This Bronco was a war horse
Like any aircraft it is really just a combination of steel, aluminum, plastic, various sealants, and miles of copper wiring. Given. But beyond that - way beyond that - the OV-10A Bronco that we welcome here to Hurlburt Air Force Base for permanent static display is a true combat veteran and has a rich history of service to the nation. It flew combat in almost all theaters of the conflict in Southeast Asia logging thousands of hours over enemy territory and dodging countless enemy missiles and rounds of AAA. It launched with proud call signs such as Drama, Issue, Sidewinder, Rustic, Nail, Covey, Hammer, Helix, Trail, Jade, Rash, Hunt, and so many others. In later years, it served in Europe and the United States, before being retired from active flying service in 1991.
This aircraft was manufactured by North American Aviation at its main plant in Columbus, Ohio. It was the 75th aircraft in a production run which would eventually see the manufacture of several hundred OV-10s for the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marines, and several other countries. It was specifically designed for light strike duties and for the forward air control (FAC) mission.
The honor of its first flight went to test pilot Al Saduski. A few days later it was officially accepted by the US Air Force on June 27, 1968, and assigned tail number 67-14626. Almost immediately, it was disassembled, crated, and shipped by sea to South Vietnam. Arriving there in August, it was reassembled, painted with its gray war paint, and assigned to the 504th Tactical Air Support Group (TASGp) Bien Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam. The 504th was the parent unit of five Tactical Air Support Squadrons, the 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd. This aircraft was initially assigned to the 19th TASS for duty supporting US Army and South Vietnamese forces in military region III of South Vietnam. For the next three years, it was rotated among several of the TASSes and flew out of operational locations such as Tay Ninh, Lai Khe, Can Tho, and Phan Thiet, and saw duty in support of US, South Vietnamese and Australian forces over the southern part of South Vietnam and Cambodia. Bill Koelm was one of the first to fly it in theater. He had previously flown a combat tour in F-105s. Subsequently serving as an instructor pilot at McConnell AFB, Kansas, he volunteered when he saw a bulletin that pilots were needed to fly the aircraft in Southeast Asia. He arrived in South Vietnam in August, 1968 and watched as 626 and four other OV-10s arrived in Saigon. Over the next year, he flew it several times.
Chuck Thomas (Drama 05) was also one of the first to fly it in combat. Assigned to the 19th TASS, he flew in direct support of the US Armys 199th Light Infantry Brigade as it fought enemy forces in the battle zones around Saigon. Initially 626 was armed with just 2.75 inch white phosphorus (commonly called willy pete") rockets. As it gained time in combat, the loads were increased to include high explosive rockets and full use of the sponson mounted machine guns.
Its arrival did not escape notice by the enemy forces. It became a prized target for their gunners. Chuck Thomas saw their fire on almost every mission and brought the aircraft home several times with battle damage. He and his crew chief, Staff Sergeant Sawyer were the first to have their names painted on the aircraft.
John Stava (Sidewinder 26) flew 626 numerous times between January and July, 1970. As an instructor and check pilot, he also stayed busy checking out new pilots as they arrived in theater. One was Flight Lieutenant Graham Neil (RAAF) who received a check ride from John on May 17, 1970. Dick Wood (Rustic 11) arrived at Bien Hoa in mid-March 1970 and was Director of Safety for the 19th TASS. Between April 9 and May 12 he flew 21 flights in 626, most of them short, less than an hour, as he traveled to various locations handling safety issues. Between August 4 and September 13, 1970 he flew four combat missions in 626 each over five hours long. He flew it again one last time on Jan 4, 1971 for a 1 hour functional check flight.
Tim Eby (Rustic 40) flew 626 on August 25, 1970 out of Bien Hoa, on a mission which took him to Kompong Thom, Cambodia, where he put in several airstrikes in support of allied troops. Claude Newland (Rustic 19) flew 626 several times. His first sortie was on August 19, 1970 with Lou Currier (Rustic 09) in the backseat giving him his Cambodia checkout flight. Claude flew it again on September 25, 1970 and put in airstrikes in support of Cambodian troops near Chanang and Kompong Thom. His third sortie was a light strike mission with Cambodian Lt Ban in his backseat as an interpreter. They delivered their strike ordnance under the control of John Engleman (Rustic 03). Hank Keese (Rustic 16) flew the aircraft five times in October and November. All of his flights were into the northern and northeastern sections of Cambodia where he divided his time between destroying enemy vehicles and breaking up enemy attacks on friendly outposts.
