The Australian War Memorial has restored a North American Rockwell OV-10A Bronco, model 639, to commemorate Vietnam Veterans’ Day on 18 August.
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The American twin-turboprop light attack and observation aircraft, used during the Vietnam War, is a direct reminder of the 36 Royal Australian Air Force pilots who flew with the US Air Force 19th and 20th Tactical Air Support Squadrons during the conflict.
At least 23 RAAF pilots and an unknown number of Royal New Zealand Air Force pilots flew the Bronco aircraft when it was in service from July 1968 until late 1973, providing interdiction of enemy logistics, strike reconnaissance and fire-support for ground troops.
The aircraft was generally armed with four 7.62mm M60C belt-fed machine guns (500 rounds per gun), five-inch Zuni forward firing aircraft rockets or 2.75-inch rocket pods, AIM-9B Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 20mm gun pods, and 500-pound bombs or a single 1,000-pound bomb.
Five-hundred and twenty-three Australians lost their lives and over 3,000 were wounded of the almost 60,000 Australians who served in Vietnam between 1962 to 1973.
“The OV-10A Bronco stands as an icon of a lesser-known story of the alliance between the US and Australia, and nowhere was that alliance more evident than with those Australians who flew as a forward air control in Vietnam,” Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson said.
“Every step in this restoration process has been about overcoming challenges, from bringing it back to Australia to the intricacies of the needed repairs.
“This restoration stands as a testament to the perseverance of the FAC veterans who saw the Bronco as an item of great personal importance and ensuring that this aircraft remains a living memory of service and sacrifice.”
After flying a total 129 missions by eight RAAF forward air controllers during the Vietnam War, the now-restored model 639 OV-10A Bronco was located retired and under storage at Cavite City in the Philippines.
The aircraft had been provided to the Philippine Air Force under Foreign Military Finance by the US in 1991, however, correspondence with the Defence Department and Defence attachés led to the “donation of the aircraft” to the Forward Air Controller Association of Australia in cooperation with the Australian War Memorial.
The aircraft was formally handed over during a parade in 2005 and carried successfully by the HMAS Tobruk to Sydney in March 2007.
The Memorial’s Kim Wood, a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer, led the restoration at the Mitchell storage facility.
“When it arrived, Bronco 639 was in poor condition. The aircraft was suffering from corrosion, was covered in paint that was not of aviation origin, and more akin to what would be used on an outdoor building structure or a bridge,” Wood said.
“It was full of rubbish, old rats nests, and generally filthy.
“To start, the fuselage had to be disassembled, paint stripped, cleaned out, corrosion treated, repaired where required then reassembled. It was also repainted to represent the aircraft as it stood on the flight line in Vung Tau 13 July 1970 Vietnam.”