I'm not an enthusiastic flyer but unfortunately its an occupational hazard. For anyone currently travelling around Southern Helmand this means, more often than not, an excursion in the technological curiosity that is the V22 Osprey. This is the US Marine aircraft of choice these days. It used to be the rather more traditional and hence reassuring CH-53 in which whilst you got liberally showered in hydraulic oil, at least you knew that the rotor holding you up in the air was not going to perform a 90 degree turn whilst you were several hundred feet up.
For those unaware of its party trick, the Osprey turns from a helicopter (see picture) into a conventional aircraft by rotating those very large engines on the end of each wing into the forward position after take off (and back again for landing). Every passenger is grimly aware of the casualty strewn development path that the aircraft followed. Crashes were common and for the more imaginative hold dweller it does not make for a comfortable flight.
I am no aeronautical engineer but the physics of the thing seems to demand a very steep rate of climb. Once you know what is about to happen you hold on very tight as it feels like a 45 degree angle of ascent. Bags have been known to fly out of the very open back doors and even the tail gunner crewmen (normally the most insouciant of individuals) can be seen to be grasping onto anything solid with both hands as they fight their battle with gravity. Once airborne it's fast but blessed with rapid deceleration and a series of alarming clunks and thumps. What was that? Wheels coming down? The rotors rotating? Something falling off?
Helmand has its share of challenges but I am never so grateful for its rocky terrain as when I step off the Osprey.