Forty years ago this month -- on July 16, 1965 -- the OV-10 Bronco flew for the very first time from the North American plant in Columbus, OH, under the control of Ed Gillespie. Designed by North American to meet a very challenging set of requirements under the Light Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft program (LARA), the Bronco was a Tri-Service (USAF, USMC, and US Navy) program designed to fulfill the rapidly emerging need for a plane to control the course of the battle as well as having the teeth to do its own fighting when necessary. The Bronco's predecessor, the venerable O-1/L-19 Bird Dog, was effective, but by the mid-1960s it was becoming apparent that the kind of war heating up in Southeast Asia would be presenting many new threats and new capabilities were needed, which the slow and lightly armed Bird Dog just wasn't able to fully handle.
The Bronco was the first plane designed from the ground up for the COIN/FAC role, and it brought a unique set of features to the table:
- A very rugged airframe that can land and take off over 18 inch high terrain
- A crew of two so that the observer could concentrate on the mission while the pilot kept the plane out of trouble
- Ejection seats in case the worst happened
- The ability to carry a heavy and diverse loadout of marking rockets, attack rockets, bombs, and four M60 machine guns (later developments included a minigun and FLIR)
- A radio suite that could talk to pretty much everyone, everywhere, in the air and on the ground - all at once
- A cargo area that could carry four paratroopers and even drop them all vertically over one spot
- Two reliable turboprop engines
- Simple construction that was easy to repair and maintain while operating right on the front lines
- Extreme maneuverability and the ability to fly slow enough to really see what was going on down low
- Easy flight characteristics that allowed crews to concentrate on their mission rather than on flying the plane, and to effectively fly missions with only one pilot
- Visibility unmatched by any other aircraft (except perhaps a Bell 47 helicopter)
The OV-10 was a major upgrade from both the O-1 and the interim O-2 Skymaster, though both of those fine airplanes continued to serve right next to the Bronco for many years, in the same squadrons. In short, the Bronco is one of the most versatile and effective utility airplanes our military has ever had, which has been borne out by the fact that several foreign nations still actively use the Bronco in roles similar to what it was originally designed for, and are even today performing major upgrades to keep them in service... there still isn't a direct replacement available to do all that the Bronco can do.
Though the US military retired all active-duty OV-10s by 1994, the Bronco continues to soldier on today in other places. It's currently in active military service with the Philippines, Colombia, Venezuela, and Indonesia, and was retired just last year by Thailand. It has also seen service with Morocco and West Germany as a target tug (they even added a jet engine to it!) The OV-10 is still being actively used in the USA by NASA, the US State Department, and the California Dept. of Forestry in missions as diverse as atmospheric research, anti-narcotics spray operations, and fighting wildfires. A few Broncos are in private hands in Belgium, France, and the US - in fact, it was just last month that the first flight of a privately-owned OV-10 took place in the USA.
CELEBRATE THIS IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARY WITH US!
The OV-10 Bronco Association invites you to join us as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the OV-10 Bronco at BroncoFest V, to be held at the OV-10 Bronco Association's Museum at Meacham Field in Fort Worth, TX, from July 15-17, 2005 (Friday through Sunday.) On Saturday - also OBA's "Founder's Day" - we will be dedicating the newly-restored original factory engineering mockup of the OV-10 (the FIRST Bronco ever!) as well as the QF-4S Phantom 'Scooby' which we have restored as the first entry in the Memorial Air Park project.
In addition, we will have a great fly-in on Saturday with at least 20 airplanes scheduled to attend including the only privately-owned flying OV-10 in the USA as well as several O-1 Bird Dogs, O-2 Skymasters, a T-38 Talon, T-37 Tweet, T-6 Texan, a Raven T-28 Trojan, a MiG-17 and L-39 Albatross, and a Yak fly-by. There will also be lots of door prizes, good food and most importantly, good friends to meet. Don't miss it!
For more info about BroncoFest, see the article on the front page!