On many of these missions the pilots took along interpreters in the back seat to speak with the various Cambodian commanders who spoke only French. George Larsen (Rustic Uniform) flew many of these missions, logging five missions in 626 with various pilots during this period.
Greg Freix (Rustic 18) flew it in combat over Cambodia on December 26, 1970. Jim Seibold (Rustic 13) flew it six times in combat between August and November of 1970. On one mission, the aircraft took several hits from enemy guns. In honor of his achievement, the maintenance troops painted Jim "Magnet Asse" Seibold on the nose gear door. Jim was gracious enough not to point out the misspelling.
This rotational pattern was interrupted in March, 1971 when the aircraft was sent to Quang Tri, just south of the DMZ to fly in support of Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese operation into Laos designed to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Tom Calvanelli (Rustic 11) flew it from Bien Hoa to Quang Tri on March 12, 1971 for the operation. Using the call sign of Hammer 227 he then flew it on operations in support of the ARVN effort, as did Brad Wright (Covey 251). Roger Carter (Nail 21/Hammer 21) also flew the aircraft in Lam Son, where he earned the Air Force Cross. Returning to NKP, he was one of the first pilots to fly in the new Pave Nail Program with the modified OV-10s. At the completion of Lam Son 719, Tom Calvanelli then flew 626 back to Bien Hoa. Two days later, after assuming another new call sign of Rustic 61, Tom flew it again on a strike mission over Cambodia.
A few days later in late April, 1971 the aircraft was reassigned to the 20th TASS at Da Nang Airbase, in the northern part of South Vietnam. There, it flew out of Da Nang and the other operating locations of the squadron at Pleiku, Chu Lai, and Quang Tri in support again of US Army and South Vietnamese operations in military regions I and II. Additionally it was used for reconnaissance and strike control missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and in direct support of MACVSOG teams operating along that vital supply route. Ron Schreck (Covey 522) gave the aircraft an FCF check at Pleiku in late May, just after it had been assigned to the 20th TASS. It was a memorable flight. After the obligatory individual engine shutdowns, the right engine would not restart, and he had to declare an in-flight emergency. Jim McClellan (Covey 507) flew an instructor sortie over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos on January 17, 1972. J.D. Caven (Covey 569) flew 626 on numerous combat sorties out of Pleiku from January through March of 1972. John Muir (Covey 291) also patrolled the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 626. Between October and December, he flew it four times over the southern extensions of the Trail around Chevane. Terry Bernhardt (Covey 551) logged eight combat sorties in the aircraft out of Da Nang and Pleiku on missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail between January and March, 1972. Captain Bob Barr (Covey 583) flew it on missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in February and March where he dodged heavy enemy AAA to destroy enemy convoys heading south.
As US Air Force units were being withdrawn from South Vietnam this aircraft was reassigned to the 23rd TASS at Nakhon Phanom Airbase in Thailand, in March, 1972. Flying out of there and the squadrons additional operating location at Ubon Airbase in Thailand, it was again used for interdiction missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and also to support friendly forces in the northern and Southern areas of Laos and Cambodia. John Charlton (Rustic 23) flew it twice out of Ubon on missions to Phnom Penh in central Cambodia.
But in April, it once again saw duty at Da Nang Airbase, South Vietnam when the 23rd TASS was called upon to reinforce the 20th TASS in response to the attacks by North Vietnam against the south in what became known as the "Easter Offensive." Ray Stratton (Rustic 03) flew it on a combat sortie on April 4, 1972. Throughout this period, the aircraft rotated between several locations. Doug Aitken (Rustic 16) logged several missions in the aircraft. On April 8 1972 he flew a three hour sortie checking out a new Rustic FAC over Cambodia. He flew it again on April 15, 1972 to Kompong Thom. He flew it one last time on his fini flight on April 24, 1972. On that mission, he worked airstrikes for Hotels 117/118 in the Tonle Sap area of Central Cambodia. Additionally, he expended all of his ordnance in the battle. The ground commander was ecstatic because Doug shot a bad guy out of a tree with his flechette rockets. Returning to Ubon, Doug put on a proper airshow for the waiting ground troops signifying the end of his time as a "Bronco Driver."
