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The Cessna O-2A Super Skymaster Forward Air Control Aircraft



Above - VH-OTU is a Cessna M337B known as an O-2A in the United States Air Force. Serving with the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron in Vietnam, it is the only O-2 in Australia that is allowed to carry passengers and the only O-2A in te world with a glass cockpit.

The Cessna Aircraft Company created a unique aircraft in the 1960s. A twin-engined aircraft with an engine on the nose and one behind a passenger pod, its configuration is called 'Centre-line Thrust' because all of the thrust from the two engines is aligned along the centre line of the aircraft.

To accommodate this unique design, a twin boom tail is used.

With a high mounted wing and no engines or engine nacelles to impede the view, the Cessna Skymaster is also a great observation and surveillance platform allowing almost unimpeded views of the terrain below the aircraft. Because of this, the United States Air Force decided to use the aircraft in the Forward Air Control (FAC) role.

FAC pilots flew at extremely low level - just above tree top height - and were in contact with friendly troops on the ground. When friendly troops needed air support or artillery support, it was the role of the FAC pilot to coordinate it.

Using smoke rockets in rocket launchers mounted on the wings, the pilot would mark a position on the ground and use the smoke as a reference for fighters and bombers who would fly support to the ground troops.

Many Australian pilots flew with the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War, as well as some New Zealand pilots. The Aussies would often paint a red kangaroo on the nose of their aircraft to let people know that it was an Aussie driving the bird.

During the Rhodesian Bush Wars, French made variants were used as ground attack aircraft and light bombers. With machine guns mounted in pods above the passenger compartment and bombs and rockets on the wings, they were particularly potent in that type of conflict.

This aircraft is the only one of its type in Australia that is allowed to carry passengers and the only one of its type in the world with a glass cockpit - a cockpit that does away with the standard analogue dials and, instead, uses computer screens to display information.


A USAF O-2 on a rocket pass in Vietnam

An O-2 showing the rocket pods. The white and red noses were frangible and would disintegrate when a rocket was fired through them.

A Rhodesian Air Force Lynx F337, the French version of the Skymaster. The Rhodesians mounted machine guns in pods above the passenger pod which fired over the propellor.

Another view of a Rhodesian Air Force Lynx on a sortie during the Bush Wars.

A night version of the O-2 used during the Vietnam War to monitor the Ho Chi Minh trail looking for infiltration from the North Vietnamese Army.


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Independent Productions and Aviation Services is the website of Conway Bown, Australian Army Official War Artist and Aviation Consultant. Services include portrait painting and other portraiture, aviation services such as CRM - Crew Resource Management - and Helicopter Underwater Escape Training - HUET - which may include Emergency Breathing Systems - EBS - training using Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Devices - HABD - or Helicopter Emergency Egress Device - HEEDs.

During 2006, Conway Bown deployed to the Middle East as the Australian Army's Official War Artist, what the US Armed Forces call Combat Artist. This website features the artwork created during this project as part of the Australian Army's Official Art Scheme.

For more information on War Art, Combat Artists, Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET), Emergency Breathing Systems (EBS) or Crew Resource Management (CRM), please visit the relevant webpages:

HUET - RHO Aviation

CRM - RHO Aviation

EBS - RHO Aviation

Official War Artist - IPAS.