The OV-10 Bronco, the bird that flew over the Vietnamese canopy, the one that provided the boys back at the base camp the much-needed information to fight back against the communist threat, the plane that put fear in the hearts of the enemy. From the North Vietnamese army to those who took up arms for ISIS, OV-10 has proven to be one of the most versatile and reliable pieces of machinery militaries from across the globe has ever seen.
The Bronco has its beginning as a recon plane for the United States Marines. The United States military saw the need for a plane that can provide suppressive firepower as well as join recon missions for the war effort in Vietnam. It did not take long before the Bronco began swooping down on enemy battalions and raining fire on anyone identified to be hostile to friendly units in the air and on the ground. Versions of the OV-10 were developed in order to ensure that it could handle itself during various COIN (counterinsurgency) missions as well as provide suppressive firepower to ground forces if needed.
Being a low flying, support aircraft, the Bronco was fitted with four 7.62x51mm M60 machine guns. The M60 machine was conceived as a predecessor to a whole line of heavy weapons. The M60, or the T161E3 gun as it was initially named, proved to be quite useful when American forces began to be deployed in Vietnam. The gun was capable of ripping down trees with its 7.62mm NATO caliber rounds. Due to being lightweight and accurate, other branches of the military gained interest in these lethal weapons. It was not long before planes, such as the Bronco, were fitted with these guns. Unlike the foot soldier that can only carry 100 to 200 rounds of ammunition, they were rigged to carry a staggering 500 rounds of ammunition per mount. This permitted the Bronco to remain in the fight and on station longer. For harder hits, an optional 20mm cannon was installed.
That’s only part of the loadout. The Bronco was also able to carry up to 3600 pounds of mixed ordnance. One could mount an ordnance directly on the centerline (under-fuselage), 4 on the sponson, and another two on each of the underwing mounts of the plane. The folding-fin five inch aerial rocket, commonly known as the Zuni rocket, is one of the many armaments the Bronco was fitted with. The Zuni rocket was first introduced in 1958 by Bridgeport Brass Company. It was, as with other missiles, named after the Zuni Tribe, a North American Indian tribe. The fins of the rocket automatically unfold as it leaves the launcher, making it more stable as it travelled to its target. Given its accuracy, the air-to-surface missile was perfect against enemy ground troops, pillboxes, vehicle convoys, and small ships. The rocket was incredibly cheap, costing only 400 dollars per rocket making it easy to manufacture.
The under-fuselage and sponson stations were also hosts to other types of armaments such as the MK-81 or general purpose bomb, a type of bomb that is not computer-guided but rather was simply dropped in the field. Though these bombs were inaccurate, they left a trail of devastation in their wake, being able to level a building even without hitting it directly. The YOV-10D did not sport such capabilities as it was installed with a 20mm M-97 cannon beneath the fuselage itself.
One of the most famous munitions that the OV-10 Bronco and other planes brandished was the LAU-7 missile package. These launchers of 7 or 19 rocket pods contained mk-4 mighty mouse missiles. These 2.75-inch folding-fin aircraft rockets were outfitted with a 2.7 kg warhead. These missiles were the bread and butter of the military as they were considered cheap and were easy to use. They were connected to the trigger mechanism in the plane via an umbilical cable that sends an electronic signal to each missile prompting it to fire and shoot out of the launcher. They travelled in the direction parallel to the plane making it easier for the pilot to determine where the missiles would hit. They were a favorite of various military forces as they cleared reinforcements, units, and convoys relatively easily; a perfect alternative for those who want to save their Zunis for bigger targets. As used in the Bronco, they often were used on ripple fire, where several are launched at once.
For those of you who are curious, the Bronco, with all its munitions capabilities and raw firepower, is not capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. The reason for this is that the plane is meant to fly at a low altitude. If it were able to carry a nuclear warhead and successfully drop it onto the battlefield, it would instantly get annihilated due to the blast. Another factor to consider is the limitations of its two Garret-brand T76-G-410/412 turboprops. Even if it were able to fly at a relatively safe altitude for dropping a nuclear warhead, the blast would instantly destroy the plane as it is not capable of flying away in time to clear the blast radius. Even so, the Bronco is still capable of carrying fuel air explosives such as the CBU-55. The CBU’s left miniature mushroom clouds in their wake, and the overpressure wave was useful for clearing dense jungle and collapsing enemy caves and tunnels. These were very useful in making a helicopter landing zone where there was none before. Three were normally loaded out on the Bronco so the fins had clearance when released from the aircraft. The CBU was used mostly towards the end of the Bronco’s run in the Vietnam conflict.
Into Desert Storm, in 1991, the United States Marine Corps had air to air Sidewinder Missiles installed on the wing station. A surprise to any errant Iraqi helicopter or fighting chance against a lone MIG.
In the vast contested deserts home to ISIS, the Bronco has demonstrated the APKWS, or Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System. A “Smart Zuni”. The venerable 5” Zuni rocket now has guidance and can hit a bad guy while standing in a doorway.
These are just some of the weapons and munitions that the OV-10 Bronco is capable of carrying. If you are interested to know more about the Bronco and its impressive payload, or even want to pitch in the restoration process of these majestic metal planes, you can visit the OV-10 Squadron headquarters in Leading Edge Avionics Hangar at John Wayne/Orange County Airport at 19300 Ike Jones Road, Santa Ana, CA 92707 or contact us by leaving a message in our website. Our restoration hangar is located at Chino Airport California. Get to know more about these legendary warplanes up close and in person, contact OV-10 Squadron today!