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The OV-10 Story: Innovation vs. The "System"

 

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W.H.BECKETT ୆ K.P.RICE ୆ M.E.KING

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The YOV-10, Product of the "System"

The original concept of a small, simple aircraft that could operate close to the supported troops had been almost completely eviscerated by the "system." The ability to operate from roads (20ft span and 6.5 tread) had been ignored, and performance compromised by the short 30ft span, the extra 1000lbs for the rough field landing gear and another 1000lbs of electronics. The "light, simple" airplane also had a full complement of instruments, ejection seats and seven external store stations. The concept of using ground ordnance and a bomb bay had been ignored, although it did have provisions for four M-60 machine guns. In spite of this growth (almost double the size and weight of our home-built), the YOV-10 still had great potential. It would not achieve the advantages of integration with the ground scheme of maneuver, but it did have capabilities at the low end of the performance envelope that were still valuable and unique.

I retired from the Marine Corps in June '65, and went to work for North American just before the YOV-10's first flight. Mostly cut out of the loop my last years in the Corps, I was now back on the program, working for the contractor. My job was to sell the airplane, and in order to do that, I had to evaluate what we had and come up with a new operational concept to exploit it. It wasn't that hard. The "system" had done its best, but we still had a plane with unique and valuable characteristics.

The first order of business was to get the wingspan increased to 40 ft and remove the disabilities in handling and performance that derived from the now meaning less, short wingspan requirement. This was not as easy as it should have been. However, with KP pushing from the DOD and me working from the sales angle from inside, we finally got a fix for the wing, increasing the span to 40ft. (I found out later that a 34ft wing with a Hoerner wingtip could have done the job just as well, and much cheaper, but the company made more money with the expensive modification.)

Next, since the YOV-10 was definitely not a LARA, I had to come up with a realistic operational concept to exploit what it could do - and it could do plenty. It not only had performance covering the low end of the envelope where jets were particularly deficient, it was a natural for helicopter escort and anti-helicopter operations. (Note that at this time there were no armed helicopters.)

Unfortunately, the ASEG, which I had hoped would demonstrate the unique tactical advantages of the airplane, especially to the Air Force, failed to come up with much. Instead of picking up their charter and experimenting with techniques to exploit forward operations, helicopter escort, anti-helicopter operations, improved target acquisition, accuracy and closer coordination with ground troops, the ASEG mostly duplicated test functions already covered at Patuxent River and China Lake. The only new thing they came up with was the technique for dropping parachutists out of the cargo bay. The Marines later did use this technique fairly extensively.

An additional aspect of the MCNamara "system" was revealed as the negotiations to finalize the production configuration neared completion. First, both KP, who best knew what was wanted and M.E. King, the NAA designer who bet knew what could be done, were both specifically barred from even being in the Washington area during the deliberations. Any input by either of them was anathema. This left the field to the real decision makers, the bureaucrats on one side and the company lawyers and "bean counters" on the other. Anything not already funded such as the wing extension, had to be paid for. On the other hand, things like speed which was already negotiated with penalty clauses for non-performance, were decided by a combination of lawyers (What can we get away with?), and "bean counters" (Is it cheaper to meet the spec. or pay the penalty?). Although, there were some "cleanup fixes," the "user" and the taxpayer were not really considered.

The Air Force position that the OV-10 was only good for forward air control grew stronger, and then dominant. McNamara's ton/mile efficiency criteria and the Air Force's insistence on "central control" overrode all the user input aimed at improving the synergy of air and ground operations. When the first production OV-10A with a 40ft wingspan and a few other improvements such as larger (715hp) engines, angled sponsons and tail fillets was cleared for production in early '68, the airplane had great tactical capabilities, but was already severely limited in its applications by politics. The largest hang up the Tactical Air Command had with respect to the OV-10 was the "Line." Above the line were the combat airplanes, of which TAC could have 4,000. Below the line were the supporting and light, usually commercial airplanes, which were not controlled. If the OV-10 was denied a combat function, it did not count toward the limit. However, if they were armed and allowed use of their weaponry, they had to be counted in the 4,000 total and would replace F-4s on a one to one basis.

The OV-10A: Into Service and Action

Deliveries of the production OV10As started in February, '68, first to the Marine's VMO-5 at Camp Pendleton, California, and then to the Air Force's 4409th CCTS at Hurlburt Field, Eglin AFB, Florida. Five months later the first OV-10As had been deployed to Vietnam.

The initial six aircraft used by the Marines were flown to Vietnam after having been delivered to the Philippines on an aircraft carrier. Just two hours after the ferry flights across the South China Sea to VMO-2 at Marble Mountain, the first OV-10A "Bronco" went into action - a two hour reconnaissance mission in support of Marines just south of the demilitarized zone. Within six weeks this first six plane contingent had amassed 500 combat hours, almost 250 missions and was averaging 100% utilization.


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