North American Rockwell
    OV-10 "Bronco"

The OV-10A Was Designed As A Close Air Support And Anti-Guerilla Aircraft That First Flew On July 16, 1965.
In 1968, The United States Navy Selected The 'Bronco' To Bolster It's Support Of The Brown Water Navy In The Mekong Delta Of South Vietnam.

OV-10 Dimensions, Specifications & Data
Length: 41 Feet 7 Inches Height: 15 Feet 1 Inch Wingspan: 40 Feet
Wing Area: 291 Square Feet Empty Weight: 7190 Pounds Max. Take Off Weight: 14,440 Lbs.
Landing Speed: 70 MPH Cruising Speed: 195 MPH Max Speed @ Sea Level: 281 MPH
Take Off Roll: 679 Feet Climb Rate 39 FPS Service Ceiling: 28,800 Feet

Powered By 2 Garrett AiResearch T76-G-10/12 715 Horse Power Engines With Counter Rotating Propellers

805 Miles On 252 Gallons Of Internal Fuel In 5 Tanks
1380 Miles With Optional 150 Gallon Tank

Four M-60 (7.62 mm) Machine Guns
Centerline Station For 20 mm Gun Pod; External Fuel Tanks Or Other Stores
Four Sponson Stations For Rocket Pods, Mini-Guns Or Other Stores
Two Wing Stations For Zuni Rockets Or Other Stores

There Are Two Rather Interesting Articles About The Inception Of The Light Armed Reconnaissance / Counter-Insurgency Aircraft That Evolved Into The OV-10. The First Is A Five Page "Pamphlet" That North American Aviation Distributed Around The Mid-Sixty's And The Second Is A Four Page 'Aeronautical Engineering' Article From Aviation Week And Space Technology Magazine Dated July 13, 1964 About North American Aviation's Entry Into The Navy's Competition.

☀ North American's Pamphlet      ~      Aviation Week's Article ☀

☀ Mark Byars Sent 13 Black Ponies ~ A PDF File About The Black Ponies And The Bronco  ☀

The Bronco Story


The end of WWII brought with it the era of boom and zoom for military aviation along with mushroom clouds, jet speeds and an independent Air Force. Korea soon showed the continuing necessity for ground troops and old fashioned Close Air Support (CAS), but the Army was impotent against the Air Force's preoccupation with jets, and in the late '50's hadn't developed it's rotary-wing substitute. Naval Aviation was competing with the new Air Force for nuclear roles in order to maintain its very existence. The Marines still advertised CAS, but were following the Air Force lead and justified the transition to jets on the basis of speed and bomb load capacity.

The Navy's workhorse A-4 "Skyhawk" only had three external stores stations - two for drop tanks and a centerline for a nuclear weapon. Even though the addition of K.P. Rice's "multi-carriage bomb racks" added to our conventional strike capability it remained that jets, even with lots of bombs, couldn't provide really effective CAS. The official definition of CAS was, "Air support...integrated with the ground scheme of maneuver." This meant that it had to be there when it was needed, and close enough to distinguish the enemy, the situation and friendly troops. The jets were too big, too expensive and too centrally controlled to be properly responsive, and their speed was so high that they couldn't find, let alone hit, CAS targets. Something else was needed to go after the fleeing and elusive targets that are often so close to friendly troops that discrimination becomes a major factor.

Initial Design

Out of this need was born the OV-10A "Bronco". The airframe was designed to cover both the lower end of the performance envelope that had made WWII CAS so effective and applied recently available technology for operations near the supported troops. The designers were looking for a plane that could dive bomb like a Stuka or an SBD, maneuver like an SNJ/AT-6, and was as fast and strong as a Corsair. To be able to operate with supported troops, the aircraft needed to be small, easily supported and relatively inexpensive, able to land and take off near a typical Battalion CP. The use of ground ordnance and communications to save weight, size and logistics was paramount. The ordnance needed to be near the centerline for accuracy, the best possible visibility, and a seat for an observer were also deemed a must. Initial funding was finagled through China Lake as long as we showed progress.

Trying to build a prototype

Trying to make a "home built" military aircraft after the concept got into the hostile Navy "system," proved to be a major undertaking. The actual construction began in a garage. Fiberglass and other "composite" materials were new to aviation in 1961, but major companies like Boeing and Lockheed were developing some grond breaking technologies. But once we got the fuselage shaped, things like seats, controls and similar fittings were needed. With initial parts like rudder pedals were acquired from the aircraft boneyard at China Lake. Bureauacracy and regulations kept getting in the way of progress, but eventually the project was moved into super Quonset in the Special Weapons Training Unit at China Lake. The project attracted mixed interest from pilots, mechanics and ordnance men.

