YAKIMA, Wash. — It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a ... plane named after a bird!
A V-22 Osprey aircraft touched down at the Yakima airport for a few hours Tuesday, giving residents a rare opportunity to see the cutting-edge military aircraft and adding to the celebration of the pilot’s grandfather, who turns 99 this week and is a military veteran himself.
Yakima native Capt. Ben Tate, 33, is a pilot with the Marines VMM 161 Squadron and returned in February from Afghanistan, where his squadron completed its first overseas mission with the Osprey, which combines the advantages of a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft
Several hundred people jammed into the McAllister Museum of Aviation on Tuesday afternoon to watch the Osprey’s loud, windy landing at 1:15 and then take a free tour of its interior.
“It’s amazing. I couldn’t have dreamed of more — to bring what I do back home and show off a little bit,” Tate said after disembarking and spending several minutes giving hugs to old friends and smiling for photos.
“That means a lot to my family and friends, everybody that came to see me. And especially my grandpa; it’s pretty amazing, 99 years old ... got the chance to come out here and see his grandson,” he said.
The Osprey is now the preferred in-country troop carrier for Marine combat operations in the Middle East, as it flies at least twice as fast and several times as far as its predecessor, the CH46 helicopter. It carries 24 troops and can reach speeds of 280 knots, or about 320 mph, and fly as high as 25,000 feet.
The aircraft’s giant propellers rotate up toward the sky to allow it to take off and land vertically, then shift down to be perpendicular to the ground once it’s in flight.
Tate’s squadron flew up from its air base at Miramar in San Diego this week to complete a series of training exercises at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma and to survey various training sites in Eastern Washington.
Tate’s crew took a few spare hours to visit Yakima, something the aviation museum was thrilled to be a part of, said museum volunteer Don Rasmussen.
It was a thrill for Tate’s family, too. His grandfather, William “Oscar” Tate, who turns 99 Thursday, spent six years in the Navy and fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II, while his father, Steve Tate, served four years in the Navy during Vietnam. Ben Tate graduated from West Valley High School and joined the Marine Corps Reserves 14 years ago, always with the goal of becoming a pilot.
Approaching his grandfather’s wheelchair after he disembarked, Ben Tate offered him a squadron medallion bearing the name and symbol of the VMM 161. His grandpa, in return, handed him a pack of Big Red gum — a staple of the pair’s fishing trips when Ben was growing up.
“We’ve always been very close,” Ben Tate said. “It’s just a blessing to get out here and do this for him.”
Oscar Tate has been excited ever since they told him the Osprey would be visiting, Steve Tate said.
“It’s just totally awesome,” he said. “How good can it get, right? A grandson coming in like this. ... What a piece of equipment, and my boy’s driving it.”
Oscar Tate’s retirement home, Orchard Park, brought him and about 20 other residents to the museum for the landing, then served cake for them afterward to celebrate his upcoming birthday.
Asked what he thought of his grandson’s plane, Oscar Tate replied simply, “Fantastic.”