The Last of the Mohawks

Grumman’s triple-tail, bug-eyed, heat-seeking camera platform

The Grumman OV-1 Mohawk. (US Army)
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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.

"We do things right, by the book," says Dave Mattsson. A Northwest Airlines mechanic, Mattsson maintains all the operational Martin-Baker ejection seats found in the museum's Mohawks. "If I'm gonna go up in one of these things, I want to trust the pilot, and if I've got an escape system, I want to trust that too."

"Mohawks aren't going to retire up here," says Mike Summerville. "This will always be a home for them as long as there's someone to fly them and maintain them." The turboprop whine of the OV-1 may have been silenced by decisions made in distant Pentagon offices, but after the close of a 37-year career, the story will continue, at least as long as there are evenings and weekends free for Langer's volunteers to turn a wrench.

 

About John Sotham
John Sotham

A former associate editor of Air & Space, John Sotham is a hopelessly nearsighted frequent flyer, with thousands of hours logged in exit rows worldwide. He is a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel and a former crew chief on the F-4D Phantom II and A-10A “Warthog.” He started collecting aviation books when he was eight years old. Any opinions expressed are solely the author’s.

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