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U.S. Marine Corps Broncos

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The U.S. Marine Corps was a large operator of the Bronco. The Marines, unlike the Air Force, deployed the OV-10 aggressively to the conflict in Vietnam soon after deliveries began in early 1968. The first Bronco to fly into combat, flying from Danang on July 6, 1968, was from Marine Observation Squadron Two (VMO-2, which carried a vertical white VMO over a red 2 in leu of normal tail code letters.) The Marines deployed VMO-6 to Quang Tri in November 1968. VMO-6, called the Tomcats and using the tail code WB, was based at MCAS Futenma, Japan until deactivation in 1976. Futenma was also home to Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 36 (H&MS-36), which used the tail code WX. VMO-1, based at MCAS New River, North Carolina, used the tail code ER but did not operate in Vietnam (contrary to what was reported here previously.) Around the same time, the Navy formed VAL-4 and started to use Broncos, borrowing aircraft from the Marines until VAL-4’s deactivation in April 1972. These aircraft then returned to duty with the Marines.

The Marines used both the OV-10A and OV-10D, primarily in the Forward Air Controller (FAC) mission. During the war, the Marines used the OV-10 for a great variety of missions, from dropping paratroopers to dropping sensors, and of course it was used in the light attack / FAC role. Equipment varied from phosphorus marker rockets to seismic sensors to miniguns. After the war the Navy withdrew it from front-line service but used it for weapons testing and development. There were five Marine squadrons who flew the Bronco, VMO-1, VMO-2 and VMO-6 were regular service squadrons and VMO-4 (based at Dobbins AFB near Atlanta, Georgia and carrying tail code MU) and VMO-8 (based at NAS Los Alamitos, CA, with tail code QN) represented the Reserves. VMO-4 was the last unit to operate the Bronco, deactivating in July 1994.

The Marines were the impetus behind the development of the OV-10D model, eventually concluding the Bronco’s combat career by sending it (both A and D models) into action in operation Desert Storm in January 1991 (See the Desert Storm 10th Anniversary page.) The Air Force kept their remaining Broncos at home. OV-10Ds were preferred due to their greater speed and capabilities while the OV-10As were restricted to operating mostly in daylight. Two OV-10As were shot down by heat-seeking ground-launched missiles during the war, with one crew member killed and three captured by Iraqis troops. After the war, Marine Corps Broncos from VMO-4 assisted in drug interdiction missions. This task foreshadowed the aggressive refurbishment program undertaken by the BATF, and later transferred to the U.S. Department of State, to convert the OV-10 to spray drug fields with herbicide using ex-Marine OV-10Ds pulled out of storage at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona.

Due to the large numbers of pictures, we have broken the USMC pages into different units for easier browsing.  Pictures of aircraft for which the unit isn’t currently known, or is of otherwise “general interest” will live on this page.

Our profound thanks goes out to Chuck Burin for providing the vast majority of this information, and for taking the time to proofread and correct it!

U.S. Marine Corps Squadrons

Marine squadron designators are identified as follows:

The first letter designates the type of aircraft:

  • H is for helicopters
  • V is for fixed-wing aircraft

The second letter is always M for Marine.

The third designates the type of squadron.

In the case of helos:

  • A for attack
  • L for light
  • M for medium
  • H for heavy

Fixed wing designators are:

  • A for attack
  • FA for fighter/attack
  • AW for all weather
  • GR for transport/refueling
  • CJ for photo and electronic reconnaissance
  • O for observation

VMO-1 
Tail Code: ER

VMO-1, based at MCAS New River, North Carolina, got their first Bronco (BuNo 155434) on September 18, 1968. VMO-1 never flew in Vietnam but did participate in Desert Storm. In the 80’s and early 90’s VMO-1 flew drug interdiction missions for the Drug Joint Task Force. VMO-1 was deactivated in 1993.


VMO-2 
Tail Code: VS and later UU

VMO-2 had been part of Marine Air Group 16 (MAG-16) at Marble Mountain Air Facility east of Da Nang, Vietnam since 1965 and operated UH-1Es before receiving the Bronco. The first Bronco to fly in combat was flown by Major S. I. Kittler on July 8, 1968, just a few hours after the first planes arrived from the Philippines. They also operated AH-1G Cobras in 1969. Originally, VMO-2 did not have any tail markings on their Broncos except for a black or white number designator on the nose and tail. The squadron split on December 17, 1969, becoming an OV-10 only unit. On February 2, 1970 they moved to MAG-11 at Da Nang AB. Later in 1970 they started using a white VMO over a red 2 as a tail marking. The squadron flew its last combat mission on March 22, 1971 at Da Nang AB. The Bronco flew over 38,000 combat flight hours between September 8, 1968 and March 23, 1971. Four aircraft were transferred to H&MS-11 for further operations. On March 24-25, 1971, the remaining 14 Broncos were flown to NAS Cubi Point, Philippine Islands for further transfer or return to the US. The squadron was in cadre status until September 30, 1971 when it was reactivated at MCALF Camp Pendleton, CA. They received the 9 OV-10s that had been assigned to HML-267. The same VMO over 2 logo was used until 1973, when the red, white, and blue diagonal stripes with the UU were placed on the nose and tail. This color scheme was designed by 1/LT Jim “Grump” Hodgson at the request of the CO, Lt. Col. James F. Farber.

