The Last of the Mohawks
Grumman's triple-tail, bug-eyed, heat-seeking camera platform.
- By John Sotham
- Air & Space magazine, March 1997
(Page 3 of 4)
Crews of SLAR-equipped Mohawks provided instant intelligence results to airborne command and control aircraft and were data-linked to ground-based imagery analysts. "We could report 'Fifty movers along a ridge line,' for instance, and they could send an inbound sortie to attack the target," Hardman says. "We also talked to AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft], who would let us know when there was a fast-moving aircraft coming in. Then we'd decide if we wanted to break track and get out of there."
Despite the Mohawks' dependable service in the desert, what the world saw on television were guided missiles piercing hangars and flying down airshafts while the OV-1s and their crews remained where they always were--in the background. "There were Mohawks in the air 24 hours a day, but they got absolutely no recognition," Reed says.
Exclusion from the headlines in its last campaign served only to strengthen the close-knit Mohawk fraternity. Its members became closer still when the OV-1's retirement came and went without fanfare. For most Americans, it was like the passing of a distant relative: It's hard to miss someone you never really knew. As the OV-1 was withdrawn from service in steps--first in Europe in 1992, then from Korea in September 1996, and finally, after retirement ceremonies during that same month, in Savannah, Georgia--there remained only one place for Mohawk lovers to turn. Elvis fans have their Graceland. Film buffs head west to Hollywood. For "Mohawkers," there's Anoka County Airport, north of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Former Mohawk pilot Mike Langer, founder of the American Wings Air Museum, oversees a growing collection of aircraft used for reconnaissance, training, forward air control, and liaison, including 12 Mohawks in various stages of completion or restoration. The museum had three flyable Mohawks until a 90-mph wind gust severely bent one airplane's right main landing gear.
A partially restored Mohawk procured through a chance encounter with a military surplus catalog rests in the museum's hangar. "In paging through the catalog," Langer says, "I found that one of the aircraft available was the same Mohawk that I had put in at least half of my flight time in Vietnam. I said, 'I've got to have it, and I don't care if it never flies again'.I've got to have it.'"
Langer, who had gained restoration experience working on a Beechcraft T-34 Mentor, submitted the winning bid and trucked the airplane to Minnesota. Seeking help from Grumman officials, Langer received technical manuals and drawings but was told that only a non-profit museum or foundation was likely to obtain new parts. "I thought, there are a lot of little one-horse and one-hangar museums, particularly in the Midwest, and I've been able to pigeonhole enough interesting stuff in the last 15 years, so why don't I form a museum?" Langer says.
After four years spent securing donations and getting legal details ironed out, the American Wings Air Museum was born. Due in part to his insistence that the museum focus on the type of aircraft Langer and his volunteers knew best, the organization's credibility grew. "Our charter is four-fold: We're into photo reconnaissance, gunships, forward air control, and trainers," Langer says. "We're fairly knowledgeable, and we're beginning to be pretty respected in those areas."
Bob Johnson, a former Mohawk crew chief who served in Vietnam, knew nothing about the Mohawk Association, but three years ago, a Mohawk flew over his house near an airport hosting a fly-in. "I just couldn't believe it," Johnson says. "I hadn't seen one since 1971." Johnson hurried to the airport, met Langer, and has been a faithful Saturday volunteer ever since.