non-combatant evacuations. In conjunction with its sister squadron, the unit regularly performs long-range air refuelling operations, performing both day and night air-to-air refuelling with the 7th SOS Ospreys. An additional part of the squadron's mission sees it also support European Command (EUCOM), Africa Command

Following the announcement by AFSOC, the following statement was released by the 352nd SOG Public Affairs on 5th June 2013, confirming the planned arrival of the first CV-22 and MC-130J aircraft. "Beginning in June, the 352nd SOG plans to start receiving the first two of ten CV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and the first of its 12 MC-130J Commando II fixed-wing aircraft. The remaining eight Osprey aircraft are scheduled to arrive at Mildenhall by the end of 2014 (although only five were actually on strength by then), with the additional MC-130J inventory scheduled to take up to five years to arrive. In addition to the aircraft, the 352nd SOG is scheduled to have an increase in additional U.S Air Force personnel assigned to the unit. The decision to expand the 352nd SOG is a result of close co-ordination between the UK Ministry of Defence and the U.S Department of Defence."

Col. Christopher Ireland, then 352nd SOG Commander (left), said "We are welcoming back vertical airlift to SOF (Special Operations Forces) in Europe". He went on, "It's been almost six years since we've had it here, and the modernisation of the force improves our efficiency and effectiveness". He went on to say; "We're increasing in aircraft, operators, maintainers and support personnel. With the growth, we'll be able to more fully support operations requirements and partner-nation training opportunities."

The addition of the CV-22s and MC-130Js will enhance the capabilities of the 352nd SOG, the Osprey combining the vertical take-off & landing qualities of a helicopter, with the long-range fuel efficiency and speed of a turbo-prop aircraft. This versatile, self-deployable aircraft offers increased speed and range

Throughout its history, the wing or its squadrons have deployed in support of many overseas operations such as; Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Provide Promise, Deny Flight, Allied Force, Assured Response, Silver Anvil, Atlas Response, Support Hope, Joint Endeavour, Deliberate Force, Guardian Assistance, Shining Express, Autumn Return, Assured Delivery, Aster Silver and Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara, Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector.

With the 352nd SOG having lost its vertical-lift capability when it disbanded its squadron of Sikorsky MH-53M Pave-Low helicopters back in September 2007, rumours began to circulate around RAF Mildenhall during 2011 that the 352nd would take on a squadron of Bell-Boeing CV-22 Ospreys in addition to the MC-130 Hercules that were still in service. To emphasize these rumours, March 2011 saw four CV-22s from the 20th SOS/27th SOG at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, arrive at RAF Mildenhall to conduct what was believed to be an evaluation of operability. By the middle of 2012 it had been confirmed that not only would the CV-22 Osprey be coming to RAF Mildenhall, but in addition the 352nd would find its old MC-130s being replaced by the newer and much improved MC-130J Commando II version of the Hercules, with its current eight aircraft strength also being increased at the same time to a total of 12 aircraft.

#11-0057 gets airborne from RAF Mildenhall

The 352nd Special Operations Wing is the main air component for special operations within the United States Air Force European Command, under the operational control of the commander for Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR). An essential part of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the Wing has more than 1,000 Air Force personnel assigned, as well as nearly 50 personnel attached/associated as members of Joint Special Operations Air Component-Europe and Detachment 2, 25th Intelligence Squadron. Two flying squadrons operate within the 352nd SOW, both of which had previously utilised versions of the Lockheed MC-130 Hercules at one time or another. The two current squadrons are the 7th Special Operations Squadron 'Air Commandos' and the 67th Special Operations Squadron 'Night Owls'.