LtCol Mike Moriarty was the Commanding officer of VMO-2 from January 12, 1970 until September 17, 1970 and wrote the book Ground Attack Vietnam. Col. Robert Stoffey, CO of VMO-2 from August 23, 1975 to October 7, 1976, wrote the book Cleared Hot. There is more information on these publications available on the books page.)


VMO-4 
Tail Code: 5Y and later MU

VMO-4 got their first Bronco (BuNo 155467) October 23, 1968 at NASA Grosse Isle, MI and moved to NAF Detroit/Selfridge AFB a year later (October 1969). They subsequently moved to NAS Atlanta/Dobbins AFB, GA on June 6, 1976. VMO-4 was a Reserve unit, and did not participate in Desert Storm. The unit remained at NAS Atlanta to take over the drug interdiction operations that VMO-1 had performed prior to that unit’s activation for Desert Storm. VMO-4 was the last American military unit to operate the Bronco, deactivating in July 1994. The last 7 OV-10D+ aircraft were transferred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.


VMO-6 
Tail Code: WB

VMO-6 (called the Tomcats) got their first OV-10s on November 1, 1968 from VMO-2 at Quang Tri RVN. It is interesting that, according to USN inventory records, the first aircraft transferred was BuNo 155429 on October 6, 1968. They had been in Vietnam since 1966 and operated with UH-1Es and later added the O-1C Bird Dog. They were based first at Key Ha with MAG-36, then moved to Quang Tri RVN as part of ProvMAG-39. The squadron flew all three aircraft types until combat operations ceased on October 2, 1969. The Squadron left RVN for MCAS Futenma (Okinawa, Japan) on October 8, 1969. They were deactivated January 1, 1977. The last Commanding Officer was Lt. Col. Larry E. Byers. H&MS-36 took over VMO-6’s observation role for a short period and many ex-VMO-6 aircraft were flown by VMO-1 and 2 Detachment crews.


VMO-8 
Tail Code: 5L and later QN

VMO-8 got their first Bronco (BuNo 155400) on February 15, 1969 at NAS Los Alamitos, CA. This Reserve squadron moved to MCAS El Toro on March 1, 1971 and were deactivated in July 1976. The squadron lost two aircraft in accidents.


VMO-5 /HML-267 
Tail Code: UV

HML-267 had OV-10s from February 1968 until September 1971 when VMO-2 was re-formed at Camp Pendleton. The squadron usually had 4 OV-10s in addition to UH-1Es. Typical early markings were as shown in the photograph of 155404 and later markings in the photo of 155484. Their OV-10s were transferred to VMO-2 on September 30, 1971.


H&MS-11 
Tail Code: TM

H&MS-11 operated four OV-10As from March 23 to May 13, 1971. The aircraft were numbers 155428, 155450, 155451 and 155486. One aircraft (155450) was lost in combat on April 28, 1971 with both crew KIA. A second plane (155486) was badly damaged when a NVA 122 mm rocket hit the concrete revetment where it was parked. Major General Marion Carl flew a local VR mission on May 9, the last day of combat operations. H&MS-11 operated the aircraft up to May 13, 1971 when the remaining two remaining OV-10s (155428 & 155451) left for NAS Cubi Point, Philippine Islands. These were the last USMC fixed wing combat aircraft to fly from a Vietnam base until April 1972.


H&MS-24 
Tail Code: EW

H&MS-24 operated OV-10s from MCAS Kanohe Bay, HI. Dates confirmed from inventory records are from at least March 12, 1974 through December 1976. Aircraft included 155402, 155488, 155489, and 155496.


H&MS-36 
Tail Code: WX

Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 36 was based at MCAS Futema, Okinawa, Japan until at least 1977 and operated in Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and Taiwan. They flew in support of the 3rd Marine Division. H&MS-36 held custody of Broncos for VMO-1 and VMO-2 detachments to the far east after VMO-6 was decommissioned January 1, 1977. According to inventory records, H&MS-36 operated from January 1, 1977 through at least September 1984. Aircraft included numbers 155418, 155424, and 155426.


