Increasing communist aggression in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, during the early 1960s saw the American government begin an unprecedented spending program to acquire all sorts of new weapon systems, including aircraft. The new and popular buzz term was COIN — standing for Counter-Insurgency — and it was applied to a variety of military technologies but when it came to aviation, COIN was being used for a proposed low-cost, relatively lightweight aircraft that could be utilized to combat guerrillas in their own environment. The initial COIN project assumed that said guerrillas would be a step above spear-tossing savages and certainly not capable of fielding any sort of meaningful antiaircraft system. This led to another term — LARA, standing for Light Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft, whose initial configuration was finalized during September 1963. This new aerial warrior was to have twin engines and carry a crew of two while being able to tote four 500-pound iron bombs and four M60 7.62mm machine guns. This would give LARA a close support capability although its primary task was initially specified as reconnaissance. However, the demands on LARA just kept increasing. A Tri-Service (USAF/ USN/USMC) panel was formed to add their input and LARA now had to be capable of carrying 2400-pounds of cargo or six paratroopers/stretchers while being able to operate from aircraft carriers without any special catapult equipment. The panel wanted LARA to fly at 300 knots (350 mph) and be fully STOL (short takeoff and landing) capable with a takeoff run of just 800 feet. As one final demand, someone on that panel also wanted LARA to be easily convertible to an amphibian! To give an idea of just how many

American aeronautical companies were in business during June 1964, nine corporations submitted designs to compete for the LARA contract. And these designs were a mixed bag — the Goodyear GA-39 was sort of a seaplane fighter with overwing pod-mounted engines placed on struts. Then there was the Beech PD-183, Douglas D-855, Helio 1320, and Lockheed CL-760. These were followed by a Martin design that had twin-booms, a single fuselage and an inverted V tail with engine exhaust ducted through the booms. The Hiller K16, North American NA300, and Convair Model 48 all sort of looked alike but this gives one the idea of the incredible amount of rival talent bidding for the riches of the contract. Interestingly enough, Convair was first out of the starting gate since they decided to create their own companyfunded aircraft — the Model 48 that carried the name Charger. Convair had started earlier so they were able aircraft to be built at Convair’s famed San Diego factory after nearly three decades of aircraft building. The reason was that the Charger and the other seven designs all lost because of the government’s decision to buy a new aircraft from proven warplane builder North American Aviation. However, this did not spell an end to the Charger since some on the TriService panel were of the opinion that the Convair aircraft was much better than its North American counterpart. This forced the government to award Convair a 100-hour joint service flight test contract and, if orders followed, a more modified aircraft would enter production. However, the Charger crashed — due to pilot error — on 19  October 1965 while undertaking its 196th test flight. Thus, North American was once again placed in the winner’s circle. The NAA Model 300 looked quite a bit like the Charger with a minuscule wing, twin booms, and large bubble canopy.

On 15 October 1964, North American’s Columbus, Ohio, factory received an order for seven prototypes that would be designated YOV-10A. The unusual V in the designation was usually assigned to vertical and shorttakeoff aircraft that were experimental. The American involvement in Vietnam was growing on an almost weekly basis so time was of the essence and the first YOV-10A went aloft on 16 July 1965. Power came from two Garrett AiResearch T76-G-6/8s, initially of 660-hp each. The seventh YOV-10A went aloft on 7 October 1966, but it was fitted with P&W T74s (military variant of the PT6) for comparison testing. As originally designed, the NA-300 carried its four M60s guns in fuselage sponsors (two to a side) with 500-rpg and the bottom of the wing had hard points for bombs or rockets. It was discovered that the enemy was also becoming more sophisticated and when the initial production contract was issued on 15 October 1966, numerous changes had to be made to the basic design. It was determined that in its original concept, the YOV-10A was too light, did not carry enough armament, and offered too little protection for the crew. Also, the wing was too short to carry the extra weight and it had to be lengthened. A YOV-10A was moved back into the Columbus factory and rebuilt to OV-10A standards and it first flew on 6 August 1967. The new aircraft had the ability to carry a 150-gallon fuel tank on a center fuselage station, which could also carry up to 1200-pounds of weapons.

Photo Credit: Air Classics Magazine

Breaking away from the Texan camera plane, Matt displays the broad angular wing of the Bronco and close examination reveals
where the additional wing area was added. The plane saw extensive service with VAL-4. In 1991, the aircraft made an epic 10,000
mile ferry flight to Kuwait where it was used as a spotter for the massive 16-inch rifles aboard USS Wisconsin to blast targets during
Operation Desert Storm.

