Developed in the 1960’s, the North American Aviation Rockwell OV-10 Bronco is a twin-turboprop light attack and observation aircraft. Created as a special aircraft for COunter-INsurgency (COIN) combat, its mission was to carry up to three tons of munitions and linger for three or more hours as a Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft, providing guidance to Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft attacking intended targets without injury to friendly troops. 


The OV-10 served the United States in Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy as well as several other countries. 81 OV-10 Broncos were lost during the Vietnam War.


Crew: 2
Length: 41 ft 7 in (12.67 m)
Wingspan: 40 ft 0 in (12.19 m)
Height: 15 ft 2 in (4.62 m)
Wing area: 290.95 ft² (27.03 m²)
Empty weight: 6,893 lb (3,127 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 14,444 lb (6,552 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Garrett T76-G-410/412 turboprop, 715 hp (533 kW)
Maximum speed: 281 mph (452 km/h)
Range: 576 mi (927 km)
Service ceiling: 24,000 ft (7,315 m)
Guns: 4 × 7.62x51mm M60C machine guns
Hardpoints: 5 fuselage and 2 underwing and provisions to carry combinations of: Rockets: 7- or 19-tube launchers for 2.75″ FFARs or 2- or 4-tube launchers for 5″ FFARs
Missiles: AIM-9 Sidewinder (Wing pylons only)
Bombs: up to 500 lb
Other: SUU-11/A or Mk 4 Mod 0 gun pods

US Marine Corps

OV-10 Bronco Marines

The OV-10 was first acquired by the U.S. Marine Corps. Each of the Marine Corps’ two observation squadrons (designated VMO) had 18 aircraft – nine OV-10As and nine OV-10Ds night observation aircraft. A Marine Air Reserve observation squadron was also established. The OV-10 operated as a forward air controller and was finally phased out of the Marine Corps in 1995 following its employment during Operation Desert Storm, which also saw the final combat losses of OV-10s by US forces. Among these losses were two USMC OV-10s being shot down due to a lack

OV-10A Bronco VMO-2

A U.S. Marine Corps North American OV-10A Bronco (BuNo 155452) from Marine Observation Squadron VMO-2. Photo credit: U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation

of effective infrared countermeasures. It was also thought that the slow speed made it more vulnerable to anti-aircraft weapons.Forward air control passed mostly to ground units with laser designators and digital radios (GFACs) and the twin-seat F/A-18D Hornet (FAC(A)s). Most operational U.S. Broncos were reassigned to civil government agencies in the U.S., while some were sold to other countries.

The U.S. Marine Corps OV-10 Night Observation Gunship System (NOGS) program modified two OV-10As to include a turreted forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor with a co-boresighted LASER Target Designator and turreted 20 mm (.79 in) M197 gun slaved to the FLIR aimpoint. The BuNo of the two converted were 155395 and 155396 (note-Wikipedia states four were modified; CAF has it on authority from a pilot, Jim Dearborn, who flew in Vietnam as part of a combat eval that two were converted). NOGS succeeded in Vietnam, but funds to convert more aircraft were not approved. NOGS evolved into the NOS OV-10D, which included a laser designator, but no gun.

US Air Force

The USAF acquired the Bronco primarily as a FAC aircraft. The first combat USAF OV-10As arrived in Vietnam on 31 July 1968 as part of “Operation Combat Bronco”, an operational testing and evaluation of the aircraft. These test aircraft were attached to the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron, 504th Tactical Air Support Group at Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam. The test roles included the full range of missions then assigned to FAC aircraft, including day and night strike direction, gunship direction, bomb damage assessment, visual reconnaissance, aerial artillery direction, and as escorts for aircraft engaged in Operation Ranch Hand. The aircraft’s ability to generate smoke internally was utilized for strike direction and “in four specific instances under conditions of reduced visibility, the smoke was seen by strike aircrews before the [OV-10A] [was] detected.” Operation Combat Bronco

Two U.S. North American OV-10A-1-NH Broncos of the Missouri Air National Guard ready to taxi out to the runway at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, USA. They were attached to the 110th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Both aircraft (s/n 66-13557, 66-13558) were later sold to the Venezuelan Air Force as FAV 4523 and FAV 0068. In the background is the McDonnell Douglas F-4C-25-MC Phantom II (s/n 64-0928) which was retired to AMARC as FP0077 on 20 May 1987. Photo credits: LCOL J.S. Schweich Jr., USAF

ended on 30 October 1968.

After the end of Combat Bronco, the USAF began to deploy larger numbers to the 19th TASS (Bien Hoa), 20th TASS (Da Nang), and for out-of-country missions to the 23d TASS (Nakhom Phanom in Thailand). The 23d TASS conducted missions in support of Operation Igloo White, Operation Prairie Fire/Daniel Boone, and other special operations.

In April 1969 the USAF conducted an operational exercise, called Misty Bronco, to evaluate the OV-10A’s performance as a light strike aircraft. The results were positive and as of October 1969 all USAF OV-10As were to be armed with their internal .30 in (7.62 mm) M60C machine guns, which had generally been left out during the Combat Bronco evaluations and subsequent deployment. High explosive 2.75 in (70 mm) rockets were also authorized for use against ground targets.

In 1971, the 23d TASS’s OV-10A Broncos received modifications under project Pave Nail. Carried out by LTV Electrosystems during 1970, these modifications primarily included the addition of the Pave Spot target laser designator pod, as well as a specialized night periscope (replacing the initial starlight scopes that had been used for night time operations) and LORAN equipment. The callsign Nail was the radio handle of this squadron. These aircraft supported interdiction of troops and supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail by illuminating targets for laser-guided bombs dropped by McDonnell F-4 Phantom IIs. After 1974, these aircraft were converted back to an unmodified OV-10A standard.

At least 157 OV-10As were delivered to the USAF before production ended in April 1969. The USAF lost 64 OV-10 Broncos during the war, to all causes. In the late 1980s, the USAF started to replace their OV-10s with OA-37B and OA-10A aircraft. Unlike the Marine Corps, the USAF did not deploy the Bronco to the Middle East in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, as it believed that the OV-10 was too vulnerable. The final two USAF squadrons equipped with the Bronco, the 19th and 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) retired the OV-10 on 1 September 1991.

US Navy

The U.S. Navy formed Light Attack Squadron Four (VAL-4), the “Black Ponies”, on 3 January 1969, and operated in Vietnam from April 1969 through April 1972. The Navy used the Bronco OV-10A as

OV-10D Bronco

A U.S. Marine Corps Rockwell OV-10D Bronco (BuNo 155489) launching from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). The Broncos hitched a ride aboard the carrier to participate in the 1991 Gulf War. U.S. Photo credits: Navy photo from the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) 1991 cruise book

a light ground attack aircraft, for interdiction of enemy logistics, and fire-support of Marines, SEALs and river boats. It succeeded in this role, although the US Navy did lose seven OV-10s during the Vietnam War to various causes. Other than OV-10 Fleet replacement training done in cooperation with Air Antisubmarine Squadron Forty-one (VS-41) at NAS North Island, California, VAL-4 was the only squadron in the U.S. Navy to ever employ the OV-10 and it was decommissioned shortly following the end of the Vietnam War. VAL-4’s surviving OV-10s were subsequently transferred to the Marine Corps.

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