The Mohawk was developed by Grumman Aircraft as a photo observation and electronic reconnaissance aircraft for the US Marines and the US Army. Due to budgetary constraints, the Marines bowed out early in the development cycle. The first Mohawk (YAO-1) prototype flew on April 14, 1959. The OV-1 entered production in October 1959 and served the US Army in Europe, Korea, the Viet Nam War, Central and South America, Alaska, and during Desert Storm in the Middle East. The Mohawk was retired from service in September 1996. A total of 380 original OV-1 Mohawks were produced between 1957 and 1969. 133 OV-1Cs were built, the "C" designating the model which used an IR (infrared) imaging system to provide electronic reconnaissance.
Since its inception as a joint Army and Marine program, the OV-1 Mohawk had been a center of controversy. Actually the Army and Marine requirements were never compatible and compromises were made that suited neither. From the Army's viewpoint, the original design was compromised by shipboard requirements and other specific Marine specifications which had little application for an Army observation aircraft. From the Marine viewpoint, they were looking for a fixed-wing replacement for the old Cessna light observation aircraft and they did not require sophisticated sensor systems which they planned to carry on other aircraft. As it turned out, the Marines dropped out of the development program before the first prototypes were ready for flight.
Because the Mohawk was an exception to the Secretary of Defense's memorandum on weight limitations for Army aircraft and because it had inherent capabilities for armament, the Air Force had opposed its development from the beginning. There is no doubt that certain Army extremists viewed the Mohawk as the "nose of the camel within the tent of tactical air support." The Army was to suffer for their enthusiasm for years to come. The manufacturer, Grumman, did not help by publishing carefully placed brochures which showed the Mohawk in a variety of attack roles.
The Mohawk was originally designed as a visual reconnaissance aircraft with better survivability than the L-19 of Korean vintage. In addition, it was to have an integral camera system for spot photo coverage. Above all, it was to land and take off in the same distance as the L-19 which it was to supplement. It was not long, however, that "improved" versions of the Mohawk were visualized carrying sophisticated sensor systems developed by the Army surveillance agencies such as infra-red and side-looking radar. Weight, space, and power provisions had not been made for these systems in the original design. As a result, the gross weight increased and performance declined. These growth versions of the Mohawk were coming off the drawing board before the first "A" model had even been tested throughout its entire flight envelope and subsequent tests were to prove that major engineering modifications to both wing and power plants would be necessary in the latter versions. Furthermore, the addition of all this sophisticated sensor equipment not only raised the unit cost significantly but, in the view of many, watered down the Army contention that this was truly a front line low echelon aircraft.
The first Mohawk flew for the Army in 1960 as a visual observation aircraft. It was soon pressed into service in Vietnam. Its primary mission was gathering and relaying information on enemy activities. After a storm of controversy in the Pentagon, the 23d Special Warfare Aviation Detachment was deployed to Vietnam in September 1962 for the purpose of providing air surveillance in support of Republic of Vietnam forces. In addition, they were to serve as a test unit for operational evaluation conducted by the Army Concept Team in Vietnam. The 23d Special Warfare Aviation Detachment (Surveillance) was organized in July 1962 as a prototype armed aerial surveillance unit using the OV-1 Mohawk aircraft. Besides its headquarters and photo processing section, there were three flight teams, each consisting of two armed Mohawks, four pilots, and seven enlisted maintenance and armament specialists. Visual and photographic reconnaissance by this twin-turbine airplane produced a wealth of intelligence for supported units. One of the unique advantages of the Mohawk in reconnaissance was its speed to noise relationship which allowed the aircraft to get within observation distance of people on the ground without alerting them to it's presence. In one division, artillery fires directed from the air were nearly tripled by the activities of Mohawk observers. The Mohawks filled a real intelligence need for the U. S. Army advisors in the field. For the first time the advisors found themselves with a responsive tool in the form of the Mohawk under their direct operational control to fill in the many gaps in their intelligence.
In subsequent years, the mission and the aircraft underwent few changes. About 80 of the aircraft were built, and deployed in Vietnam, Germany, Desert Storm and Korea. Mohawk variants included the OV-1A, [visual and photographic], OV-1B [visual, photographic, and side-looking radar], the OV-1C [ visual, photographic, and infrared], and the OV-1D, OV-1E [Observation], EV-1E [Special electronic installation] and RV-1E [Reconnaissance].
The OV-1 was designed for aerial reconnaissance. The bulging oversized glass canopy provided the crew with much more visibility than a standard, streamlined canopy, to facilitate the OV-l's initial mission in Vietnam, visual observation of enemy activities. The two place, twin turboprop aircraft's thick, straight wings were designed to provide maximum lift rather than speed, with a wing span longer than the fuselage. This lift capability was needed to carry enough fuel for the missions that often lasted as much as six hours. Instead of one vertical surface to stabilize the aircraft, the OV-1 has three. Because of the torque created by the twin turboprop engines, a single vertical stabilizer would have been about 15-feet tall. Dividing the vertical surface into three sections increased maneuverability and stability, which enhanced the performance of the radar and photographic equipment used to record enemy activities. Operating the surveillance equipment was the primary responsibility of the technical observer - the enlisted member of the Mohawk flight crew.
The aircraft flew seven days a week, night and day since 1964 to keep a constant vigil on North Korean activities along the Demilitarized Zone. Missions were not canceled except during the very worst weather. When one aircraft returned to base another was already on guard along the DMZ. As soon as they landed, maintenance crews begin preparing them for the next flight. The Mohawk provided early warning on enemy activity using a variety of imagery equipment such as still and infrared photography as well as side-looking airborne radar.
With the deployment of the Mohawk's replacement, the ARL (Airborne Reconnaissance Low), the OV-1D Mohawk was retired from the Army inventory by the 3rd MI Battalion, 501st MI Brigade, INSCOM, Camp Humphreys, Korea, Sept. 21, 1996.
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