Any (North American) Rockwell OV-10 Bronco fans out there? It is one of my favourite aircraft. I like the styling of the Bronco and it was a great success story for Rockwell as a light attack and observation aircraft. 360 OV-10 aircraft were produced between 1965 and 1986.
OV-10 US Military Service
The OV-10 first flew in 1965 and was soon introduced into US military service with the USAF, USMC and US Navy. By the late 1960’s it was in operation by US forces during the Vietnam War, performing a variety of roles including observation, Forward Air Control (FAC), armed reconnaissance, helicopter escort, light ground attack and even light transport missions (there is a small cargo bay accessible by two rear clam shell doors). The aircraft was maneuverable, provided great visibility, offered a sturdy airframe and had a useful Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) capability (they were even operated from US Navy carrier and amphibious assault ship decks).
The OV-10A was powered by a pair of Garrett T76-G-10/12 715 hp turbo-prop engines that provided a maximum speed of 452 km/h (281 mph). Standard OV-10 Bronco armament consisted of 4 x 7.62mm M60C machine guns. 5 fuselage and 2 underwing pylons could carry rockets, bombs, gun pods and even AIM-9 Sidewinder air to air missiles.
The USAF operated 157 OV-10A aircraft, with 64 being lost during combat, from accidents etc during service in the Vietnam War (they performed a hazardous role in the combat zone). The USAF did not operated the OV-10 during Operation Desert Storm and retired their last Bronco in September 1991.
The USMC operated 114 OV-10A and 18 OV-10D aircraft (including a prototype). The OV-10D variant was developed from the OV-10A for night missions, fitted with an elongated nose equipped with infrared night vision systems, larger Garrett T-76-G-420/421 1,040 hp turbo-prop engines (top speed 463 km/h or 288 mph) and also heat suppressive exhaust stacks to reduce vulnerability to heat seeking missiles. A number of aircraft were later upgraded to OV-10D+ standard which basically seems to have been a wing, wiring and controls life extension program. USMC Bronco’s served during the Vietnam War (10 were shot down) and again during Operation Desert Storm over Iraq in 1991 (two were shot down). The USMC retired the Type in 1995.
The US Navy first sent OV-10A aircraft to Vietnam in 1969 – 20 were on loan from the USMC (14 for deployment to Vietnam and 6 for training in the US). They served with the newly established Light Attack Squadron Four (VAL-4) “Black Ponies“ and were used in a number of roles, including light ground attack and fire support for the US Navy SEALS, USMC personnel, “Brown Water Navy” riverine vessels and for joint US/South Vietnamese operations. 7 were shot down and at the end of direct US military combat during the Vietnam War in 1972, the squadron was disbanded with the remaining aircraft being transferred to the USMC. A small number of OV-10 aircraft were later operated for weapons testing and evaluation.
Current OV-10 Operators
Today the OV-10 continues to be operated by the Philippines and CAL FIRE. The Philippine Air Force (PAF) originally received 24 former US military OV-10A’s in 1991, 9 more were subsequently delivered from the US, followed by 8 OV-10C variants donated by Thailand in 2004. Ageing airframes, serviceability issues and the loss of 2 aircraft in crashes in 2010 and 2013, have resulted in just 8 OV-10M Bronco’s flying in 2018. The OV-10M is a modified variant with instrument upgrades, four blade propellers and larger engines. In recent times the PAF were using their OV-10’s to conduct strikes upon militants in the southern Philippines and were even used to conduct dive bombing in urban locations!
CAL FIRE, a division of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, purchased 16 former US Navy OV-10A aircraft in 1993 for tactical operations including fire spotting and air controlling fire fighting aircraft. 14 remain in service.
OV-10 Former Operators
The US Department of State Air Wing based in Florida formerly operated approximately 22 former USMC OV-10D aircraft (previously flown by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) in support of drug eradication operations in South America – the weapons were removed and a cargo bay tank and dispensers for liquid herbicide were installed. The US Bureau of Land Management operated OV-10A Bronco’s as fire spotters and for directing fire fighting aircraft until 1999. NASA previously operated OV-10A aircraft primarily for atmospheric research and later 4 OV-10D+ aircraft for flight research within their Airborne Science Program. Some of these aircraft have more recently been involved in the Combat Dragon II program which since 2010 has been testing light turbo-prop aircraft for Special Operations missions.
Interestingly the US military retired the OV-10 Bronco due to the belief that given its relatively low-speed and low altitude area of operations, it was too vulnerable to SAM’s and ground fire, despite these being the areas of operation it was designed for (required ECM were not forthcoming)! Ironically, under the Combat Dragon II program a number of OV-10D+ aircraft were upgraded to the OV-10G+ standard which included a four bladed propeller and new sensor systems.
Two former NASA aircraft have been under evaluation in providing Special Operations support via COIN and light attack duties in the Middle East and potentially Afghanistan. The 2 aircraft were upgraded to become OV-10G+ variants and were tested between 2013 to 2015, including actual combat operations in the Middle East in 2015 (believed to have been flown by US Navy pilots). Who knows, there may be more life in the OV-10 yet!
A number of other nations have retired their OV-10A Bronco aircraft or export variants of the OV-10A. These include: Colombia (15 OV-10A, later upgraded to OV-10D standard), Germany (18 OV-10B operated by West Germany), Morocco (6 OV-10A), Thailand (32 OV-10C, operated from the early 1970’s to 2004 when most were donated to the Philippines or put into museums), Venezuela (16 OV-10E with 4 lost during an attempted mutinous officer military coup in 1992) and Indonesia (13 OV-10F, 1 was lost in an accident in 2013).
Colombian OV-10A/D’s were in service from 1991 to 2015 and were operated in the COIN role. Of the 15 aircraft, 12 were former USAF examples and 3 were later obtained from the USMC for spares. One was lost in 2007.
The West German Luftwaffe solely operated a two special variant designated the OV-10B and OV-10B(Z) as a target tug, with no weapons and fitted with a clear dome instead of cargo bay doors to improve the rear visibility for the tow operator. The OV-10B(Z) was fitted with a J85-GE-4 turbojet engine with 2,950 lbst mounted on struts above the wing along the fuselage centreline, for improved speed performance (increased speed by 161 km/h or 100 mph) and an increased rate of climb. 6 B and 12 B(Z) models were in service from 1970 until retired in 1990 – the aircraft were constructed in the United States but the towing equipment was designed and installed in West Germany. One of the aircraft was a dual control trainer.
Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) OV-10F aircraft were in service from 1976 to 2007 and saw combat against insurgents and separatists within Indonesia from the 1970’s to the early 1990’s. They varied from the US versions in having 4 x 12.7mm machine guns instead of 7.62mm caliber weapons. The type was replaced by 15 Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano light attack/COIN aircraft from Brazil.
The Royal Moroccan Air Force OV-10A’s were ex-USMC aircraft purchased in 1981. USMC personnel provided training in Morocco for six months. The aircraft were used for COIN duties against Polisariso rebels in the 1980’s during the West Sahara War. During this conflict 1 was shot down in 1985 and another was scrapped following a landing accident. The remaining aircraft were put into storage in 1991. Apparently the supposed Soviet aircraft you see in a scene from the James Bond movie The Living Daylights (1987) are Moroccan Air Force OV-10’s!
Flight Global – World Air Forces 2018