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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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Background

OV-10At the end of WWII the era of boom and zoom had arrived for military aviation with mushroom clouds, jet speeds and an independent Air Force. Korea soon showed the continuing necessity for ground troops and old fashioned Close Air Support (CAS), but the Army was impotent against the Air Force's preoccupation with jets, and in the late '50's hadn't developed it's rotary-wing substitute. Naval Aviation was competing with the new Air Force for nuclear roles in order to maintain its very existence. The Marines still advertised CAS, but were following the Air Force lead and justified the transition to jets on the basis of speed, bomb load and nukes (eg: "One A-4 equaled three Corsairs on the basis of 'productivity'").

Having flown CAS with Corsairs in WWII and Korea, qualified in jets and served a tour in ANGLICO, the organization that provided Marine ground-based Forward Air Controllers, I was concerned by these developments. I wasn't against progress, I loved flying jets, but I knew that they had severe limitations when it came to real CAS. In 1960 I was based at El Toro in California and talked about this with K.P. Rice, an old friend whom had "helped" build a Goodyear formula racing plane back in '49. I pointed out that even though the A-4 jet was a bomber it only had three store stations: centerline for a nuclear weapon and two wing stations for drop tanks. This made it very limited for CAS applications.

K.P.'s response was action. He designed and built the first "multi-carriage" bomb rack. He was based nearby at China Lake in VX-5 where they supported that sort of independent action. This rack allowed six bombs to be carried on any station that could handle the weight. K.P. did the engineering and welded it up with the help from a sailor. It worked! The first racks were out in plan form to the operating Navy while BUWEPS was still not convinced it was even possible. Soon even the Air Force adopted multi-carriage racks, and the rhetoric supporting jets with massive loads increased.

The multi-carriage racks definitely added to our conventional strike capability, but jets, even with lots of bombs, couldn't provide really effective CAS. The official definition of CAS was, "Air support...integrated with the ground scheme of maneuver." This meant that it had to be there when it was needed, and close enough to distinguish the enemy, the situation and friendly troops. The jets were too big, too expensive and too centrally controlled to be properly responsive, and their speed was so high that they couldn't find, let alone hit, CAS targets. Something else was needed to go after the fleeing and elusive targets that are often so close to friendly troops that discrimination becomes a major factor.

Discussion of these drawbacks with K.P. again elicited a positive response, "OK, let's design an airplane to do the right job." This sounded like an interesting challenge so we set out to design a specialized CAS airplane. We met several times a week (he now lived just down the block from me). I proposed tactical "wants" and K.P. would indicate the associated feasibility and the trade-offs. After about six months of very lively discussion we finally came up with a design.

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