Mike Manclark’s new OV-10 Squadron made a flying start at Southern California’s Chino Airport on June 22, 2019 when Eric Huppert made the debut post-restoration flight of North American Rockwell OV-10D+ Bronco NX97854.
It’s the first of seven Broncos slated for restoration by Matt Nightingale’s California Aerofab team at Chino for Mike’s Mangic Foundation, which will operate them as the OV-10 Squadron. The aircraft are being rebuilt both for personal use and for commercial and airshow operations; the team is keen to educate the public about the type and its history.
Photo Credit: Frank B. Mormillo
The OV-10 Squadron’s North American Rockwell OV-10D+, 155493, flying over Lake Mathews in California.
On January 4, 2018 the OV-10 Squadron obtained six Bronco airframes from the National Vietnam War Museum of Mineral Wells, Texas and had them moved by lorry to Chino to join the first airframe, which was already in place at Aerofab. The squadron currently consists of OV-10D Broncos with Bureau Numbers 155418, 155446, 155474, 155479, 155483, 155489 and 155493. Initially flying with the registration NX97854 pending the completion of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) paperwork to licence the aircraft in the standard category (without the ‘X’), the first of Mike’s OV-10s rolled off the North American Rockwell production line as 155493 on January 14, 1968. It was assigned to US Navy unit VAL-4 at North Island, California on January 27 the following year.
After flying combat missions with VAL-4 at Binh Thuy, Vietnam, it went into service with the US Marine Corps’ VMO-6 at Futenma in Okinawa, Japan from April 3, 1972 until May 10 of that year. The Bronco was later upgraded to OV-10D+ configuration in 1991 and finally retired to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Facility at Tucson, Arizona on June 24, 1993. It had logged a total of 8,215 flying hours in military service. Subsequently registered as N97854 on February 21, 2008 the Bronco was assigned to the National Vietnam War Museum before being obtained by the OV-10 Squadron. It has been restored in the colours and markings of VMO-2, a Marine Corps squadron based at Camp Pendleton, California.
Photo Credit: Frank B. Mormillo
Eric Huppert (front seat) and Matt Nightingale flying OV-10D+ 155493 over Lake Mathews, a few miles southeast of Chino.
Initially designed to satisfy a 1959 US Marine Corps requirement for a twin-engined, two-man Light Armed Reconnaissance Airplane (LARA), the concept was refined into a tri-service programme for the army, navy and air force in 1963. Initially powered by two Garrett AiResearch T76-G6/8 turboprop engines, the winning North American Rockwell prototype flew for the first time from Columbus, Ohio as the YOV-10A on July 16, 1965.
The unorthodox YOV-10A was a twin-boom aircraft with a central fuselage pod under a rectangular wing. Twin vertical tailfins were joined at the top by a horizontal stabiliser, and a bulged canopy provided the tandem-seated pilot and observer with excellent visibility. Both crew members were provided with ejection seats and oblique lower fuselage stubs housed four 7.62mm machine-guns, along with hardpoints capable of bearing up to 3,600lb (1,630kg) of external ordnance.
Although not obvious at first glance, the rear half of the fuselage pod is actually a compartment accessed through a sideways hinged tail cone. It could be used to carry up to 2,000lb (907kg) of cargo, six paratroopers (with the cone removed) or several stretchers for the evacuation of wounded troops. For photographic and target towing missions, several OV-10s had the tail cone replaced with a framed Plexiglass bubble.
After the evaluation of seven YOV-10A prototypes, the wingspan was lengthened by 10ft (3.05m), and the engine booms were moved an additional 6in (15.2cm) away from the cockpit, primarily to reduce noise. More powerful 715hp 533kW) T76-G10/12 engines were also fitted to production models. Initial deliveries to the USAF and Marine Corps began on February 23, 1968, with 157 going to the air force and 114 to the marine corps. Plans to supply OV-10s to the army as well never came to fruition.
The type first entered combat with VMO-2, and the US Navy subsequently borrowed 19 OV-10As from the marine corps for use by VAL-4 (popularly known as ‘The Black Ponies’) on river patrols in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. In general, the Bronco proved to be a very successful design, providing great visibility, maneuverability and versatility for observation, reconnaissance, ground attack and search-and-rescue missions.
Photo Credit: Frank B. Mormillo
The Bronco in VMO-2 low visibility colours and markings on the ramp at Chino Airport.
Following further upgrades, including the addition of 1,040hp 775kW) Garrett T46-G-420/421 engines, two OV-10As were converted to YOV-10D status for night observation gunship duties. First flown on June 9, 1970, the pair was evaluated by the US Marine Corps in Vietnam and from 1978 a total of 17 were eventually delivered to VMO-1 at New River, North Carolina and VMO-21 operating from Camp Pendleton.
To continue service beyond the year 2000, 14 OV-10Ds were upgraded to OV-10D+ configuration along with 23 OV-10As, beginning in 1985. Broncos participated in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm (the First Gulf War), before finally being phased out of service with the US military in 1994.
Both new and used OV-10s also served with other nations. Eighteen target-towing OV-10Bs were utilized by West Germany in the late 1960s, 16 OV-10Cs flew in Thailand, 16 OV-10Fs in Indonesia, 8 OV-10Es in Venezuela, and six surplus USMC OV-10As went to Morocco along with an unspecified number to the Philippines. Several examples were also obtained by civilian operators, including NASA, the California Department of Forestry and US Bureau of Land Management for air data sampling, fire-fighting spotter duties and aerial surveys.
A lifelong passion
Mike Manclark was always an aviation enthusiast. Beginning as a youngster as an airport line boy’ carrying out manual and routine tasks, he eventually rose to become a co-founder of Leading Edge Aviation Services. He’s also a commissioner in the Orange County, California Sheriff’s Department and the CEO of the Mangic Foundation, as well as being a qualified pilot.
Specialising in flight training, aircraft maintenance and charter flights, Leading Edge is now known as International Aerospace Coatings, an FAAcertified maintenance, repair and overhaul company based in Costa Mesa, California. The company is among the world’s leading aircraft painting operators – several major airlines and even the USAF’s Air Force One are listed among its clients. Mike established the Mangic Foundation to support various historic and philanthropic projects and it is the registered owner of the OV-10 Squadron.
Aerofab boss Matt Nightingale considers himself a ‘Chino kid’ having grown up in the area. His father Bob started out as a volunteer for the original Planes of Fame Air Museum when it was based at Claremont and Ontario, California and known simply as the Air Museum. Bob went on to run his own aviation business. As a teenager, Matt also volunteered at Planes of Fame and secured a job with Steve Hinton at his Chinobased Fighter Rebuilders warbird restoration company. Matt started his own facility, Aerofab, in 1997. One of his first projects was the Fighter Collection’s Curtiss Hawk 75, which is now based at Duxford. Matt brought Aerofab to Chino in 2016 and is now also an accomplished warbird pilot.
Eric Huppert was at the controls of OV-10D+ 155493 for its first post-restoration test flight. He successfully flew the aircraft for its five-hour FAA certification before checking out Matt Nightingale in the type. Eric is no stranger to Broncos, having flown them with the US Navy, the USAF, the Bureau of Land Management and the Carson City, Nevada-based Cactus Air Force. The title of the latter was derived from the code name given to the US combat units that operated from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, in World War Two’s Pacific theatre.
Although a total production run of 360 aircraft may not seem like a great number, the Bronco has given reasonably widespread service for nearly five decades and, thanks to organisations such as the OV-10 Squadron, the aircraft may also soon play a prominent role in the warbird scene.