mission: Although I am the legal owner of O-2A Serial# 67-21424, that does not
give me ownership of its history. I believe that, in owning this airplane, I take
on the responsibility to preserve its history and through this airplane, to
educate others about the role this airplane played in a far-away conflict that,
in the end, did help preserve freedom and hasten the end of the cold war. The task includes preserving the memory of the men who flew her in combat and
those who maintained her after combat and prepared her for her next mission. It
also extends to all O-2A’s
and the Forward Air Control Mission
. To promote this goal, as my schedule and
finances allow, I fly the airplane to airshows, and particularly to EAA
AirVenture at Oshkosh Wisconsin, to let people see the airplane, read
information about it, and answer whatever questions I can. It is my hope that,
in publishing information about this airplane, people who have personal
memories of this airplane will be willing to share that information
this website so that others may come to a deeper appreciation of our history
and the men who shaped that history
USAF O-2A 67-21424 on ramp at Quang Tri, RVN, March 1971, Gary E. McDaniel, Maj, USAF, Ret
Wartime Service: This airplane was accepted by the US Air
Force on 2 November 1967 and delivered to the 23d Tactical Air Support Squadron
(TASS) in Nakhon Phanom Thailand, part of the 56th Special Operations Wing. The
primary mission of the 23d TASS was to interdict supplies flowing down the Ho
Chi Minh Trail from North Viet-Nam through Laos and into South Viet-Nam. The
23d flew missions over all three countries, with majority being over Laos in
the “Secret War.” This mission was known as “Operation Cricket.” Many aircraft of the 23d TASS were
marked with a stylized cricket on both sides of the nose of the aircraft.
(Veterans of the 23d TASS asked that surviving aircraft of the squadron continue
to display the cricket.)
23d TASS Patch (Night Version) and aircraft marking
Generally, observation aircraft of the 23d would depart Nakhon Phanom (NKP) search for targets over Laos, the Republic of Vietnam, or sometimes North Vietnam, and then direct attack aircraft to strike those targets.
Officially, neither the US nor North Vietnam were in Laos, so for the early part of its deployment, O-2 aircraft markings were noteworthy for being non-existent. Often, this was nothing more than the 3 digit aircraft number (e.g., “424.”) Pilots, too, flew without identification other than their dog tags! Many of the supporting aircraft were also non-standard. These often included similarly unmarked propeller driven aircraft, such as T-28s and A-26s. As the “Secret War” became less secret, the O-2’s worked with more standard USAF aircraft such as F4’s, F-100’s, and F-105 jets. Over time, the 23d’s O-2s also displayed more standard USAF markings.
Staaveren: Interdiction in Southern Laos. Washington DC: Center of Air
Force History, 1993
Most of the traffic
on the trail moved at night, so night tactics were developed. Many of the 23d TASS O-2As were painted
black with red markings. A Forward
Area Navigator (FAN) would look for enemy activity using a hand-held starlight
scope. Illumination flares were fired or dropped to mark targets for the attack
Pilots and planes from the 23d sometimes operated out of South Vietnam to provide relief for the TASS squadrons based there or for special missions. For example, in early 1968, 424 flew in support of the siege at Khe Sanh. Three years later, in 1971, 424 was back in Quang Tri province to support the RVN strike into Laos (Operation Lam Son 719.)
During its time
over Southeast Asia, 424 had several encounters with the enemy. It bears 14 bullet hole "scab" patches on various parts of its airframe witness to its combat service. Additionally, the entire right wing had to be replaced when it was returned to the United States (no idea how many patches were on that wing.)
While 424 served with the 23d
TASS the squadron was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic
of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
Post-war service. In August 1971, 424 was withdrawn from
service with the 23d TASS, disassembled, and shipped back to the United States.
From September 1971 to August 1974 the airplane was assigned to the 704th
TASS, Shaw AFB, SC. The mission of the 704th TASS was to prepare
FACs for deployment to combat assignments. Pilots included a balanced mix of
veterans returning from combat and newly assigned FACs, enabling the new pilots
to benefit from the experience of the veterans.
In August 1974, the airplane was reassigned to the 169th
TASS/182d TASG of the Illinois Air National Guard, which was stationed at
Peoria International Airport, Peoria, IL.
In addition to training for combat, the unit’s observation capabilities
were used in domestic disaster response operations. While 424 was
assigned to the 182d, it provided disaster
relief assistance after the Canton tornado in July 1975. In 1976, the 182d TASG
was awarded its first Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
424 was transferred in December 1978 to the 110th TASG, Michigan
Air National Guard at Battle Creek, MI.
67-21424 was retired from service in October 1980 and placed into
storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. While in storage, it was
transferred to the National Museum of the Air Force and assigned the civil
registration number of N424AF.
In 1994, 67-21424 was released by the US Air Force. It was restored to
flying status and issued a new airworthiness certificate by Environmental Air
Services based in Fernandina Beach, Florida. For the next ten years or so, 424
was used for whale population surveys, associated environmental work, and made
occasional appearances in local airshows.
In January 2007 the airplane was acquired by Col. Christopher T. Mayer and is maintained by Geoff Peterson of Rising Phoenix Aviation in Manassas,
by the previous owner was utilitarian. The airplane was a working aircraft,
primarily used for whale population surveys under contract to NOAA, operated
under Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. It was painted in USAF
colors and provided with appropriate interior furnishings, but it was not
specific to the previous history of this airplane.
It is my intent to restore the aircraft to honor the men who flew these aircraft as part of
the 23d TASS, while also being a functioning, family airplane capable of
operating in modern airspace.
For several years
after purchase, almost all available resources had to be devoted to making the
airplane airworthy and in full compliance with Part 91 of the FARs. Overseas deployments with the Army also intervened. Visual restoration began as
circumstances allowed. Research and application continue. This is an ongoing
project and some years remain before it will be fully complete. I hope that
former air and ground crew who worked with 424 will be able to provide more photographs and other information to help restore authenticity to the
Paint Scheme: Veterans of the 23d TASS were very helpful in providing stories, battle
histories, and numerous pictures. I recently received a photo of 424 taken while supporting Operation Lam Son 719 from South Vietnam. Many thanks to Maj Gary McDaniel for that. It confirmed that the airplane had been painted black for at least part of its service with the 23d TASS. As mentioned earlier, the markings
applied to black O-2As changed over time. Some had only the most minimal
markings, often becoming more elaborate over time. Maj McDaniel's photo from March 1971 shows the more elaborate marking. I am following a middle
road, using the minimum markings required by the FAA type certificate for the
M337B and those specified by the USAF for FAC aircraft while 424 was in
service. One difference is that the USAF used flat black. The EAA's Warbirds of America allows gloss paint in lieu of the original black to facilitate cleanliness and preservation of the airframe and parts. For the time being, anyway, I retain gloss black paint on the aircraft.
N424AF at EAA AirVenture 2014: Recovery after Thursday Airshow
Photo courtesy Nigel Hitchman
Interior: Avionics have been upgraded to ensure that
the airplane can operate safely as a family aircraft in the modern airspace
system. The old, vacuum tube radio rack in the back of the airplane was
removed, rear passenger seats installed (the 3rd and 4th seats were optional
even during its service life) and all seats were padded, given that the
occupants are no longer “padded” by parachutes. More work remains to restore
various interior furnishings.
The view over Lake Michigan, returning from Oshkosh
A truck may have a rifle rack, but how many people can claim that their AIRPLANE came with a rifle rack as standard equipment?