Bell-Boeing CV-22B Osprey:-
The CV-22B Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that combines the vertical take-off, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft. Its mission is to conduct long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions for special operations forces.
This versatile, self-deployable aircraft offers increased speed and range over other rotary-wing aircraft, enabling Air Force Special Operations Command aircrews to execute long-range special operations missions. The CV-22 takes off vertically and, once airborne, the nacelles (engine and prop-rotor group) on each wing can rotate into a forward position. It is equipped with integrated threat countermeasures, terrain-following radar, forward-looking infrared sensor and other advanced avionics systems that allow it to operate at low altitude in adverse weather conditions and medium- to high-threat environments.
The CV-22 is the Special Operation Forces variant of the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey. Differences between the CV-22 and its Marine counterpart include special avoidance radar, an additional 900 gallons of fuel capacity, rope ladders, a survivor locator system, and additional radios and upgraded computers. The first two test aircraft were delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in September 2000. The 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland AFB, N.M, began CV-22 aircrew training with the first two production aircraft in August 2006.
The first operational CV-22 was delivered to Air Force Special Operations Command's 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in January 2007. Initial operational capability was achieved in 2009. The 27th Special Operations Wing, Cannon Air Force Base, NM, received its first CV-22 in May 2010 and a total of 50 CV-22 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by 2016.
General Characteristics
Primary Function: Special operations forces long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply. Power Plant: Two Rolls Royce-Allison AE1107C turbo shaft engines. Thrust: 6,200 shaft horsepower per engine. Wingspan: 84 feet, 7 inches (25.8 meters). Length: 57 feet, 4 inches (17.4 meters). Height: 22 feet, 1 inch (6.73 meters). Rotor Diameter: 38 feet (11.6 meters). Speed: 277 miles per. hour (241 knots) (cruising speed). Ceiling: 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Maximum Vertical Take-off Weight: 52,870 pounds (23,982 kilograms). Maximum Rolling Take-off Weight: 60,500 pounds (27,443 kilograms). Armament: 1 x .50 Cal Machine gun on ramp. Range: combat radius of 500 nautical miles with 1 internal auxiliary fuel tank; unlimited range with aerial refuelling. Payload: 24 troops (seated), 32 troops (floor loaded) or 10,000 pounds of cargo. Crew: Pilot, co-pilot and two flight engineers

Speaking at the four-star forum of the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on 19th September 2012, then AFSOC Commander, Lt. General Eric Fiel said, "Air Force Special Operations Command plans to stand up a squadron of CV-22 Ospreys at RAF Mildenhall, England". He went on to say, "Probably June or July (2013), we'll be standing up our third CV-22 squadron, when the first aircraft land at Mildenhall. Next summer, AFSOC also plans to replace its 'legacy' MC-130 covert operations aircraft at Mildenhall. We'll begin to re-cap our aging C-130 fleet, both our Talon IIs and our Combat Shadows, by replacing them with the MC-130J Commando II".

In preparation for the arrival of the new MC-130Js, the 67th SOS retired the first of its MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft on 7th March 2013, when #65-0992 departed Mildenhall as 'Chug 41' and flew off to be mothballed at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) in Arizona. The 67th had been flying the MC-130P since the late 1980s, with the aircraft having participated in operation Desert Storm, together with operations in Liberia and the former Yugoslavia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MC-130P had become far too costly to maintain and a 2011 Selected Acquisition Report from the Department of Defense (DoD) noted that the aircraft had a significant number of 'maintenance and sustainment challenges'.

For obvious reasons, a lot of Special Operations missions are flown after dark
This 7th SOS Osprey is seen at RAF Mildenhall on 4th November 2016

'End of an Era' As with all things in life, change is a given; and so it was that on 8th January 2015, the Office of the Secretary of Defense announced that the results of the European Infrastructure Consolidation review would lead to all USAF operations at RAF Mildenhall ceasing by 2020-21, with the air base being handed back to the UK Ministry of Defence. The 352nd SOW would then move their fleet of CV-22B and MC-130J aircraft to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, thus ending a 25-year association with RAF Mildenhall. In the short term, the operations at Mildenhall continue unabated, in the longer term the decision to move the USAF's Special Operations Forces in Europe to Germany makes little sense. Of course there are cost savings in consolidating assets at Spangdahlem, but vast sums of U.S Dollars have already been invested in the infrastructure at Mildenhall for SOF operations and additional vast sums have/will be invested at Spangdahlem to enable operations to continue there. More puzzling is the fact that Germany place's many restrictions on low-flying in the country and our sources have already confirmed that the 352nd will have to continue to train within U.K airspace after they move to Spangdahlem. Aside the cost and training issues, moving to Germany take's the unit no closer in reality to its normal area of operations, which by and large tend to be in the Middle-East, so again it seems to make little sense. If the unit had transferred to say Bulgaria or Romania for instance, one could understand the logic, but as we know from experience, where the DoD is concerned, tax-payers money and logic don't always seem to go hand-in-hand. It will be without doubt a sad day when the 352nd departs to pastures new, all one can hope for is that the ever changing political situation around the world may alter things, but it seems unlikely. It will indeed be a sad day when RAF Mildenhall no longer echoes to the 'Sound of Freedom'.