The original concept of a small, simple aircraft that could operate close to the supported troops had been almost completely eviscerated by the "system." The ability to operate from roads (20ft span and 6.5 tread) had been ignored, and the performance of the short 30ft span had been compromised by the extra 1000lbs for the rough field landing gear and another 1000lbs of electronics that had been added. The "light, simple" airplane also had a full complement of instruments, ejection seats and seven external store stations. The concept of using ground ordnance had been ignored, although it did have provisions for four M-60 machine guns. In spite of this growth (almost double the size and weight of the original home-built version), the YOV-10 still had great potential. It would not achieve the advantages of integration with the ground scheme of maneuver, but it did have capabilities at the low end of the performance envelope that were still valuable and unique. The final characteristics (taken from SYSCOM's evaluation criteria) were:

  • Take off and landing distance
  • Loiter time and endurance
  • Max. speed
  • Ferry range

But by the end of 1963, nine companies had submitted bids: Beech, Douglas, Convair, Goodyear, Helio, Hiller, Lockheed, Martin and North American. Beech, Douglas and Lockheed had conventional single fuselage designs. Goodyear had an interesting design with a short wing and high mounted engines. Helio proposed a modification of their twin engine utility transport which was rejected early. Hiller, Convair, Martin and North American all had the twin boom configuration that the original designers had been pushing for to eventually accommodate a recoilless rifle. Convair was notable because they were already building their entry. The Martin entry had an interesting inverted "V" tail design which featured exhaust gasses from the engines ducted through the booms. North American, the ultimate winner, had a straightforward twin boom configuration and a notable helicopter-like canopy to promote visibility. North American was selected as the winner and in October received a contract for seven prototypes.

In 1965, the North American YOV-10 made it's first flight. Evaluation from early testing made it obvious that a new operational concept was needed. The first order of business was to get the wingspan increased to 40 ft and remove the disabilities in handling and performance that derived from the now meaning less, short wingspan requirement. (Note: Washboard Landing Gear Test Flight Video Is In The Video Section.)

The Air Force position that the OV-10 was only good for forward air control grew stronger, and then dominant. The Air Force's insistence on "central control" overrode all the user input aimed at improving the synergy of air and ground operations. When the first production OV-10A with a 40ft wingspan and a few other improvements such as larger (715hp) engines, angled sponsons and tail fillets was cleared for production in early '68, the airplane had great tactical capabilities, but was already severely limited in its applications by politics. The largest hang up the Tactical Air Command had with respect to the OV-10 was the "Line." Above the line were the combat airplanes, of which TAC could have 4,000. Below the line were the supporting and light, usually commercial airplanes, which were not controlled. If the OV-10 was denied a combat function, it did not count toward the limit. However, if they were armed and allowed use of their weaponry, they had to be counted in the 4,000 total and would replace F-4s on a one to one basis.

The OV-10A: Into Service and Action

Deliveries of the production OV10As started in February, '68, first to the Marine's VMO-5 at Camp Pendleton, California, and then to the Air Force's 4409th CCTS at Hurlburt Field, Eglin AFB, Florida. Five months later the first OV-10As had been deployed to Vietnam.

The initial six aircraft used by the Marines were flown to Vietnam after having been delivered to the Philippines on an aircraft carrier. Just two hours after the ferry flights across the South China Sea to VMO-2 at Marble Mountain, the first OV-10A "Bronco" went into action - a two hour reconnaissance mission in support of Marines just south of the demilitarized zone. Within six weeks this first six plane contingent had amassed 500 combat hours, almost 250 missions and was averaging 100% utilization.

The first Air Force OV-10A's were disassembled, crated and flown to Bien Hoa in C-133 transports. Uncrating and reassembly was accomplished in five days. These aircraft were assigned to the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) to be evaluated under the "Combat Bronco" program. They were soon doing very effective airborne forward air control (FAC) work.

Toward the end of '68 Admiral Zumwalt obtained some of the Marine's Broncos to support his Riverine and SEAL forces in the Delta. Assigned to Light Attack Squadron 4 (VAL-4), these Navy "Black Ponies" operated from Vung Tau and Binh Thuy. They operated on a waiver from the JCS under which the USAF would not dispute the trespass on their assignment. The waiver limited the OV-10As to 2.75 white phosphorus and once in a while high explosive 2.75 inch rockets along with their 7.62mm machine guns, 7.62mm mini gun pods and occasionally 20mm gun pods on the centerline. After a costly accident on the carrier "Constellation," the entire Navy inventory of 5 inch Zuni rockets were transferred to the VAL-4 OV-10 squadron and these were used to good effect. The waiver, however, denied all free fall ordnance such that bombs and adapted weapons of all types were forbidden. However, also by default, the Black Ponies were assigned CBU-55 fuel-air cluster bombs. Since the CBU-55 was worthless for close air support when dropped from any usual jet aircraft speed and altitude, only the OV-10As could deliver them low and slow enough to have any value.

