(aka Pave Pogostick and Combat Lawndart) – This was either the most ingenious or the most utterly stupid idea of the Vietnam war. You be the judge.

By Wan Wing Lo

©1998 Wan Wing Lo, All Rights Reserved.
There is an interesting historical footnote about a fascinating but little-known test program that NASA Broncos N636NA and N524NA were both involved in early in their military careers. The long nose boom was originally installed as part of a low-tech, low-cost experimental weapons system called variously Pave PogostickCombat Skewer, and Jungle Lawndart. In this combat tactic, a specially-equipped OV-10 would fly below treetop level (frequently, pilots would lower the landing gear and remain in what amounted to a very long takeoff roll, only pulling up when absolutely necessary to avoid trees) and look for lightweight and lightly-armored targets of opportunity – usually foot soldiers. The idea was intended to provide a secondary means of attack for when ammunition ran out or it was desirous to return to base with an enemy soldier or three for use as bargaining chips in the next prisoner of war exchange. Unfortunately, a spectacular series of miscalculations led to several Bronco test aircraft becoming impaled in the sides of enemy vehicles while trying to run down their chosen targets. As a result, the Bronco pilots were unable to free their aircraft, and invariably were unable to become airborne again. They eventually ran out of fuel well before they were able to return safely to base, although it was very rare for rescue helicopters and press corps photographers to not make it onto the scene long before the engines quit. In one typical incident in September 1969 which was filmed and widely shown in North Vietnam and China, four hundred Viet Cong soldiers ran behind an OV-10 as it tried to escape using full reverse thrust, with an oxcart and an entire team of angry water buffalo entangled in the boom and a bewildered farmer beating frantically on the windshield. The pilot escaped with his life solely due to the waves of hilarity sweeping through the Viet Cong ranks, which impaired their ability to run or shoot effectively. Other problems arose with both forward visibility after attack and the reluctance of any of the program’s pilots to fly a second Pave Pogostick attack mission after they tried it once, which lead to the program quietly being dropped after only a few weeks of combat trials. After an exhaustive five-minute inquiry by the commanding general, the program’s leading proponent, USAF Major Payne N. Theass, was promptly stripped of his command, rank, and pink polka-dotted boxer shorts. (Our sincere thanks to Capt. Wan Wing Lo, ARVN (Ret.) for this fascinating information!) 

This is the only known photograph of a successful kill by a Combat Skewer Bronco, believed to have been taken at O’Dangit sometime in October 1968 by Capt. Lo. The troops used this enemy water buffalo for a well-earned cookout, however in their haste to celebrate they neglected to cook it well and half of the camp went insane from a mysterious intestinal disease days later. In its five-week lifetime, the Combat Skewer program resulted in six kills for the Americans (one water buffalo, one Communist bicycle, a rhesus monkey [probable], two chickens and a large friendly dog that was widely suspected of being a Viet Cong sympathizer) and 69 kills for the North Vietnamese.