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July 6, 1968, Da Nang, South Viet Nam—The North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco saw its first combat action as part of U.S. Marine Observation Squadron 2 (VMO- 2). The Bronco was soon deployed by the U.S. Air Force as well, operating out of Bien Hoa beginning in early August. By March of the following year, the Navy had Broncos sup porting its Mekong Delta operations. The varied uses each branch found for the aircraft made it one of the most versatile weapons in the American arsenal during the latter years of the war.

The flexibility the Bronco displayed in Vietnam was largely by design. The three services had drawn up joint specifications for a lightly armed reconnaissance aircraft to replace the aging Cessna O-1 Bird Dog and O-2 Skymaster. The first prototype flew in July 1965, just nine months after the contract was awarded. The finished product could hit 350 mph, carry three tons of munitions and linger for as long as three hours.

The service branches had different opinions of the Bronco. The Air Force was initially displeased with the plane—it preferred a faster, more heavily armed plane in the forward air control role. The Marines, by contrast, liked the Bronco immediately, and continued to use it until 1994.

The Bronco took on diverse tasks as the war’s popularity waned back home. As troop and support levels declined, resources were stretched. Broncos flew night interdiction over Laos and Cambodia, for example, and helped free the crew of the merchant ship Mayaguez when it was captured by Khmer Rouge forces in 1975.

While the U.S. armed forces no longer fly the OV-10 Bronco, several other countries do, including Colombia, Indonesia and Thailand. In a civilian capacity, it is often used as a spotter plane for aerial firefighting crews.


August 15, 1908, Fort Myer, Va.—Thomas Scott Baldwin’s dirigible passed its final flight test and was accepted for purchase by the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The dirigible, designated as the SC-1, was the Army’s first powered aircraft.

The summer of 1908 was marked by escalating U.S. military concern over European advances in airship technology. On June 19, Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin’s 440-foot LZ carried 12 passengers with ease in its first trial, and was being prepared for a 24-hour flight attempt later that summer. But Congress refused to invest heavily in unproven technology. “Congress regards us in the same light as it regards the parachute jumper at a country fair,” complained an anonymous Signal Corps officer to The New York Times. “They think aeronautics is an idle summer amusement, instead of a science that in the next war may change the geography of the globe.”

Thomas Scott Baldwin might have taken exception to the officer’s analogy—he is widely credited as being the first  person to parachute jump from a balloon, which he did in 1885 as part of his circus act. But he had completed his first powered airship (dubbed California Arrow ) in 1904, and that experience won him an Army contract. He also had a uniquely talented engine maker—motorcycle racer Glenn Curtiss, known as the “Fastest Man on Earth.”

Baldwin and Curtiss arrived at Fort Myer in late July, with one month to meet the Army’s benchmarks: a two-hour flight at an average speed of 20 mph. On August 5, however, Bald win read about LZ 4’s destruction in a thunderstorm. While aloft later that day, he saw storm clouds gathering—and hastened to earth. “I am not going to offer my ship to the fate that overtook Count Zeppelin’s balloon,” he explained afterward. “Wait ’til the government has acquired it; then it will be time enough to take chances. As the craft stands it’s my individual property and it cost a heap of money.”

On August 12, in their first official speed test, a wire broke that connected the motor coil with one of the four cylinders. Curtiss was forced to let go of the controls to fix it, causing the craft to shake wildly at 300 feet. After a controlled landing in a cornfield, Curtiss was sanguine: “I would have been able to make much greater speed but for the breaking of the wires.”

Three days later, they averaged 20 mph (and briefly exceeded 40 mph) over the course of a two-hour flight, securing the full Army contract. Baldwin spent the remainder of the summer teaching a handful of Signal Corps officers how to fly the SC-1.


Originally published in the July 2006 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here