HMT-303 
Tail Code: QT

HMT-303 took over the training of OV-10A/D crews from the USAF on October 1, 1991. The USAF training had been conducted by the 22nd TACTS at Davis-Monathan AFB in Tucson, Arizona from 1981 until October 1, 1991. HMT-303 had at least 4 A- and D-model aircraft including numbers 155405 and 155457. They ended the Bronco training on March 13, 1992 when the Marine Corps decided to eliminate the OV-10 from the active duty inventory.


U.S. Navy Squadrons


VAL-4 
Tail Code: UM
          

VAL-4 was a Light Attack Squadron was commissioned on January 3, 1969 at NAS North Island and was initially designated VA(L)-4. Their first aircraft, BuNo 155461, was also received on that date. Known as the Black Ponies, VAL-4 operated in III and IV CORPS, RVN from April 1969 in support of Navy SEAL and Riverine operations in the Mekong River delta. The squadron had two detachments, Det. “A” assigned to the Air Force Base at Binh Thuy and Det. “B” assigned at the Vung Tau Army Airfield. New facilities for VAL-4 on the Vietnamese Air Force Base at Binh Thuy and the consolidation of VAL-4’s operating units lead to the disestablishment of Det. “B” on July 1, 1970. The last combat mission was flown on March 31, 1972 and the unit was deactivated on April 10. VAL-4’s 14 assigned Broncos were soon returned to duty with the Marine Corps.

The Technical Reports section was written by members of VAL-4 and contains tons of great information on this unit as well as Bronco operations in general – it’s required reading if you have any interest in Naval OV-10s! There is even a VAL-4 Organizational Chart.

There is an excellent VAL-4 Website, courtesy Bob Peetz – be sure to check it out!!

Here’s a note from Ron Pickett that should be of interest to anyone associated with VAL-4 or who wants to see the Mighty Bronco in action. I have not yet seen this tape but it sounds like a good one! Thanks for the tip, Ron.

The Black Ponies of VAL-4 have developed a highly professional videotape history of the squadron. It is 73 min in length and includes extensive air and ground coverage, and is available for $30.00 plus $5.00 S&H by contacting me at:

Ron Pickett
5477 Caminito Borde
San Diego, CA 92108
619-584-8032
e-mail: ronp70000@aol.com


VS-41 
Tail Code: RA

VS-41 was the Navy training RAG for S-2s at NAS North Island, CA, and received their first OV-10 (BuNo 155460) on October 2, 1968. The squadron provided initial crew and replacement crew training for VAL-4. One aircraft (155460) was lost in a crash August 7, 1970 at North Island. The crew was killed. They had 4 OV-10s until February 3, 1972.


SOL-69 
Tail Code: BS

Squadron SOL-69 never existed. I’m just checking to see if you are awake! 🙂

Photos taken by:  Ashby Shoop

LOCATION: MCAS Yuma, AZ

DATE : Late 1974

This picture and the next were also taken by Ashby Shoop: “Sorry these are so dark but I think they were taken near sunset. This is a VMO-1 bird on a det at MCAS Yuma in late 1974. We (in VMO-6) were flying so early and late that we were logging night time in the morning and later the evening of the same day. We were there to support an AV-8 (Harrier) squadron (the first one, I think) out of MCAS Beaufort, SC but we also flew support for the local VMAT A-4 squadron and a detachment from an A-7 RAG at NAS Lemoore. I flew nearly 80 hours in the month of December 1974 while out at Yuma.

Says Ashby: “This bird’s set up for a night mission with flares, two 7 shot pods, sponson guns and the drop tank. I don’t know why, but VMO-1 didn’t like to drop the drop tanks for tactical missions. VMO-6 often did take the tanks off for ordnance work.

Tail shot of 155465 assigned to VMO-1 at MCAS Yuma late 1974.

Photos taken by: Mark L. Brophy

LOCATION: Unknown

DATE : 1975 (on ground)

Mark L. Brophy, LtCol USMC (Ret.), was an AO in VMO-1 from Aug. 75 to Aug. 78. He was one of two AO’s who took part in the OT-II of the OV-10D at Pax River around Feb. 78. This is a VMO-1 A-model, with the centerline tank painted to commemorate the Bicentennial anniversary of the United States.

Three VMO-1 Broncos in the hangar, courtesy Mark Brophy.

VMO-1 OV-10As on the ramp, courtesy Mark Brophy.

Here’s the backseater’s view out the left front side in an OV-10A. The pilot is Brian McMullen. What you cannot see are the other OV-10s – 16 of them!!! They were proving to the CG, 2d MAW that they had 17 OV-10s in C-1 shape. It could have been just 16 total. Anyway, whether it was 16 or 17, Brian and Mark were LAST!! What a task to join on the other A/C – Mark says that it was an unforgettable Saturday morning! Photo by Mark Brophy.

