O-2A Skymaster

The Air Force bought Cessna O-2 Super Skymaster to replace the aging O-1 Bird Dogs for use in Vietnam as forward air control aircraft. The O-2 evolved from the Cessna Model 336, which was destined to provide twin engine capability for single engine qualified pilots. A major difficulty in going to two engines was symmetric handling, which is controlling the aircraft at low speed and altitude with one engine shutting down. Cessna avoided this by putting the two engines of the Model 336 in line-one in front and one behind the cabin, which was supported beneath the wing between the tail booms. However, although the design was distinctive, it wasn't successful enough primarily due to lack of sufficient engine power. After Cessna built 195 of them, they replaced the Model 336 with the very successful Model 337 Super Skymaster or O-2A. The design remained the same, but it had two 210 horsepower rather than 195 horsepower-engines, retractable rather than fixed-landing gear, a cabin seating six rather than four and turbo charging and cabin pressurization available as extras. For use as a FAC aircraft, the Air Force added windows and wing hardpoints for 7.62mm miniguns, bombs, rockets and flares. An O-2B version for psychological warfare had loudspeaker and leaflet dropping capabilities.

The O-2 could remain airborne for about four hours using both engines and seven hours on one engine by switching fuel tanks. It had a top speed of 205 mph and a ferry range of 1,400 miles, but with an 830-pound payload, the range was 770 miles. The aircraft had dual controls with the pilot and co-pilot seated side-by-side. In 1970, production ended after 546 O-2s had been built.

Super Skymaster training and operation continued at Hurlburt Field until Dec. 15, 1975, when 23 O-2As transferred to Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. However, the planes remained a part of the 1st Special Operations Wing throughout 1976 and transferred to another command Jan. 1, 1977. During the years the O-2s were assigned to the 1st Air Commando Wing and the 1st SOW, they played an important part in training replacement pilots for Southeast Asia duty. The SEA training program grew to the point that Hurlburt Field and adjacent airspace couldn't safely accommodate all Hurlburt aircraft and the required flying. Forward air control training, including the Super Skymaster, O-2, relocated to Holley Field in the southwest corner of the Eglin Air Force Base Reservation, Fla. Among those who completed this training at Holley Field was Lt. Col. John Doolittle, son of Gen. James Doolittle. General Doolittle trained his crews for the Tokyo Raid of April 1942 at Eglin AFB, Auxiliary Field 1.

In addition to SEA O-2 pipeline pilot training, Hurlburt air commandos trained for and demonstrated their own operational missions. This included exercises and training demonstrations for ground forces-in particular those forces the air commandos would support in combat.

Aircraft O-2A, #67-21368, was built by the Cessna Aircraft Corporation and delivered to the USAF on August 31, 1967. It then saw duty at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Bien Hoa, Vietnam. In September 1970 the aircraft transferred to the 111th Tactical Air Support Group, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Within the next five years the aircraft transferred to two additional Air National Guard units eventually being dropped from the USAF inventory in 1982. In October 1982 the Skymaster was installed and dedicated in the Air Park.