In previous blog topics, we’ve talked about how the OV-10 was ahead of its time by being perfectly suited for rugged, backcountry operations during the Vietnam War.
The OV-10 was designed with the COIN mission in mind—COIN meaning Counter-Insurgency. During the time the plane was developed and in-demand, insurgents were nestled high in the thickly covered tree lines of rolling hills and deep in the sprawling tropical jungles of Vietnam.
In order to function effectively in this kind of rough setting, an aircraft had to be capable of long loiter, quick takeoff, short taxi times, as well as be able to be repaired by what tools were readily available. Not to mention the requirement of the pilots of being able to clearly see what was going on in front and around you.
Jets were too fast, spearing through air zones at speeds where prolonged and focused observation simply just wasn’t possible. Helicopters could’ve done the job if it weren’t for their bulkiness and vulnerability. The OV-10, meanwhile, answered that long order perfectly.
In one of our previous blogs, we explained why and how the OV-10 worked so well as a versatile forward air controller and reconnaissance aircraft. Thanks to its maneuverability, as testified by United States Army Air Forces fighter pilot and all-around legendary aviator, Bob Hoover; and its ruggedness as well as its capability of operating in austere environments, the OV-10 provided much-needed control over the skies and battlefields in the campaigns it fought in.
But did you know that the OV-10 is fighting new wars of its own today, away from Vietnam, away from Iraq and Syria, and right here on American soil?
If you’re a citizen of California, you’ll be glad to know that all kinds of wildfires, forest fires and brush fires in the Golden State are being fought and extinguished by the one of a kind North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) acquired 15 OV-10As from the Department of Defense in 1993. These OV-10As have been converted and are in use as specialized air attack planes. The CAL FIRE state that the OV-10s are “newer, larger, faster, provide a larger field of vision for the crew and are more maneuverable.”
You’ll recall from our previous blog posts that the OV-10 has what aviators call a “greenhouse canopy” for its pilots. This is a fancy way of saying “a huge glass chamber that people can look out of.” If you’ve ever seen an OV-10 before, you’ve probably noticed that it has a large cockpit that equips its two-person crew with an equally large, unobstructed view.
This, along with its amazing nimbleness as an aircraft, is precisely why CAL FIRE uses the OV-10 as a command and control center of aircraft during wildland fire operations. The crew inside the OV-10 provides tactical coordination with the incident commander on the ground, providing details such as the location, movement and spread of the fire. They then direct CAL FIRE’s heavy-duty air tankers where to make the necessary drops of fire extinguishing material.
Their long loiter capabilities allow them to supervise over fire operations for more than 5 hours at a time. CAL FIRE’s OV-10s have been upgraded with the avionics and navigation-communication systems required to properly coordinate firefighting assets.
You can rest assured that the forests all over California are under the watchful eye of the OV-10 Bronco. A plane which has been around for some time, and will continue to stick around thanks to not only its strengths but also to the patient, dedicated people who put in the time and effort to keep the plane in the skies.