Photo Credit: Air Classics Magazine

Currently, the OV-10s being operated by the Philippine Air Force are the only Broncos still
flying combat missions. These planes, which were mainly airframes donated by Thailand,
operate on a regular basis against ISIS forces in remote jungle areas of the island nation.
The aircraft are supported by the American government but they may become available as
newer aircraft are funneled to the Philippines and the OV-10 Squadron is keeping a close
eye on the machines

Four hardpoints were now fitted to the sponsors and each could carry up to 600-pounds of armament. The underwing hardpoints were also strengthened to carry more weapons. Increased weight meant more power was needed and upgraded T76-G-10/12 engines of 715-hp were fitted. Crew safety was provided for with LW-36 zero-zero ejection seats and dual flight controls. Obviously, the original concept had grown in size but compared to other military aircraft of the time period, the Bronco was still a relatively small aircraft. We can’t forget that the whole LARA idea was to get the final aircraft into combat in Southeast Asia as quickly as possible. The USMC was the first to get the OV-10 and the first to take the type into combat. New Marine Observation Squadrons (VMO-1, VMO-2, and VMO-6) were formed and VMO-1 began operating OV-10s during July 1968 while VMO-2 went into combat on 6 July 1968 and kept on flying and fighting until flying their last combat mission on 22 March 1971. VMO-6 arrived with their Broncos at Quang Tai during September 1968 and went into combat 18 hours after arrival! The Marines would lose ten of the 114 Broncos in combat. Within the Tri-Service mission of the OV-10, the US Navy formed the unique Light Attack Squadron Four (VAL-4) that utilized Broncos supplied by the Marines. By April 1969, the “Black Ponies” of VAL-4 were flying combat sorties — many being centered in the Mekong River Delta. VAL-4 seemed like it was everywhere — blasting the enemy at every chance and offering support to a variety of other units. It was a hazardous mission and between April 1969 and April 1972, VAL-4 lost seven of its Broncos in combat. VAL-4 returned its surviving Broncos to the Marines when the squadron was disestablished in 1972.

The United States Air Force arrived in Vietnam with Broncos also during July 1968 with Operation Combat Bronco — a test and evaluation of the type that came to a close in October of that year. From that point, the USAF began OV-10 operations with the 23rd TASS (Nakhon Phanom, Thailand), 20th TASS (Da Nang), and 19th TASS (Bien Hoa). TASS stood for Tactical Air Support Squadron. These aircraft were constantly upgraded with improvements including Pave Spot laser target designator pods, night vision equipment, and LORAN. Part of the mission was illuminating targets for USAF jets carrying prodigious amounts of underwing ordnance. However, the enemy was constantly upgrading its weaponry and the OV-10 was no longer fighting simple guerrillas. Some 64 of the USAF’s 157 OV-10s were lost — a stunning total. The USAF got good use out of their Bronco fleet, the last examples being retired in September 1993. The Bronco’s capabilities just kept on growing. The OV-10D Night Observation Gunship mated the OV-10A airframe with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) night vision system that was mounted in a turret on an extended nose section. The engines were upgraded and four-blade props were added while the exhaust stacks had IR suppression. Under the fuselage, a 20mm cannon was mounted that was slaved to the FLIR turret. The OV-10D Night Observation Surveillance (NOS) variant went with the Marines to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The OV-10D+ variant saw the airframe overhauled with new electrical harnesses, instrumentation upgrades, and strengthened wings. In these campaigns, VMO-2 flew 286 combat sorties, losing two of their aircraft in action. Steaming off the desert coast was the massive bulk of USS Wisconsin (BB-64) and the Broncos of VMO-2 flew as spotters for the 16-inch guns aboard that classic American battleship. The OV-10s and the big guns worked together to destroy 54 tanks, 53 armored personnel carriers, 49 artillery units, and 112 other vehicles along with obliterating a variety of other targets. VMO-2 flew the last American Bronco combat missions and the Marines retired the type in 1995. The Bronco also enjoyed a variety of orders from foreign countries. These included Thailand, Venezuela, Morocco, Indonesia, Colombia, the Philippines, and Germany. The German aircraft were most interesting since they featured a jet pod mounted atop the fuselage nacelle. They flew as target tugs for the German military, replacing a fleet of Hawker Sea Furies. The Philippine Broncos are the last combat OV-10s and they are used on a regular basis to blast ISIS terrorist bases in the vast jungles of that island nation. Broncos have been widely used by civilian agencies within and outside the USA including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; NASA; Bureau of Land Management; Department of State, and others. Also, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal-Fire) operates a miniair force of Broncos used to guide fire-bombers. In amongst all this, it is not surprising that a few Broncos have appeared on the civil register as a new generation of Warbirds

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