Darrel Whitcomb (Nail 70) flew it on May 7, 1972 out of NKP over the Ho Chi Minh Trail as did H Ownby (Nail 76) on May 11. Darrel Whitcomb flew it again on August 28, 1972 out of Da Nang over the Quang Tri area, and on September 2, 1972 out of Da Nang over the Ashau Valley. Bill Ernst (Nail 09/Rustic 04) flew the aircraft in combat over South Vietnam and Cambodia five times from August through December of 1972.
Lendy Edwards (Rustic 20) flew it from DaNang on three different sorties from 20 to 23 May 1972 in missions over the DMZ and A Shau Valley. During this period, he also flew it out of Ubon , on August 3 and August 16 on missions over Cambodia. Bob Humphrey (Nail 15) flew it in combat out of Da Nang on October 6, 1972. Bob Ruth (Nail 35) flew it over Quang Tri on October 20, 1972. Dale Hill (Nail 49) flew it out of Da Nang over the DMZ on December 3. Mike Lyons (Nail 88) flew the aircraft several times over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Quang Tri area between August and October. Randy Roberts, (Nail38) flew it on three missions out of Da Nang in late January and February, 1973.
With the conclusion of combat operations in South Vietnam and Laos in February, 1973 the 19th, 20th , 21st , and 22nd TASSes were deactivated or transferred out of theater, and the aircraft was returned to Nakhon Phanom Airbase, Thailand, the home of the 23rd TASS. Flight operations in support of friendly forces in Cambodia continued unabated. Bob Ruth gave Darrel Whitcomb (Nail 25) a requalification training ride out of Ubon Airbase on May 7. Ned Helm (Nail 27) flew the aircraft in May on a qualification flight which took him to Phnom Penh and Ream in Southern Cambodia. Rowdy Hetherington (Rustic 18) flew it over Cambodia on May 10 and June 18. Both flights were double sorties with refueling stops in Phnom Penh. Mike Lyons flew 626 again on June 7. Dale Hill flew it out of Ubon on June 2 and August 13 as did Darrel Whitcomb on June 27 and Glen Wright (Nail 66) on March 31. Bob Simpson (Nail 34) logged three sorties and Tom Yarborough logged five sorties in 626 over Cambodia in May and June. Dave Himes (Nail 47) flew it down south of Phnom Penh on June 3. Tom Spada (Nail 98) flew it over the Tonle Sap in a combat sortie on July 28. He logged 4.5 hours as an instructor checking out a new FAC. The aircraft continued to fly in combat with the 23rd TASS as the squadron supported friendly forces in Cambodia until August 15 1973 when all military operations were terminated by act of Congress. Two days later, Dave Himes flew it back to NKP.
All OV-10s and FACs were then consolidated at Nakhon Phanom, and the FACs of the 23rd TASS maintained readiness to operate anywhere in the theater. Glen Wright flew it on several training flights to check out new FACs just arriving in theater. Dale Hill flew it for the last time on August 27. Mike Kiraly (Rustic22 / Nail 71) flew it in a training sortie on November 7. Darrel Whitcomb flew it a last time on December 6, 1973 on a local sortie to train a new FAC. Ned Helm flew it three times in December on local training sorties. Dave Himes logged his last sortie in the bird on January 17, 1974. Greg Wilson flew 626 numerous times at NKP between February 13 and April 10, 1974 as he trained younger FACs for possible renewed combat.
