RED SEA --
Many may be familiar with the sleek, uniformed appearance and precise paint job of most Marine Corps aircraft, but rarely consider the process or reasons behind some of the markings.
The reasons are simple, though not unassuming, but the process is an arduous one.
A handful of U.S. Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced) are responsible for detailing and maintaining the paint jobs of 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) aircraft.
The aircraft are marked in a multiple-step process that becomes more complex the more colors are used. It starts by using tape to mask the general area, painting over the whole section, cutting away tape around the markings and repeating for each separate color.
“Especially when you’re doing more than one color, you have to think about it a lot more,” said Sgt. Tyler Deckard, VMM-263 (Rein.) corrosion control noncommissioned officer in charge and native of Bartlesville, Okla. “You try to do the more detailed things toward the end.”
In total, Deckard painted the markings of 10 of the squadron’s MV-22 Osprey aircraft.
Deckard spent approximately 12 hours on each of the Ospreys’ markings, except for the squadron commander’s Osprey, which has multicolored markings and required approximately 58 hours to complete. All told, Deckard dedicated approximately 160 hours to marking the squadron’s Ospreys.
Deckard and his section are also responsible for touching up and replacing the Ospreys’ body paint as a measure of corrosion prevention.
“In the field, all the rocks and dust kicking up, really eats it up,” explained Deckard. “Especially on the ship, with chaining the aircraft down and the salt water. Those factors chip and wear the paint, which is primarily to prevent rust and corrosion.”
The squadron also renewed some of the markings for many of its helicopters at the same time Deckard was working on the Ospreys.
“They wanted to do something that would build cohesion between the infantry battalion and the squadron,” explained Sgt. Caolan Bailey, VMM-263 (Rein.) airframes mechanic and native of Midwest City, Okla. “They decided to put Navy Cross and Medal of Honor recipients’ names on the sides of the [UH-1Y] Hueys and [AH-1W] Super Cobras to do that.
Bailey said that even with stencils, the process can still be time consuming. He masks the area with tape and uses stencils to cut out the portions of tape that were meant to be spray painted. Bailey spent approximately 35 hours repeating this process for seven helicopters.
Once completed, the decals displayed a large image of the medal received with text arching above and below, with the recipients’ names and the dates and locations of their actions.
“I did this all in my free time to avoid interfering with our flight schedule,” said Bailey. “But I wasn’t made to do this. I wanted to make sure it was done before we came out here. I wanted our birds to land on the flight deck with these markings. It’s near and dear to me, because I used to be a grunt and had a great appreciation for the air wing and what they did for us.”
The 22nd MEU is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.