Rockwell OV-10 Bronco: The Observation and Counter Insurgency Specialist

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.

Rockwell OV-10F Bronco COIN aircraft at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta, Java (May 2018).
Rockwell OV-10F Bronco (TT-1015) COIN aircraft at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta, Java (May 2018).

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).

A USMC Rockwell OV-10A Bronco of Marine Observation Squadron 1 (VMO-1) takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA-4) in 1983 (Photo Source: US Navy - photo by PHAN Dougherty).
A USMC Rockwell OV-10A Bronco of Marine Observation Squadron 1 (VMO-1) takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA-4) in 1983 (Photo Source: US Navy – photo by PHAN Dougherty).

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.

USAF Rockwell OV-10A Bronco Forward Air Control aircraft firing a white phosphorous smoke rocket to mark a ground target (Photo Source: Airman Magazine, November 1984 - Photographer: TSGT BILL THOMPSON).
USAF Rockwell OV-10A Bronco Forward Air Control aircraft firing a white phosphorous smoke rocket to mark a ground target (Photo Source: Airman Magazine, November 1984 – Photographer: TSGT Bill Thompson).
USAF Rockwell OV-10A Bronco (68-03787) at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio in 2009. It is presented in a S.E. Asia livery and was delivered to the museum upon retirement in 1991
USAF Rockwell OV-10A Bronco (68-03787) at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio in 2009. It is presented in a S.E. Asia livery and was delivered to the museum upon retirement in 1991
USAF Rockwell OV-10A Bronco (67-14623) at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia
USAF Rockwell OV-10A Bronco (67-14623) at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia during my visit 2014

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.

Rockwell OV-10 Bronco Reno 2012
USMC Rockwell OV-10A Bronco (158301) warbird at the 2012 Reno Air Races in Reno, Nevada – Flown by the Cactus Air Force Museum, it is actually an OV-10B reconfigured as an OV-10A
USMC Rockwell OV-10D Bronco
Rockwell OV-10D Bronco (155494) at the USMC Flying Leathernecks Museum, MCAS Miramar, California in 2013
USMC Rockwell OV-10D Bronco (155499) night mission aircraft in Marine Observation Squadron 1 (VMO-1) markings at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona in 2011
USMC Rockwell OV-10D Bronco (155499) night mission aircraft in Marine Observation Squadron 1 (VMO-1) markings at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona in 2011
USMC Rockwell OV-10D Bronco (155499) night mission aircraft in Marine Observation Squadron 1 (VMO-1) markings at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona in 2011
USMC Rockwell OV-10D Bronco (155499) night mission aircraft in Marine Observation Squadron 1 (VMO-1) markings at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona in 2011 – the cockpit canopy is protected from the hot desert sun
USMC OV-10D (152880 - formerly a YOV-10A prototype) was taken on a freezing cold day in Liberal, Kansas in 2013 at the Mid America Air Museum
In complete contrast to the above photos taken in extreme Arizona desert heat, this one of a USMC OV-10D (152880 – formerly a YOV-10A prototype) was taken from some distance on a freezing cold and wet day in Liberal, Kansas in 2013 at the Mid America Air Museum

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.

US Navy Rockwell OV-10A Bronco of Light Attack Squadron Four (VAL-4) "Black Ponies" in Vietnam Circa 1969 (Photo Source: US Navy)
US Navy Rockwell OV-10A Bronco of Light Attack Squadron Four (VAL-4) “Black Ponies” in Vietnam Circa 1969 (Photo Source: US Navy)
The OV-10D (155472) at the US National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida sports the livery and markings of the US Navy Light Attack Squadron Four (VAL-4) "Black Ponies" because it is an upgraded OV-10A that served with the squadron during the Vietnam War - It was upgraded in USMC service in 1991.
The OV-10D (155472) at the US National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida sports the livery and markings of the US Navy Light Attack Squadron Four (VAL-4) “Black Ponies” because it is an upgraded OV-10A that served with the squadron during the Vietnam War – It was upgraded in USMC service in 1991. Photos taken during my visit to the museum in 2011

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.

Rockwell OV-10 Bronco Aviation Nation 2016
A USMC Rockwell OV-10A Bronco (158301) warbird was used as a fire spotter aircraft during a fire fighting demonstration at Aviation Nation 2016 – Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (my photo) – Flown by the Cactus Air Force Museum, it is actually an OV-10B reconfigured as an OV-10A
Rockwell OV-10 Bronco Aviation Nation 2016 Flown by the Cactus Air Force Museum, it is actually an OV-10B reconfigured as an OV-10A
A USMC Rockwell OV-10A Bronco (158301) warbird was used as a fire spotter aircraft during a fire fighting demonstration at Aviation Nation 2016 – Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (my photo) – Flown by the Cactus Air Force Museum, it is actually an OV-10B reconfigured as an OV-10A

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.

