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Johnson County Airport hosts military training group

A Boeing V-22 Osprey, flies over the County while making use of the Johnson County, TN Airport during a training mission last week. The impressive aerial display of a modern marvel of aerospace engineering is made by Bell Helicopter and Boeing, it is meant to merge a conventional helicopter’s functions with those of a turboprop aircraft. Photo by Jason Stamper.

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Locals were awakened by the rumbling of an early morning earthquake, a couple of Sundays ago, but by the afternoon, a different kind of rumble drew attention, and this time, it was coming from the sky as odd-looking aircraft were buzzing around the East Tennessee mountains. Before too long, a crowd began to gather to witness the impressive aerial display of the Boeing V-22 Osprey, a modern marvel of aerospace engineering.

“I received a call from a representative last Saturday night asking if it would be all right to utilize Johnson County Airport for a training mission on Sunday with a new Marine crew that operates the V22 aircraft,” said Dave Garris, Johnson County Airport Manager. 

Garris added that not only did he welcome the group, but offered free BBQ for the crew and a fuel discount because he knew the locals would love it. 

“I was hesitant in publishing anything in advance,” he said, “because if they did not make it, then I would have the community waiting for a show that did not exist.”

The new MV-22B variant can carry up to 18 combat-ready Marines, and is used as an assault transport for troops, equipment, and supplies, and can operate from ships or expeditionary airfields. The aircraft is a tiltrotor helicopter with vertical takeoff and landing, and short takeoff and landing capabilities, in service with modifications since 2007.  Made by Bell Helicopter and Boeing, it is meant to merge a conventional helicopter’s functions with those of a turboprop aircraft.

Around 11:15 am on Sunday, members of the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 204 based in Jacksonville, North Carolina, arrived.

“I could feel the concussions of those monster propellers coming over the mountain,” said Garris, who immediately started texting fellow airport buddies and getting his camera ready. “Upon looking down at the arrival end of Runway 24, I could see those huge engines starting to articulate in the vertical landing configuration it needs to hover for touchdown here in front of the main hangar,” recalled Garris. “The sight was awesome, and the trees on the other side of Roan Creek were just about to blow over from the downwash of those enormous propeller blades.”

Jason Stamper, his wife, and children were determined to witness the impressive training exercise.

“The boys and I saw it buzz our house, and we were in the car on the way to the airport,” said Stamper, who advised Dave Garris was kind enough to allow the family to stand by the hanger just inside the gate. “One of the aircrews saw the boys and walked over to give them a patch off their uniform,” said Stamper. “The boys were over the moon since they love airplanes so much.”

After a few rounds of takeoffs and landings, it was time for another pilot to give it a try. “They taxied into the apron area burning up my manicured grass with the Jet exhaust,” said Garris, who explained the wingspan of the aircraft was so large it could not fit on the ramp without a hangover. 

“I was invited into the craft for interior images,” said Garris, “and to meet the ranking officer in charge of the training mission.”

After the new pilot took controls, the group performed hovering maneuvers and did a few more rounds of landings before departing east with a radio call expressing gratitude for the space to conduct another successful training mission.