Boeing is considering the possibility of restarting production of the OV-10 Bronco turboprop, a Vietnam-era light attack and observation aircraft last produced in 1976.
The company confirms that the OV-10 could be offered as either a light attack or intra-theatre light cargo aircraft for the US Air Force. The international market is also driving interest in the slow-flying aircraft, which blends some of the observational capabilities of a helicopter with the range of a fixed-wing aircraft.
Boeing has cited recent USAF interest in acquiring a light attack aircraft as a possible reason to revive OV-10 production.
Although known for its surveillance prowess, the OV-10 remains in combat service in four countries: Colombia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Venezuela, with a weapons load at least equivalent to the Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. Some of those countries, and perhaps new customers, could seek remanufactured or new production OV-10s as their current fleets wear out.
© US Air Force
So far, the USAF has not decided whether to buy a light attack fleet, known as the OA-X. But the Air National Guard will experiment later this year with the Beechcraft AT-6 Texan II. The USAF is also buying dozens of AT-6s on behalf of the Iraqi air force. The Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano and US Aircraft A-67 Dragon are also candidates for an OA-X order.
If the OA-X opportunity stalls, Boeing believes there could be interest in reviving the OV-10 as an intra-theatre transport for moving small groups of troops or medical services around the battlefield.
Boeing notes that the OV-10 revival idea is very preliminary. However, the company has created a marketing brochure, which has been circulated at defence industry events.
Unmanned air systems are being increasingly augmented by piloted aircraft for the persistent intelligence surveillance reconnaissance mission. The US Army and US Marine Corps have adapted the Shorts C-23B Sherpa with a wide-area surveillance sensor, and the USAF will deploy 37 MC-12W Project Liberty aircraft - modified Beechcraft King Air 350/350ERs, to augment unmanned operations.
The OV-10 has been considered for a similar role for several years. The Department of Defense contacted John Hodgson, president of the OV-10 Bronco Association, a few years ago to inquire about fleet availability.
Hodgson is not surprised by the rising interest in the observation platform. "It doesn't make any difference how good your UAV is," he says. "Nothing replaces a couple of eyeballs on a head that moves around."