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  Jungle Penetrator



Tom Pilsch with O-2A, 67-21309, at the Hue Citadel Airfield, August, 1968

Click here to learn the post-war history of 67-21309

"The Oscar Deuce"
The O-2 Skymaster was a military version of the Cessna 337 Super Skymaster 4-6 passenger general aviation aircraft.   It was purchased by the U.S. Air Force beginning in 1967 in two versions.   The O-2A was used in the forward air control mission.   It was equipped with additional radios and ordnance hard points under the wings for rocket and machine gun pods.   The O-2B was the 337 civilian version modified to carry a large loud speaker on the right side of the fuselage and a leaflet chute in the belly for psychological warfare operations.

Click here for the development history & specifications of the O-2.

The following photos show details of the O-2A FAC version.

The unique fore and aft engine layout and twin tail booms gave the O-2 a distinctive appearance.  
O-2A from above  
The upper wing surfaces of the O-2A were painted white so that they could be seen against the jungle canopy by other aircraft.  

Two engines provided a definite advantage over the single engine O-1, but at heavy operating weights and high temperature conditions, O-2 performance with an engine out could be a dicey proposition (but still better than engine-out performance in the O-1!).   Because of the aerodynamics of a pusher propeller, the O-2 performed better on the rear engine alone than on the front one.   (More information on single engine characteristics can be found in the O-2A pilot's manual, the Dash One.)

The most significant modification of the civilian Model 337 to the O-2A was the addition of armament.  
  LAU-59/A Rocket Pod
  LAU-59/A Rocket Pod.
Click image for larger view.
The O-2A could carry a selection of offensive weapons, including the 7.62 mm Minigun pod (small Gatling gun), but our normal load was two LAU-59/A rocket pods with seven 2.75" FFAR (Folding Fin Aircraft Rockets) each.   These rockets could be armed with a variety of explosive warheads, but we usually carried white phosphorus (WP or "Willie Pete") heads.   The WP round exploded with a highly visible puff of white smoke which made it useful for marking targets for attacking fighters, particularly in jungle canopy.

An armament control panel and a gun sight were added to the instrument panel to complete the offensive armament suite.   I never had much success with the gun sight.   Like most FACs, I learned that a grease pencil mark on the windshield was just as accurate for aiming a WP marking rocket.

Another change from the civilian model was the additional of an enhanced communications and navigation suite on the O-2A.
O-2A radio rack  
O-2A Radio Rack
Photo courtesy of Mitch Taylor
  The aircraft carried three radios: a UHF set for coordination with tactical aircraft; an FM radio to talk to the troops on the group and a VHF radio which we used to communicate with our tactical air control party (TACP) for requesting air support, clearing targets for strikes and other command and control functions.   Successfully working all three of these radios while conducting close air support missions was the mark of a good FAC

The navigation suite consisted of TACAN, VOR and low frequency ADF sets.   All this plus a transponder and other black boxes whose function I did not know were mounted on a rack occupying a large portion of the passenger compartment behind the pilot.   The accompanying photo shows the bulk of this Mil-spec equipment.   It also was heavy which contributed to the less than stellar performance of the O-2A.

  O-2A cockpit door
  Entrance door (right side).
Click image for larger view. (Treweek)*
Most pilots who had flown the O-1 prior to the O-2 felt that the only drawback of the "Oscar Deuce" was the arrangement of the windows.   Having the pilot seat on the left side of the aircraft rather than the centerline as in the O-1 tended to reduce the visibility from the cockpit of the O-2.   The extra glazing on the right door and forward fuselage was an attempt to improve visibility to the right, but it was not very effective, particularly when carrying someone in the right seat.   As a result, O-2 FACs tended to prefer left turns for better visibility, a dangerous habit to develop in combat.   Also, the main window on the left (pilot's) side of the aircraft did not open.   This did not help ventilation in the cockpit and made it harder to hear ground fire.   The Air Force made an attempt to develop a tandem seat O-2 with a narrower fuselage, but the effort never proceeded beyond the mockup stage.

  O-2A Pilot's Window
(original) O-2A Pilot's Window
  Original Pilot's Side Window Improved Pilot's Side Window
The small size of the pilot's side window on the original (1967-68 models) made it difficult to keep fighters in sight while working a target in the preferred left turn.   Later versions of the O-2 (1969 and subsequent) featured an enlarged window on the left side to improve visibility above and in a turn, but it still did not open.

  * These photos are by Phillip Treweek,
Kiwi Aircraft Images.
His permission to use these excellent images is gratefully acknowledged.

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