Developed in the 1960s, the twin turbo-propeller OV-10 Bronco was ahead of its time in terms of its maneuverability, utility and ruggedness. Having served under the US Marine Corps, the US Navy and the US Air Force, something truly great can be said about the usefulness and the power of this plane.
As stated in the OV-10 Bronco Association’s United States Air Force Bronco page, the United States Air Force received its first delivery of OV-10 Broncos in February 23, 1968. The aircraft’s primary role was as a forward air controller, carrying out different reconnaissance and support sorties.
Forward air controllers are to heavier-duty military aircrafts much like how scouts are to the cavalry. They work reconnaissance, and “check” to figure out the conditions in a certain area.
Different respected online aerospace and military publications give us a historical perspective into the developments that the OV-10 Bronco underwent.
The “Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report” by Joseph V. Potter made in the year 1969 details two vital operations during the OV-10’s early years: Operations “Combat Bronco” and “Misty Bronco.”
Operation “Combat Bronco”
In July 31, 1968, when the first OV-10s under the USAF reached South Vietnam, began Operation “Combat Bronco,” which was an active operational evaluation and testing for the OV-10A. The planes were assigned to the 19th TASS (Tactical Air Support Squadron) and the 504th TASG (Tactical Air Support Group) at Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam.
During this time, the planes conducted different types of combat-related sorties such as gunship direction, visual reconnaissance, aircraft escort, day/night strike direction, bomb damage assessment and aerial artillery direction.
Operation “Misty Bronco”
In April to June of 1969, the USAF conducted Operation “Misty Bronco” which was designed to evaluate the performance of the OV-10 as a light strike aircraft. Results were generally positive and come October of the same year, all of the USAF’s OV-10s were armed with 7.62mm M60C machine guns and 2.75in rockets as can be seen in Military Factory.
Project “Pave Nail”
In the article “PAVE NAIL: There at the Beginning of the Precision Weapons Revolutions”, expert Darrel Whitcomb studies the modernization and advancements in military technology; more specifically, the integration of the LORAN and the Pave Spot system into the OV-10 aircraft:
In 1971, the 23rd TASS in Thailand’s Nakhon Phanom Air Base received a couple of modifications to their OV-10 airplanes courtesy of the Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) Corporation in Dallas, TX.
These modifications included the addition of a laser designation system by the name of Pave Spot. This incorporated a low light level and magnification capability for more effective day-night targeting. One can imagine the Pave Spot system as a sort of laser tracking device that precisely “paints” targets for heavier guns to rain down on.
LORAN (Long range navigation) equipment was also armed on the planes for better navigation, and innovatively, aircraft engineers devised a way for the LORAN and the Pave Spot system to communicate with each other and determine the coordinates of the target being designated.
The assignment of the OV-10s to the Nakhon Phanom Air Base was called Project Pave Nail, and it was these OV-10s that eventually joined the effort to intercept enemy patrols and logistic chains on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Working closely with McDonnell F-4 Phantom IIs, these OV-10s from the 23rd TASS were the “point” to their “shoot.”
USAF Capt. Steven Bennett
USAF Major Donald K. Schneider’s “Air Force Heroes in Vietnam” recounts the stories of the brave souls who gave more to their country than it could truly repay. One of those brave soldiers was USAF Captain Steven Bennett.
US Air Force Captain Steven Bennett died bravely in 1972 in the Gulf of Tonkin in South Vietnam.
In an OV-10A Bronco, Capt. Bennett was flying operations for three hours providing combat support and carrying out artillery adjustment missions near the city of Quang Tri, when he received a call for assistance from a small South Vietnamese detachment. They were being stalked by a large Viet Cong force and faced being overrun.
With no nearby friendly fighters, and the high risk of heavy collateral damage from supporting naval gunfire, Capt. Bennett decided to quickly fly over and provide support by strafing the enemy.
These Viet Cong were battle-hardened, and equipped with heat-seeking SAM 7 missiles—one of the few dangers faced by low-flying aircraft such as the OV-10.
Capt. Bennett managed to pump in five strafing runs before his left wing was hit by an enemy projectile. Seeking an emergency landing, he opted to ditch in the Gulf of Tonkin, knowing full-well that the cockpit would suffer greatly from such an impact. No OV-10 pilot ever survived from a ditching.
His plane dived nose first into the water. His Marine companion/gunfire spotter managed to escape from the wreckage but Capt. Bennett, trapped in the pilot’s cockpit, did not have such a fortune. His body was recovered the next day.
Capt. Bennett was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice on Aug. 8, 1974.
The USAF received a total of 157 OV-10A’s at this time. A reported 64 was lost in conflict. The USAF retired its use of the OV-10 in September 1991, although there are recent developments such as the two experimental OV-10s deployed to support the Syria and Iraq-based military campaign: Operation Inherent Resolve last summer of 2015.
Indeed, interesting things await the OV-10 in its near future with different groups seeking to revive the Vietnam-era aircraft and suit it for more modern operations. OV-10 Squadron is an organization dedicated to the restoration of this venerable piece of aviation history. Read more about us on our website!