November 6, 2011
How the O-2s Really Got to Viet Nam

It may not be new, but it's new to me.

Just a week or so ago, I was sent a link to a Thailand Aviation article on a Navy observation unit — VO-67 — that used P-2 Orion anti-submarine aircraft in Viet Nam for jungle surveillance. The aircraft were modified versions of the P2V-5F aircraft, redesigneted as OP-2E. The occasion for the article was the unit being awarded a Presidential Unit Citation forty years later.

In that article, it talked about the cooperation between the Navy surveillance aircraft and a unit of Air Force FACs (Forward Air Controllers) flying O-2A aircraft, a military version of the civilian Cessna Skymaster. The FACs flew every day and night (mostly night) to identify the latest changes in anti-aircraft emplacements for use in the flight planning for the larger P2V-5F/OP-2E aircraft.

By happenstance, just a few days later, an old Air Force friend (and F-4 Phantom pilot) sent me a story about the O-2 and included his own observations on the aircraft. They make a good story, and it's good history.

My friend passed the story along as text in an e-mail. After reading it, I knew it had to be posted on the web, both to save the history and to make it more accessible. It is, having been posted on a site for the pilots who flew it under the call sign "Rustic". The article can be found at O-2A Delivery to Southeast Asia. Go read it there. I'll wait.

. . .

Welcome back! Wasn't that a good story?

As promised, here are my friend's observations on the O-2.

What a story to pass along. Having flown the O-2 at Hurlburt Field and Fort Bragg, I never considered it to be very airworthy although fun to fly at times. Over weight and underpowered! I can sympathize about flying over water. On a hot day at sea level with no added weight or external stores, it couldn't sustain flight with the loss of the rear engine. On the front engine only, it was only in an extended glide. Taking off from Hurlburt, I would look down into the Gulf and see large fish - either sharks or dolphins. Naturally I assumed they were sharks so I could maximize my discomfort. If I was uncomfortable with only a few miles of over water flight until I turned back toward the Eglin ranges, I sure wouldn't want to have made extended over water flights from California to Vietnam.

I was never able to really overspeed an F-4. The O-2 could easily go into the red range on the airspeed indicator while making a routine dive rocket delivery because it was so overweight. The dash was even plastic. One guy I flew with commented after seeing a crack in the dash that it was 'swell because it was made by Mattel' - wording that was used in commercials in 1975.

The civilian version was an OK aircraft since it was not filled with all of the heavy radios and used as a combat aircraft. As a used aircraft, they were cheap to buy because the expense of maintenance on two engines for an aircraft with that carrying capacity made them undesirable for the normal private pilot. I mainly thought of them as a very poorly planned purchase by the Air Force.

As I said, a good story. And it's real history.

Cessna O-2A aircraft at Hickam Air Force Base, 1967.