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 4 of 6)
“The backseater could do what several radio operators on a C-130 could do,” adds Jim Hodgson, who also flew the aircraft and is the executive director of the OV-10 Bronco Association.
The job was “locating the ground force,” says Darnell, “isolating them on the maps, finding out what kind of a jam they had gotten themselves into, and then orchestrating whatever support was available at the time.” When there was no action, a crew was assigned to a specific area for daily recon missions so they could become intimately familiar with it, and report any changes to the intelligence officers. “It was amazing that after a while you could tell if a stream crossing had been used or if vegetation had changed,” says Darnell.
Says Burin: “You’d notice everything: The farmers aren’t out in the field today. Why is that?”
With external fuel tanks, an OV-10 could fly for five and a half hours. In addition to the four machine guns, which were mounted in sponsons bolted to the fuselage, there was a centerline station for a 20-mm cannon. The aircraft could carry up to 2,400 more pounds of rockets, bombs, or missiles on the sponson attach points.
“For those of us right out of pilot training, it was a slug compared to the T-38,” says former Air Force pilot Brad Wright, “but boy, was it nimble. You could turn on a dime and make change. It wasn’t sleek like a fighter jet, but it was plenty functional. It was a fun airplane to fly. It was responsive, fully aerobatic, had great visibility and good fuel economy.” Like other OV-10 pilots, though, Wright says that the aircraft was seriously underpowered.
“You always want more power,” says Burin. “I think the guys flying the F-22 want more power. But a number of OV-10s were lost in sloping terrain because they just couldn’t fly out of it. And if you lost an engine,” he continues, “if you didn’t dump everything that was hanging on that airplane, you were going to crash.”
Although the maximum altitude in the airplane’s published specifications is 26,000 feet, Broncos could work from the treetops up to only 18,000 feet “in optimum conditions,” according to Burin, “but we rarely flew above 10,000 feet.” Likewise, the aircraft could be considered a short-takeoff-and-landing craft, but it could take off in the advertised 800 feet only “with a light load on a cool day,” Burin says.
The Marine Bronco drivers and their backseaters ordinarily flew at 1,000 or 1,500 feet, so were most threatened by ground fire. The Air Force flew higher, at around 4,000 to 5,000 feet. “They had a lot more stuff shooting at them,” says Burin, referring to flights over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.