US Department of State Air Wing OV-10D Bronco (155409 - former USMC) upgraded to OV-10G+ standard for the Combat Dragon II program which includes four bladed propellers and new sensor systems at the Valiant Air Command Museum in Titusville, Florida during my visit in 2014
US Department of State Air Wing OV-10D Bronco (155409 – former USMC, Civil Register No. N15453) upgraded to OV-10G+ standard for the Combat Dragon II program which includes four bladed propellers and new sensor systems at the Valiant Air Command Museum in Titusville, Florida during my visit in 2014
US Department of State Air Wing OV-10D Bronco (155409 - former USMC) upgraded to OV-10G+ standard for the Combat Dragon II program which includes four bladed propellers and new sensor systems at the Valiant Air Command Museum in Titusville, Florida during my visit in 2014
US Department of State Air Wing OV-10D Bronco (155409 – former USMC, Civil Register No. N15453) upgraded to OV-10G+ standard for the Combat Dragon II program which includes four bladed propellers and new sensor systems at the Valiant Air Command Museum in Titusville, Florida during my visit in 2014
NASA Langley OV-10A primarily used for atmospheric research in 2010 (Photo Source: NASA - Photographer /Sean Smith)
NASA Langley OV-10A primarily used for atmospheric research in 2010 (Photo Source: NASA – Photographer /Sean Smith)

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).

A Royal Thai Air Force North American OV-10C Bronco aircraft taxis on the runway before takeoff during exercise "Cobra Gold '87" at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base on July 23rd, 1987
A Royal Thai Air Force North American OV-10C Bronco aircraft taxis on the runway before takeoff during exercise “Cobra Gold ’87” at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base on July 23rd, 1987 (Photo Source: US Department of Defence via Wikipedia)

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.

West German Rockwell OV-10B Bronco (158309/99+33) target tug at the Luftwaffe Museum at Berlin-Gatow
West German Rockwell OV-10B Bronco (158309/99+33) target tug at the Luftwaffe Museum at Berlin-Gatow in 2010
West German Rockwell OV-10B Bronco (158309/99+33) target tug at the Luftwaffe Museum at Berlin-Gatow in 2010 - note the clear dome instead of cargo bay doors to improve the rear visibility for the tow operator
West German Rockwell OV-10B Bronco (158309/99+33) target tug at the Luftwaffe Museum at Berlin-Gatow in 2010 – note the clear dome instead of cargo bay doors to improve the rear visibility for the tow operator
West German Rockwell OV-10B(Z) Bronco target towing aircraft fitted with a J85-GE-4 turbojet engine for increased speed and climb performance (Photo Sources - Top: Avia Deja Vu and Bottom: Artist - Markus Kutscher, Frankfurt, Germany via Wikipedia)
West German Rockwell OV-10B(Z) Bronco target towing aircraft fitted with a J85-GE-4 turbojet engine for increased speed and climb performance (Photo Sources – Top: Avia Deja Vu and Bottom: Artist – Markus Kutscher, Frankfurt, Germany via Wikipedia)

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.

ckwell OV-10F Bronco observation and Counter Insurgency (COIN) aircraft at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta in Java
A well armed Rockwell OV-10F Bronco (TT-1015) observation and Counter Insurgency (COIN) aircraft at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta in Java (May 2018). The 13 operated by Indonesia were retired after a long service life from 1976 to 2007 and saw combat service against insurgents and separatists within Indonesia from the 1970’s to the early 1990’s.
Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) OV-10F aircraft varied from the US versions in having 4 x 12.7mm machine guns instead of 7.62mm caliber weapons - Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta, Java
Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) Rockwell OV-10F Bronco aircraft varied from the US versions in having 4 x 12.7mm machine guns instead of 7.62mm caliber weapons – Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta, Java (May 2018).
Rockwell OV-10F Bronco COIN aircraft at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta, Java (May 2018).
In profile – Rockwell OV-10F Bronco (TT-1015) COIN aircraft at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta, Java (May 2018).

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!

References:

CAL FIRE – Air Program

Defence Media Network – Combat Dragon II

Flight Global – World Air Forces 2018

Foxtrot Alpha – The Amazing OV-10 Was Never Allowed To Meet Its Full Potential

German Wing – OV-10B

OV-10 Bronco Association

Popular Mechanics – OV-20 War on ISIS

The Washington Post – OV-10 in the Philippines

Wikipedia – OV-10 Bronco

8 thoughts on “Rockwell OV-10 Bronco: The Observation and Counter Insurgency Specialist

  1. Certainly an unusual design but successful in many roles and for many countries. We had a flying here, in west German colours,until fairly recently, but it seems to have stopped and I don’t know what happened to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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