     

VMO-1 Broncos in formation. Mark Brophy photo.

Photos taken by: Brad Hoskin

LOCATION: Pittsburgh, PA airshow

DATE : 1989

          

This is the front cockpit of an OV-10D, photographed at the Pittsburgh airshow in 1989 by Brad Hoskin, as seen from either side. Note the throttle quadrant visible in the picture taken from the left side, and the optical gunsight.

     

his is the front and rear cockpit of an OV-10A, seen from the right side. Note the seat belt wrapped around the control stick in the front seat – a common way to lock the controls from unwanted movement. Also notice the air vents in the corners of the upper canopy panels. The “Remove Before Flight” ribbons remind the crew to remove the safing pins to arm the ejection seats before takeoff. These photos were taken by Brad Hoskin at the Pittsburgh, PA airshow in 1989.

The front cockpit of an OV-10D

The rear cockpit of an OV-10D

The rear cockpit of an OV-10D

This is the cockpit area of the OV-10D, showing the angle at which the right side hatches (the ones normally used for entry and exit) are hinged. Photo taken by Brad Hoskin at the Pittsburgh airshow, 1989.

This is an OV-10D, photographed at the Pittsburgh airshow in 1989 by Brad Hoskin

These shots of the nose of an OV-10D shows the pitot tube and FLIR turret (covered up, as is normal while the aircraft is on the ground in order to protect the coatings on the turret’s windows.) Notice also that this aircraft does not have any Radar Warning Receiver antennae (the black circles visible on many other aircraft on either side of the nose.) Picture taken by Brad Hoskin at the Pittsburgh airshow, 1989.

               

his is an OV-10D, photographed at the Pittsburgh airshow in 1989 by Brad Hoskin.

This is the tail and rear boom of USMC OV-10D number 155492 of VMO-1. Notice the red formation light on the tail boom next to the chaff/flare dispenser. When not in use, a flat plate could be attached over the dispenser to reduce drag. Given the obvious lack of flush riveting over much of the airframe, one wonders how much that could have helped! Also notice that the cargo door is open. Photos taken at the Pittsburgh airshow in 1989 by Brad Hoskin.

This is an OV-10A of VMO-1, number 155435, seen at the Pittsburgh airshow in 1989 by Brad Hoskin. Again, this aircraft has the older single-tone color scheme.

This is a head-on shot of an OV-10D. Note that the left side windows were rarely opened as far as the right side ones, although they could be opened fully and could be used to enter or exit the aircraft. Photo taken in 1989 at the Pittsburgh airshow by Brad Hoskin.

This is a direct rear view of an OV-10A with the rear cargo door opened. Photo taken in 1989 at the Pittsburgh airshow by Brad Hoskin.

An OV-10A front cockpit. Photo taken in 1989 at the Pittsburgh airshow by Brad Hoskin.

Photos taken by:  Chuck Burin

LOCATION: Camp Pendleton, CA

DATE : May 20, 1993

Here is OV-10D 155446 of VMO-1 on the flight line at Camp Pendleton, California on May 20, 1993 during the deactivation of VMO-2. This aircraft was also with the Naval Air Test Center (photo available on our Navy page.)

This little picture of an OV-10A of VMO-1, based out of MCAS New River, North Carolina was found at the URL http://www.landings.com/_landings/ganflyer/sep5-1997/of-wings-n-things.html

Ashby tells us about arming the airplanes: “This picture is of a VMO-1 det at NAS Fallon, NV in summer 1974. I’m betting that we’re in the arming area getting hooked up because both crew members in the picture have their hands up. The SOP is when the arming crew is doing the final checkout and connecting the armament wiring to the stores, both crew members show their hands to a ground controller who’s standing in front of the A/C with his hands up as well. He directs both the A/C crew and the armament crew working on the plane. I think this is the same series of photograhs where I took a picture of the ground controller. This was in the afternoon in the high desert in the middle of summer. The controller is wearing socks and sunglasses and nothing else (oh yah, earmuffs and boondockers.) If any of you want I’ll dig that picture up and sent it along. We were at Fallon supporting a deployment of VMA-211 in A-4Ms from MCAS Beaufort, SC. There were also Navy A-6s and A-7Es from their respective RAGS and a Navy reserve A-4C squadron from NAS Alameda. The flight line was being resurfaced and only a small portion was open so we were parked very close together. This was the time when I rolled about 11,000 feet (!!!) before getting airborne on a hot afternoon with an empty centerline tank and two seven shot rocket pods. So much for the OV-10’s short takeoff!!