Legends of Vietnam: Bronco's Tale
One of the most versatile aircraft of the Vietnam War appears on the verge of a comeback.
- By William E. Burrows
- Air & Space magazine, March 2010
(Page 3 of 6)
What was finally built—by North American Aviation, which, after a series of mergers, was later absorbed by Boeing—was a much larger aircraft (the wingspan doubled) with more systems than the two friends had originally planned. “But it was still recognizable,” says Rice. “It could still be a pretty useful airplane.”
As Rice and Beckett had stipulated, the wings were set behind the narrow, tandem cockpit but even higher than in the original design, so they would not block the view of the ground or of anything lurking above and behind the aircraft. And the canopy was wider than the cockpit and bulged, which made the view spectacular.
Appropriately, the first six Broncos that went to Vietnam were sent by the Marines and flew their first missions on July 6, 1968. An Air Force contingent arrived on August 1 and began operational missions a couple of weeks later. The Navy sent Light Attack Squadron Four (VAL-4), the “Black Pony,” in April 1969 to provide close air support for its “brown water” river and coastal operations, attack Viet Cong supply routes, and provide fire support for the SEALs.
“We had an aircraft in the air from six o’clock in the morning until right after sunset,” says Chuck Burin, a Marine aviator with VMO-2 in Da Nang who on a previous tour had flown A-4 Skyhawks. Today, Burin is the chairman of the board and historian of the OV-10 Bronco Association, a group of 400 veterans and Bronco fans headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. The group has restored two Broncos for a museum displaying forward air control aircraft and memorabilia at Fort Worth Veterans Memorial Air Park at Meacham Field. One of them is an OV-10A that both Burin and Dennis Darnell flew in Vietnam.
With aircraft aloft all day—and crews on standby for night missions—a Marine OV-10 was always ready to support troops coming in contact with enemy forces. “We’d always have a crew on the ‘hot pad,’ as they called it, ready to go,” says Michael Cerre, a Marine tank officer who flew as an aerial observer. Marines who flew in the Bronco back seats were not aviators; instead they were infantry, artillery, or tank officers “who knew how to talk to guys on the ground,” Darnell says.
"On very-heavy-activity nights, we were sleeping under the wing of the plane,” says Cerre. “I can remember we used to wear [on lanyards] around our necks little plastic cheat sheets with the last coordinates we had for reconnaissance teams, so if they’d wake us to say, ‘You’re scrambling to support team Jolly Roger,’ I’d look down and the coordinate was right on my chest. We didn’t want to waste a second. While the pilot was doing everything he had to do to get us off the ground, he’d say, ‘Where we going?’ ”
The observer would be busy pinpointing the coordinates on a map and working the radios to find the fastest and safest route to the destination—around, over, or under artillery fire. “It was a really intense period of listening to a lot of voices from a lot of sources,” Cerre says, adding that the experience helped him in his later career. As a broadcaster, “I’d have that link in my ear listening to the director yelling in all kinds of things and it was easy,” he says. “It was only two people speaking.” As a Marine observer in Vietnam, he had four radios, and was accustomed to hearing a lot more than two.