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Flying Black Ponies: the Navy’s Air Support Squadron in Vietnam

1 March 2020

Flying Black Ponies: the Navy’s Air Support Squadron in Vietnam, Kit Lavell, 2000, ISBN 978-1-59114-468-7, 328 pp.

Flying Black Ponies: The Navy’s Close Air Support Squadron in Vietnam by Kit Lavell

This is a book about the close air support (CAS) squadron of North American OV-10 Bronco aircraft flown by the Navy in support of SEAL ops during the Vietnam War. The Navy as well as the USMC has a checkered past regarding CAS aircraft. The Douglas A-1 Skyraider was legendary but the age of piston engined aircraft and their increasing logistical challenges was drawing to a close. The USMC a decade earlier, going in with the Army, agreed to develop a CAS aircraft—the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk—which would have also been more than adequate but could not perform as one due to the USAF throwing its weight around and promising its own CAS (which did not come until decades later with the Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, even so the USAF considers it a red-haired stepchild). North American stepped into the fray with the Bronco—an aircraft which inspired a faithful following—as a CAS aircraft other than a helicopter was required.

Lavell’s early chapters address the developments and piloting of the OV-10 in general. There is a remarkably insightful comparison written between the Bronco and Mohawk, as well. Then Lavell gets into the meat of the Black Ponies and their stories are fantastic. One wonders where nations get fighters so brave and so dedicated to their mission of aiding their comrades? The tale of how the Black Ponies came to employ so many Zuni rockets is of great interest as is the variety of flying described so accurately.

Black Pony aircrew were motivated. One pilot often retarded throttle settings to gain more time while in strafing runs. All flew when required in spite of weather or combat conditions. Much of the book is written from first hand accounts and one can feel the oppressively thick humidity in the cockpits as targets were first identified, then marked and attacked—more often danger close so geometry to minimize friendly casualties due to shorts and longs is well described. A FAC concern always but hardly addressed in the needed detail in other titles.

Kit Lavell is the man  to write Flying Black Ponies as he flew 243 missions as one. He knows the work and the people as well as having a gift to write in an easy, conversational way.

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