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The OV-1 Mohawk Remembered Firsthand: Piloting the Mohawk in Vietnam

Part 2 of 2

Retired Lt. Col. Alex Paruti had hundreds of flying hours in the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk when he joined the 225th Aviation Company “Phantom Hawks” at Phu Hiep, near the new U.S. airfield at Tuy Hoa, South Vietnam.

By then, the Army and the Air Force had resolved their squabbles over roles and missions and agreed (on Jan. 1, 1967) that “the Air Force would never again complain about armed helicopters,” as Paruti put it, “but the Army would strip the weapons off the Mohawks.”

“I was aboard the first C-141A Starlifter that landed at Tuy Hoa on May 1, 1967. We started receiving our Mohawks that month and lost our first aircraft two months later in July.

OV-1 Mohawk

A OV-1 Mohawk in South Vietnam. Although officially unarmed during the Vietnam War, the OV-1 Mohawk was capable of carrying a .50 cal. machine gun or canisters of 2.75 in. folding-fin aircraft rockets (FFARs). U.S. Army photo

By then, the Army and the Air Force had resolved their squabbles over roles and missions and agreed (on Jan. 1, 1967) that “the Air Force would never again complain about armed helicopters,” as Paruti put it, “but the Army would strip the weapons off the Mohawks.” The A model Mohawks had guns. On the outer hardpoints they could carry a .50 cal. with the ammunition inside under each wing. They could carry canisters that held seven 2.75 in. folding-fin aircraft rockets (FFARs). “Officially,” said Paruti, “we didn’t arm the Mohawks after the agreement was reached.

“The Mohawk behaves very much like a high-performance aircraft although it’s not very fast,” said Paruti. “The guy we lost in July forgot his pullout altitude. He started to pull out when he was too low. That’s not a sign of anything wrong with the airplane. You can get any aircraft into a high-speed stall if you build up enough speed. When you try to come out of it, the nose will come up but the aircraft will stall.”

“We got very good at picking up North Vietnamese vehicles on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.” The Mohawk typically flew SLAR missions at a height of 7,000 feet (2,160 meters).”

Paruti said the Mohawk’s job in Vietnam could be summarized by two kinds of surveillance missions – radar, using SLAR (OV-10B, D) and infrared, using an IR sensor (OV-10C). “The OV-10B’s SLAR looked out of both sides of the aircraft up to a distance of 45 kilometers and was really good at picking up moving targets. It could catch anything that moved at a speed greater than three kilometers per hour. We got very good at picking up North Vietnamese vehicles on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.” The Mohawk typically flew SLAR missions at a height of 7,000 feet (2,160 meters).

“C models had infrared,” Paruti said, referring to the UAS-4 IR mapping sensor mounted in the central fuselage. “We flew IR missions at much lower altitudes. We had to be at 1,500 feet [464 meters] or lower. We got as close to the ground as circumstance would permit and flew searches. At low altitude, the IR in the belly of the aircraft could cover a swath about 500 meters wide.

OV-1 Mohawk

An OV-1D Mohawk, a Vietnam veteran, sits on the ramp at Texarkana Airport, Ark., in November 1978 with the squared-off AN/APS-94D side-looking radar (SLAR), different in appearance from the rounded pod carried by the B model. Robert F. Dorr Collection

“Sometimes we’d go up to Laos and fly on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We worked with Air Force GCI [ground control intercept] sites until we reached the mission area and then we’d do our own thing.

“Typically, it’s 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. We’re working with Air Force B-57 Canberra light bombers that loiter off the coast. We give the B-57s the Doppler coordinates and they come in and drop ordnance. We have a special tactical frequency to talk with them. The pilot of the Mohawk operated the plane’s full range of radios — FM, HF, VHF and UHF.”

“You had to pay attention going into a new place,” said Paruti. “Because the Mohawk has full reverse pitch on the prop you could land at airstrips where you would have a hell of a time taking off. When you come in at about 80 knots just hanging in the engines and the props, you can stop in 600 or 700 feet easily but you can’t take off in that distance.”

The OV-1D version was dual-role capable, being convertible to either SLAR or IR monitoring missions. It was the final model of an aircraft that seemed almost to have been devised for the austere airfields and heat and humidity of South Vietnam. To stay close to troops, Mohawks frequently went in an out of airfields where only helicopters and small liaison aircraft were able to operate.

“You had to pay attention going into a new place,” said Paruti. “Because the Mohawk has full reverse pitch on the prop you could land at airstrips where you would have a hell of a time taking off. When you come in at about 80 knots just hanging in the engines and the props, you can stop in 600 or 700 feet easily but you can’t take off in that distance.”

OV-1 Mohawk

An OV-1D Mohawk surveillance aircraft taxis for takeoff on a mission in support of Operation Desert Storm, Feb. 27, 1991. At the time of Desert Storm, the OV-1 was on its way out of U.S. Army service. DoD photo by Sgt. Prentes Trambue

Asked what was wrong with the Mohawk, Paruti said, “It could have used a little more power. Every time they added more power, they hung more equipment on the aircraft, mostly avionics gear. It originally had armor plate on the floor and behind the seat. They added armor on the side, which, among other things, made it harder to open the hatch and climb into the airplane. They kept adding stuff and went from 13,500 pounds [6123 kilograms] to 16,000 pounds [7257 kg].”

Paruti knew about the Mohawk before he became an Army aviator. The OV-1 made its debut in Europe during the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and, as noted in Part 1, served in Vietnam from late 1962. Paruti pinned on his wings in December 1964. His first assignment was in West Germany in 1965, using the Mohawk to pick up signals from Soviet missile sites. Paruti pulled two Mohawk tours in Vietnam, from May 1967 to May 1968 and from September 1969 to September 1970.

When the Vietnam War ended in 1973, Mohawk losses were: one shot down by a MiG, one destroyed by mortar fire, 27 lost to ground fire and 36 destroyed in operational accidents.

Production of a total of 380 Mohawks ended in December 1970.

When the Vietnam War ended in 1973, Mohawk losses were: one shot down by a MiG, one destroyed by mortar fire, 27 lost to ground fire and 36 destroyed in operational accidents.

OV-1 Mohawk

Lt. Gen. Richard F. Timmons, commanding general, 8th US Army, takes the OV-1D Mohawk on its last flight, Sept. 21, 1996. Two AH-64 Apache helicopters can be seen flying in the background. DoD photo

Although no meaningful export customers for the Mohawk emerged, the aircraft kept going in the Army for another quarter century.

During the post-Vietnam era, 36 RV-1Ds were converted from earlier airframes under the Quick Look II program for ELINT duties, using the AN/ALQ-33 tactical ELINT system. Mohawks operated from Honduras to monitor conflict in El Salvador in 1987. The Army was beginning to retire them when they participated in the first Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, in 1991.

The Mohawk left inventory in 1996.

By

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