In late February 1977, three aviators from the Maintenance Aviation Division, U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School, left Fort Huachuca on a mission to fly three OV-1D Mohawks to Kadena Air Force Base, South Korea.
From their first stop at the Grumman Plant at Stewart, Fla., to their final destination in South Korea, they spent approximately three weeks flying half-way around the world through more than 16 countries, plus crossing the Atlantic Ocean. While this trip was a first for the U.S. Army, the OV-1 Mohawk had been a workhorse in the Army inventory for years.
The Mohawk was a high-performance two-seat observation aircraft made by the Grumman Corporation. The first model flew in 1959 and the last came off the production line in 1970. First deployed in 1962, it became the mainstay of Army aerial surveillance during the Vietnam War.
For the first time, the Army advisors in the field had an aircraft under their direct operational control that could provide them with timely information on enemy activities. Since that time, Mohawks have always been at the forward edge of preparedness, patrolling uneasy borders with East Germany, Czechoslovakia, North Korea and other danger spots in the world. During the 1991 Gulf War, Mohawks were credited with locating and maintaining watch over Iraq’s elite forces.
Each Mohawk in the Army’s inventory was tailored to meet a different requirement of the aerial reconnaissance mission. The OV-1A was the first, rolling off the production line in 1959. It was equipped with a KA-60 camera system installed in the fuselage, with provisions for a nose-mounted panoramic camera to provide visual and photographic reconnaissance.
The KA-60 was a highly efficient, automatic photography system allowing the pilot to select the mode of operation from the cockpit. A pilot on a photographic mission could adjust the camera controls in the cockpit to correspond to his altitude and air speed, and the system would automatically adjust the speed of the camera so the photographs would have the 60 percent overlap required for stereo viewing.
The camera system produced a horizon-to-horizon photograph of the ground that was 19 inches long and 5 inches wide. At night, the KA-60 system could be programmed to automatically fire up to 104 photo flash flares timed to ensure perfect exposures. Provisions were also made for mounting a KA-60 70mm panoramic camera in the nose for forward oblique coverage of the aircraft’s flight path.
The OV-1B version added side-looking airborne radar, or SLAR capability in an 18-foot pod mounted under the forward fuselage. This adaptation caused the plane to require a 6-foot wider wingspan than its predecessor.
The SLAR system was equipped with automatic film processing, allowing the SLAR operator to deliver a permanent film record of radar images on either or both sides of the flight path within seconds of exposure. This capability greatly improved long-range surveillance of moving targets, especially at night and in bad weather.
In addition, the SLAR employed a Moving Target Indicator system allowing the aircraft to spot a moving target against a fixed background — exactly what was needed and used extensively in Vietnam to monitor enemy activity along the demilitarized zone and the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The third basic model of Mohawk, the OV-1C, was essentially the A-model airframe modified to carry a UAS-4 infrared ground surveillance sensor and data transmitter on the underside of the fuselage. Later, the aircraft was further modified, with the infrared sensor relocated to a pod just behind the wing.
The pod also contained a panoramic camera and anti-collision light rotating beacon. The advanced infrared system mounted on the OV-1C could detect heat traces from small cooking fires, a recoilless rifle flash, or from truck engines that had been parked for as long as 16 hours, allowing surveillance through darkness, camouflage or jungle cover. The data-link transmitter sent the film data in real-time as a conventional FM signal, meaning strikes could be mounted against targets within seconds of being detected.
In 1967, the Army decided to combine all capabilities of the three variations of the OV-1 into one platform. Four OV-1Cs were returned to the manufacturer for conversion that would feature three separate camera installations, vertical, panoramic and forward panoramic, as well as provisions for either SLAR or infrared sensors. The latter was to be an easily convertible adaptation so the aircraft could be modified by commanders.
The result was the OV-1D. Thirty-seven new OV-1Ds were produced, and 108 OV-1Bs and Cs were converted to the new standards. The OV-1D was much more versatile and useful for the Army. Its improved avionics and interchangeable mission pallets made it possible for a commander to schedule different reconnaissance missions with the same aircraft on short notice.
Used heavily in Vietnam, the Mohawks proved their worth repeatedly while filling a vital intelligence need. But Americans paid a hefty price for that. Twenty-seven Mohawks were lost during this conflict alone — most of these were shot down by enemy ground fire; one was lost to a surface-to-air missile while on a mission in the DMZ in 1966; one was destroyed on the ground during an enemy attack on its base in 1968; and another was shot down by a MiG in 1969. Another 36 Mohawks were lost to operational accidents. The planes were not the only loss.
The Army Intelligence Aviation Memorial Park is a commonly known landmark on Fort Huachuca, but few have taken the time to stop and visit it in person. The park has a plaque dedicated to all MI aviators who have given their lives in pursuit of aerial intelligence, not only in Vietnam but all over the world.
Of the 70 incidents inscribed on this monument, 55 were Mohawks. There is also a quote by President Dwight D. Eisenhower inscribed on the plaque that reads: “In the work of intelligence, heroes are undecorated and unsung, often even among their own fraternity. Their inspiration is rooted in patriotism; their reward can be little except the conviction that they are performing a unique and indispensable service for their country and the knowledge that America needs and appreciates their efforts.”
The names etched here represent the people behind the planes, sensors, capabilities and missions. The next time you find yourself in the vicinity of the Air Park on Fort Huachuca, stop for a minute to read this plaque. Linger a little longer and read about the contributions of intelligence aviators from the Civil War to modern times. Look at the Mohawk that is on display, think about the Soldiers who flew this plane and others like it, and say a silent “thank you” for their service.