The 352nd SOW Hercules ramp at RAF Mildenhall, with four MC-130Js basking in the cold winter sun

A Lockheed MC-130J Commando II of the 67th SOS basks in the morning sun at RAF Mildenhall
The six-blade Dowty propellers on the MC-130J's Rolls-Royce engines are clearly visible

The 7th Special Operations Squadron 'Air Commandos' operates the Bell-Boeing CV-22B Osprey at RAF Mildenhall. Executing night, adverse weather, long-range troop transport and re-supply operations into potentially hazardous areas, the squadron also supports non-combatant evacuation, humanitarian relief and other Special Forces operations. The Ospreys are employed using a combination of terrain-following radar (TFR), high-precision avionics and sensors, and electronic countermeasures. The Osprey can carry up to 24 troops and a variety of small tactical vehicles. The Osprey also has a hoist and the ability to fast-rope Special Operations Forces from the aircraft.

It's been very difficult recently to ascertain exactly how many Ospreys are currently on strength with the squadron, as aircraft that have been noted at RAF Mildenhall have subsequently departed to other units, plus the squadron regularly deploys 'out of area', which results in aircraft not being seen at Mildenhall for some time. Lt. Chris Sullivan from the 352nd SOW Public Affairs office told us that the 7th SOS currently has a total of ten Ospreys on strength, be it that not all of them are at RAF Mildenhall at any given time.

The 'Glass Cockpit' of the MC-130J makes life much simpler for both pilots and the Combat Systems Operator in comparison to the older MC-130P & MC-130H. It also results in the crew being reduced from eight to five

We would like to thank the following for arranging our access to the 352 SOW:-
Lt. Christopher Sullivan (352nd SOW, Public Affairs)

Lockheed MC-130J Commando II :-
The Commando II's mission is to fly clandestine or low visibility, low-level air refuelling missions for special operations helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft, provide infiltration, exfiltration, and re-supply of special operations forces (SOF) in politically sensitive or hostile territories. The MC-130J primarily flies missions at night to reduce the probability of visual acquisition and intercept by airborne threats.
The MC-130J includes: an advanced flight deck with fully integrated digital avionics; Combat Systems Operator (CSO) and auxiliary flight deck stations; colour multi-function liquid crystal displays; head-up displays; fully integrated navigation systems with dual inertial navigation system and global positioning system; integrated defensive systems; low-power colour radar; digital moving map display; turboprop engines with six-bladed, all-composite propellers; digital auto pilot; improved fuel, environmental and ice-protection systems; enhanced cargo-handling system; Universal Air Refuelling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI), air refuelling pods, Electro Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) System; dual SATCOM for voice/data; loadmaster/scanner restraint system; and Large Aircraft Infrared Counter-Measure (LAIRCM) provisions.
The MC-130J is replacing the ageing SOF fleet of 37 MC-130E and P tankers. The first aircraft was delivered in September 2011 to Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., with final delivery expected in fiscal year 2017. The aircraft was renamed the Commando II from Combat Shadow II in March 2012.
General Characteristics
Primary Function: Air refuelling of SOF helicopter/tilt rotor aircraft, infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of SOF by airdrop or landing. Builder: Lockheed-Martin. Power Plant: 4 Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 Turboprops:. Thrust: 4,591 shaft horsepower. Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches (39.7 meters). Length: 97 feet, 9 inches (29.3 meters). Height: 38 feet, 10 inches (11.9 meters). Speed: 362 Knots at 22,000 feet. Ceiling: 28,000 feet with 42,000 pound payload. Maximum Take-off Weight: 164,000 pounds. Range: 3,000 miles unrefuelled. Crew: Two pilots, one combat systems officer and two loadmasters

As well as providing fuel, the MC-130J Hercules can also be refuelled in the air so as to extend mission time
A 67th SOS MC-130J is seen here taking on fuel from a Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker of the 100th Air Refueling Wing

#11-0060 shows off it vertical-lift capability as it is seen recovering to RAF Mildenhall

On 23rd March 2015, the 352nd Special Operations Group (SOG) at RAF Mildenhall, England, was re-formed into the 352nd Special Operations Wing (SOW). This re-naming followed a period of transition over the previous 18 months, which had seen both of the unit's flying squadrons re-equip with more modern aircraft, with the 're-modelling' to Wing status reflecting the increased responsibilities and capabilities of the unit. A new subordinate unit within the 352nd SOW was also added in the form of the 752nd Special Operations Group, which 'stood up' at the same time and is responsible for both the 7th and 67th Special Operations Squadrons (SOS), flying the Bell-Boeing CV-22B Osprey and Lockheed MC-130J Commando II respectively. Jetwash Aviation Photos has been working with the unit to bring you an up to date report on their current operations and the expected move from Mildenhall to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany in 2020-21.

352nd Special Operations Wing

Special Operations Command Europe


​​Jetwash Aviation Photos