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OV-10 Bronco Was the Right Weapon for Vietnam

“The cockpit was well laid out. The airplane was easy and responsive. It was fun to fly because it was so maneuverable. You couldn’t spin it.”

Col. Arnie Franklin is remembering his days piloting the North American OV-10A Bronco with the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron, or TASS, at Nakhon Phanom Air Base, or NKP, Thailand in 1971 and 1972. The comparatively small and very nimble Bronco was a contrast to the robust F-111F Aardvark Franklin flew for most of his U.S. Air Force career.

“It had more than enough power until we started loading junk on it,” said Franklin.

“It had more than enough power until we started loading junk on it,” said Franklin. “With a centerline external fuel tank and four rocket pods it became seriously weighted-down. In that condition if you lost an engine on takeoff you didn’t have enough rudder authority to keep the airplane going straight, so we kept it on the ground as long as we could before pulling it off.”

Franklin flew forward air control, or FAC, missions in the OV-10A, both in “two-sticker” (dual control) versions and in versions equipped with the Pave Nail night-vision and -range-finding pod. He believes the Bronco had an “important impact” on U.S. military operations.

Arnold Franklin

Capt. (later, Col.) Arnold Franklin piloted OV-10A Broncos with the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, from 1971 to 1972. Robert F. Dorr Collection

 

Bronco Beginnings

The OV-10 Bronco became an icon of the Vietnam War and may be getting a chance to be reborn today – but the twin-boom, twin-engine Bronco actually predates American intervention in Southeast Asia.

The OV-10 stems from a 1959 Marine Corps study that proposed an observation aircraft able to “live” in the field with the troops it was to support. In 1961, the Air Force realized the need for an aircraft suited to anti-guerrilla operations. The Air Force envisioned an inexpensive aircraft, simple to maintain and easy to fly.

The OV-10 Bronco became an icon of the Vietnam War and may be getting a chance to be reborn today – but the twin-boom, twin-engine Bronco actually predates American intervention in Southeast Asia.

In August 1964, the North American aircraft was chosen over ten competitors. It was a twin turboprop with a slender, two-seat, tandem fuselage pod, topped with a large bulbous canopy. A 660-shp Garrett Air Research T76-G-6/8 turboprop engine was mounted beneath each wing.

On July 16, 1965, the first of seven prototype YOV-10As (bureau number 152879), lifted off from Port Columbus Airport, Ohio on its maiden flight, with Ed Gillespie at the controls. Tests, which included pilots from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, disclosed a need for modifications to reduce drag and increase lateral stability at high airspeeds. Wingspan was increased from 30 feet 3 inches (9.36 meters) to 40 feet (12.38 meters). The engine nacelles were moved outboard 6 inches to reduce “prop beat” and noise. Garrett introduced 715-shp, T76-G-10/12 engines, without any increase in engine dimensions.

OV-10A Bronco

The OV-10 Bronco making its maiden flight in Southeast Asia in August 1968 during its 90-day period of combat evaluation with the 19th TASS. U.S. Air Force photo

The reconfigured OV-10A first flew on Aug. 15 1966. The seventh prototype OV-10A was fitted with Pratt & Whitney Canada T74 (PT6A) turboprop engines for comparative testing.

The Marines and Air Force took delivery of their first production aircraft on Feb. 23, 1968. The Marine Corps was the first to establish a training program, with squadron VMO-5 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., initially handling Bronco transition training beginning in March 1968.

Before the Marines withdrew in 1971 as part of President Richard M. Nixon’s phase-down, they utilized the OV-10A in almost every role for which it had been designed: Forward air controller, radio relay station, artillery spotter, helicopter escort, visual reconnaissance, convoy escort, and attack.

Squadron HML-267, also at Pendleton, later took over the training of OV-10 pilots. The first combat-ready squadron was VMO-2, which went into combat on July 6, 1968 from the Marble Mountain airstrip near Da Nang. VMO-1 became the second OV-10 squadron in Vietnam in October 1968. VMO-6 arrived soon afterward and flew from Quang Tri. This squadron unit was withdrawn to Futenma, Okinawa in October 1969, where it served until being disestablished in January 1977.

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...