In June, 1974 the 23rd TASS delivered the aircraft to U Tapao Airbase in Southern Thailand and the aircraft was prepared for shipment to Germany for duty with the US Air Forces in Europe. Arriving there several months later, it was assigned to the 601st Tactical Air Control Wing at Wiesbaden AB, Germany. It flew with the relocated 20th TASS and new 704th TASS out of Sembach Airbase in support of US and NATO forces all over Europe. One of the first to fly it in that theater was John Lewis. Bill Stewart was the commander of the 704th at that time. He flew 626 several times between 1977 and 1979 as did "Stormin" Norm Murray, and Ned Helm, who had flown it back with the 23rd TASS in Thailand.
Steve Rituper (Jake 35) flew the aircraft 10 times between May 23, 1979 and October 15, 1981 while assigned to the 704th TASS. He flew it over Baumholder Range, the Mosel River, Bardenas-Reales Range, Zaragoza Airbase, Spain, and Hohn Airbase, West Germany. John Charlton flew it again in November, 1981 at Sembach. He was pleased to see that its gray war paint from Southeast Asia had been changed to the camouflage green of Europe.
The aircraft was well maintained by an excellent series of crew chiefs. Lonnie Slifer was the first, followed by Larry VanGorder, and then Nick Mazzocca.
Just as in Southeast Asia, the aircraft rotated amongst the TASSes. Mac Staples was the commander of the 20th TASS from 1978 to 1980. He flew over the same areas in 626.
The aircraft was also used in the consolidated training unit (CTU) for new FACS at Sembach. Steve Rituper flew it there as an instructor pilot where he logged another 11 sorties in it. Ron Newtron also flew it as an instructor. Jerry Jacobs flew 626 several times in 1983 and 1984 on numerous deployments as far as Zaragosa. Ron Newtron got to fly it again in 1984 just before it was packaged for transfer to the United States.
In August, 1984 the aircraft was returned to the United States for duty with the 602nd Tactical Air Control Wing at George AFB, California. Jerry Jacobs flew in the flight of OV-10s over the North Atlantic and Canada. At George, it was assigned to the new 27th TASS. Jerry had to opportunity to fly it several more times there until 1987. Ron Newtron also returned with it and logged more sorties in the aircraft. Brad Wright had the chance to fly it again there. He surprised a young crew chief one day by pointing out to him that he had, in fact, flown it in combat.
The aircraft flew the western skies until September, 1988 when it was reassigned to the 507th Tactical Air Control Wing, Shaw AFB, South Carolina, where, again, it flew with the 20th TASS. Greg Freix had the opportunity to fly it again quite a few times as the Wing director of operations at Shaw AFB. His log book shows that he last flew it on June 30, 1989. It flew there until August, 1991 when it was decommissioned and dropped from the active aircraft inventory. This ended its 23-plus years of operational duty to the US Air Force. However, that fall, the US Marine Corps took possession of the aircraft and assigned it the Navy Bureau number of 674626. It was then moved with five other former USAF OV-10As to Cherry Point MCAS, North Carolina, for conversion to OV-10Ds. But, after the Gulf War, the Marine Corps decided to get rid of the OV-10s and the conversions were not made. Instead, the six aircraft were moved in 1992 to Kelly AFB, Texas and put in storage.
A few years later, 626 was taken out of storage and assigned to the Inter Americas Armed Forces Academy (IAAFA) as a maintenance trainer for personnel from Latin American air forces.
In late 1999 the IAAFA released the aircraft for permanent static display at Hurlburt AFB, Florida. A team of maintenance technicians and transporters from the 16 SOW consisting of: Capt Barry Dovin Maintenance Supervisor, MSgt Christopher Woodson - NCOIC, SSgt Carl W. Franklin, SSgt Anthony C. Hanshaw, SrA Jon Killel S. Celentano, SrA Steven W. Guinn, SrA William L. Warren, and SrA Chad K. Weber, moved the aircraft from Kelly AFB, Texas, to Hurlburt AFB, Florida, where it arrived on January 13 2000. They then restored it to its combat paint scheme and placed it on permanent static display here in the Air Park.
It is our honor to welcome it here to take its position among these proud war horses and claim its place in the long history of combat aircraft. Valiant Bronco - As you brought so many of us home, we accord you the same honor. Stand proudly in perpetual peace. And well done.
Sources: The US Air Force Historical Research Agency, the men who maintained it and the men who flew it.
Copyright 2000/ Darrel Whitcomb