These operations quickly confirmed that the Bronco was an excellent weapons platform. The Marines also demonstrated the aircraft's unique effectiveness in reconnaissance, artillery and naval gunfire spotting, FAC airborne, light attack and helicopter escort. In addition they demonstrated the capability to lay a tactical smoke screen so successfully that it took much longer than planned to get the demo aircraft back to the States. The users didn't want to let them go. This is a capability that has had great value historically, yet in Vietnam we had no other capability than this OV-10. Jets couldn't get low enough an helicopters were unstable. Today, we have no such capability at all.

The Air Force avoided weapon delivery as much as possible and confined its Broncos to mainly FAC work, initially not even allowing the use of its machine guns. This restriction was later lifted, but the Air Force Broncos were never allowed to explore any missions except FAC. It turned out that the 1000lb electronic suite that the Air Force had added in development to add weight and discredit the plane backfired. In combat, the FAC pilots expanded their role and became essentially very successful airborne command posts. Their pilots made the Air Force Bronco a success in spite of the machinations of HQ. They published a report, "Combat Dragon," that praised the aircraft lavishly, and asked for more and broader mission assignments. It was suppressed, however a book, written by an Air Force FAC, "A Lonely Kind of War," tells the real story very well. He used every capability the aircraft had, even the fuselage cavity to rescue a patrol surrounded by VC in Laos.

The Navy "Black Ponies," operating side by side with their own armed helicopters, demonstrated that the OV-10 could get to the target much faster than helicopters, and they often accomplished emergency missions hours before the centrally controlled jets arrived - much to the consternation of the Air Force. The Black Ponies weren't as restricted as the other services and probably got the most out of the aircraft. Even they were very limited in the ordnance they had available, mostly five inch rockets and machine guns, sometimes a 20mm pod.

In spite of these successful operations in three services, the light attack component was overshadowed more and more by the Air Force's opposition to anything that would give the "Grunts" on the ground anything airborne except what was left over after Air Force priorities were met. This eventually forced the Army into the development of the armed helicopter as the only way it could get the timely and dependable support needed.

It is interesting to note here that Army doctrine in the late '60s viewed the helicopter as a means of transport. As such, it was not a fighting vehicle and, for a time, the Army forbade any armament on helicopters. This policy was overtaken by events in Vietnam when tactical necessity forced field expedient armed helicopters. The Marines soon followed suit (for a while Marine helicopters only flew, if Army "gun ships" were available for escort.)


The original concept of the early '60s was first stopped, and then highly modified by the "System," losing the capability to operate with the troops in the process. In spite of opposition by both the Air Force hierarchy and the Navy's SUSCOM, the OV-10A still uniquely covered the low end of the performance envelope and served with distinction in Vietnam with the Marines, Air Force and Navy. It was sold to eight foreign air forces, continued in US service through "Desert Storm" and is still (2003) in use in Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Venezuela and Columbia. In addition, the OV-10 has seen service with NASA, BATF the Bureau of Land Management and as spotters for fire bombers. Not bad for an airplane that was opposed by both the Air Force hierarchy and the Navy SYSCOM.

There is no doubt that, if the needs and desires of the "customer" of CAS, the infantry, were heeded - and the biases and politics of the Air Force HQ and the Navy's SYSCOM could somehow be bypassed, our overall military capabilities could be greatly improved. Today, more than ever, we need to be able to provide timely, decisive support to the troops on the ground. Granted, "air superiority" and "strike" capabilities are very important. However, in the long run, it is usually the guy on the ground who finishes the job and we also need to support him accordingly.

The Air Force, while always giving lip-service to such support, has always opposed it as much as they could in both procurement and practice. All their "CAS" is centrally controlled and the ground commander, except for plans approved days in advance all the way up to three or four star level, can never really rely on it. As a result, CAS is seldom, as the official definition indicates it should be, "integrated with the ground scheme of maneuver." In addition, the operating concept of the aircraft currently doing "close support" has them flying more than two miles high and totally dependent on long range electronic sensors for target acquisition and guided weapons for accuracy.


Original OV-10 Bronco's were built with a 30-foot wingspan that turned out to be short. 5 feet was added to each side which greatly improved performance, handling and stability. Click on the images below for a larger version.
Short Winged Aircraft: 
After Extending The Wingtips: 

Innovation vs. The System: The Story Of The Bronco
By W.H. Beckett - K.P. Price - M.E. King.
Archived From The Volante Aircraft Website.