Mohawk Retires

     The flight crew brought the old gray warrior down easy on the Desiderio Army Airfield runway at Camp Humphreys, Korea. It resembled a dragon fly, with its bulbous cockpit, long, tubular body and a wing span longer than its fuselage. After 36 years, it was time to close the book on the Mohawk story.

By Staff Sgt. Michael Westerfield

     The career lasted 36 years. It certainly wasn't easy. For all those years, the old gray warrior had been on guard duty every day — watching the enemy. There was no leave, no pass, not even a day off in more than three decades of service. There was an important job to be done and the Army called on the Mohawk to do it.

Now it was time to rest.

     With proper military ceremony, 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. Soldiers and guests attended the solemn occasion as one of the Army's most reliable assets was honored for a job well done.

     “We're not just retiring an aircraft. We're closing a chapter on the lives of all the people who have flown them and those who kept them flying,” said Chief Warrant Officer Sam Nix, Mohawk pilot, Co. A, 3d MI Battalion, 501st MI Brigade.

     Brig. Gen. John D. Thomas, Jr., commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Fort Belvoir, Va., was on hand for the ceremony. He is a former commander of the 3rd MI Battalion.

     “Those of you here today, and others around the world who have made the Mohawk story such a success, will stand among the great heroes of the Army,” said Thomas during the ceremony. “Although your accomplishments have little recognition or fanfare, the Army, our nation and free people everywhere owe you a great debt for standing a faithful watch over the frontiers of freedom.”

     The first Mohawk flew for the Army in 1960 as a visual obser-vation aircraft. It was soon pressed into service in Vietnam. Its primary mission was gathering and relaying information on enemy activities. In all these years, the mission and the aircraft have undergone few changes.

     “There hasn't been any need for change,” said Nix. “The technology was so good when it was first designed there have been only a few minor refinements. If you put the first Mohawk next to a D model, most people couldn't tell the difference.”

     Not only has the aircraft undergone few changes, the mission has remained constant as well.

The Mission: Aerial Observation

     Aerial observation of enemy activities has been a military benchmark of the 20th century. Since the first Union soldiers rose above the American Civil War battlefield in hot air balloons in 1861, no aircraft has been as successful in low-level observation as the Mohawk. The Mohawk is a textbook example of “form following function.”

     From conception, the OV-1 was designed for aerial reconnaissance. The bulging oversized glass canopy provides the crew with much more visibility than a standard, streamlined canopy. This allowed the crew to better perform 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. The wing span is actually longer than the fuselage. This lift capability was needed to carry enough fuel for the missions that often lasted as much as six hours.

     The bulbous cockpit, long tubular body and straight wings gave the Mohawk a dragonfly-like appearance. The tail section was also designed with the mission in mind. 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. The designers solved the problem by dividing the vertical surface into three sections. The unusual tail increased maneuverability and stability. Additional stability enhances the performance of the radar and photographic equipment used to record enemy activities.

     “It's not real pretty to look at, but it's a beautiful aircraft,” one of the remaining mechanics explained. “It can take about anything the weather throws at it and still fly.”

     “There have been times I thought I might die while flying a Mohawk. We've flown in bad weather with zero visibility,” said Capt. Virgil Flink, Co. A commander. “I never thought the Mohawk might fail me. That's a testament to the aircraft and the crews that maintain her so well.”

Maintenance —Scheduled

     The maintenance of the OV-1 fleet is a success story unequaled in Army history. These aircraft have flown seven days a week, night and day since 1964 to keep a constant vigil on North Korean activities along the Demilitarized Zone. Missions are not canceled except during the very worst weather.

     When one aircraft returns to base another is already on guard along the DMZ. As soon as they land, maintenance crews begin preparing them for the next flight.

     Every system is checked from the air frame to the tiniest circuit boards in the side-looking airborne radar system used to keep an eye on the enemy. The soldiers responsible for maintenance have a strict schedule of preventive maintenance procedures. Adhering to this maintenance and quality control schedule has kept the Mohawk on its appointed mission. The aircraft has not been the easiest to maintain but the dedication of the mechanics has kept the OV-1 in the sky.

     “Sometimes it's so hot before takeoff, we can literally fry eggs on the cockpit. Other times it's below zero before they get any altitude. It's a team effort to make sure the (the Mohawks) bring the crews back,” said Staff Sgt. Denton Stryker. “Pilots, mechanics and technicians, fuelers and clerks all work together to make this happen.”

     The result of the maintenance effort has been a seamless coverage of enemy activities along the DMZ every day and night since 1964.

Every Day

     “Every single night since 1964 a crew and all the support staff has readied these aircraft for a mission,” said Nix. “That's very rare to have such constant activity for such a long time. Basically the mission hasn't changed from the beginning.”

     The Mohawk has provided early warning on enemy activity to the combined Forces Command, Korea, using a variety of imagery equipment such as still and infrared photography as well as side-looking airborne radar.

     “The Mohawk serves as a trigger for a multitude of military intelligence systems,” said Maj. Brian Cummins, 501st MI Brigade operations officer. “It tips us off to enemy training and movements. When it does that, (it) triggers other forms of intelligence gathering.”

     Operating the surveillance equipment is the primary responsibility of the technical observer — the enlisted member of the Mohawk flight crew.

     Officer and enlisted flight teams have flown the Mohawk in Vietnam, Germany, Desert Storm and Korea for all of the aircraft's career. Such teams will be used as the mission continues.

     “We still have a need for continuous vigilance and data collection,” Cummins explained. “We need to know if North Korea is massing for an attack and or prepositioning equipment and supplies.”


     The 3rd MI Battalion was the last of the various Army units to retire the Mohawk. Other ceremonies had previously taken place in stateside units and Germany. The unit had 10 of the planes during the final days before the retirement ceremony. Common parts will go back to the Army supply system while the frames will be used as targets at various ranges. Some of the Army flight crews have been trained to fly the Mohawk's replacement, the ARL (Airborne Reconnaissance Low). The ARL features increased time on target and increased technical capability.

     “For 36 years, the Mohawk was the standard of excellence in the Army aviation community.” said Nix. “Only about 80 of the aircraft were ever built. The taxpayer and the soldiers lucky enough to work with them definitely got their money's worth.”

     “We're retiring the aircraft, not the mission,” said Flink, last commander of a Mohawk-equipped company. “We still need the type of intelligence the Mohawk gathered. It's time, after 36 years, to allow the Mohawk to retire.”

     The intelligence gathering mission will be continued using various Army and Air Force systems.

     Finally the old, gray warrior can rest after so many years of being an ever watchful guardian for millions of people. At dawn, with wheels down, a single OV-1, Mohawk aircraft approached Desiderio Army Airfield at Camp Humphreys, Korea. With the completion of its last successful mission, it ended an era of success.

     Silently, a handful of soldiers witnessed the final flight of the last of the Mohawks.

Staff Sgt. Michael Westerfield is the NCOIC, Area III public affairs office, Camp Humphreys, Korea.

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   Last Updated: January 23, 1997