History: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. The 23d TASS was 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. 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 have asked that any surviving aircraft of the squadron continue to display the cricket.)
Generally, observation aircraft of the 23d would depart Nakhon Phanom (NKP) search for targets over Laos, the Republic of Vietnam or 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, often 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.
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. An observer/co-pilot would look for enemy activity using a hand-held starlight scope. Illumination flares were fired or dropped to mark targets for the attack aircraft.
During its time over Southeast Asia, 424 had several encounters with the enemy. Its numerous bullet-hole patches and other battle-damage repairs are witness to its combat service.
Other duty assignments:
September 1971 to August 1974:704th TASS, Shaw AFB, SC
August 1974 to December 1978:182d TASG, IL Air National Guard, Peoria, IL
December 1978 to October 1980:110th TASG, MI Air National Guard, Battle Creek, MI
October 1980: Aircraft placed into storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Arizona
|Registration Number||Date of Manufacture|
|Forward Air Controller||“Oscar Duck”, “Mixmaster”, “Push-Pull”|
|Cessna O-2 Skymaster||38 feet 2 inches|
|Overall length:||Empty weight:|
|29 feet 9 inches||3029 pounds|
|Gross weight:||Fuel capacity:|
|4300 normal/4850 Combat||122 gal: max time of 7.2 hrs and 900nm distance|
|Oil capacity||Engine type:|
|10 qts/engine||Two 210 hp Continental IO-360D piston engines|
|Propeller type:||Max Speed|
|McCauley Constant Speed, full feathering, 76″ diameter||206 mph|
|Rate of Climb||Cruise Speed|
|2000+ fpm, single pilot, sea level to 6000 feet||150 knots (172 mph)|
|Service Ceiling||Number of Crew|
|18,000 feet||Two Crew, Two passengers|
|Under Wing Rockets, Flares||None|
|Number Built||Number Surviving|
The previous owner of this aircraft conducted initial restoration after its release by the National Museum of the Air Force/Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. It was restored to USAF colors of the SEA war period and provided with appropriate interior furnishings. The airplane was a working aircraft, primarily used for whale population surveys under contract to NOAA, and operated under Part 135.
The current owner is making an effort to restore the aircraft to honor the men who flew this aircraft as part of the 23d TASS, while also being a functioning, family airplane capable of operating in modern airspace. This is an ongoing project and some years remain before it will be fully complete.
Since purchase by the current owner, the emphasis has been on making the airplane airworthy and fully in compliance with Part 91 of the FARs. This has consumed both time and the owner’s operating budget. (The owner’s final overseas deployment of his Army career also intervened.) Visual restoration began as circumstances allowed. Research and application continue.
Registration Number (N424AF): This is the number assigned to it by the NMUSAF. After purchase, the current owner was able to re-register it with this number.
The paint scheme: The owner has been in contact with the surviving members of the 23d TASS, and they have been very helpful, providing stories, battle histories, and numerous pictures. Unfortunately the owner has no pictures of 424 while it was in service. One veteran reported having flown it, but no specific memories. During paint removal under the initial restoration, it was found that the airplane had been painted black at one time. Given other operational history, this must have been while it was in service in Thailand with the 23d TASS. As reported elsewhere, the markings applied to the black aircraft changed over time. Some had only the most minimal markings, while others developed more elaborate marking schemes. The current owner chose a middle road, using the minimum markings required by the FAA type certificate for the M337B and those specified for FAC aircraft by the USAF while 424 was in service. (Thanks to the men of the 23d TASS for that information.)
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 parachute harnesses. More work remains to bring various interior furnishings back to fully – and appropriate – operating condition.
Printable QR Codes for: Chris Mayer’s Cessna O-2A Skymaster “Cricket”:
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