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The OV-10 Story: Innovation vs. The "System"


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Selling Through the "System" continued

By June '63 there was agreement between DDR&E and a reluctant Navy to proceed with program definition. How this happened is interesting. The Navy didn't want to spend any money in a non-Navy aircraft office and had assigned Captain Al Morton to drive the cost of development out of sight. KP had been pushing for $6 million and had done his best to keep this goal in sight, although he had limited capability to influence industry responses to the Navy's complex RFP. On decision day, half the Pentagon was gathered to hear Captain Morton's briefing in Dr. Brown's office. The captain threw in a few muted remarks about the ridiculous notion of a $6 million estimate and concluded his briefing with a triumphant statement that the initial six aircraft would cost $15 million to develop. He fully expected objections. In contrast, Harold Brown kicked back in his chair and laughed uproariously saying, "Only $15 million, that's great, let's do it."

So much for Captain Morton's coup de grace. This was in June '63. BUWEPS was directed to issue a Request For Proposals (RFP) about Sept. '63. The Army was directed to develop the Position Fixing Navigation System (PFNS), that located individual infantry men, and the Air Force was directed to develop the Low Light Level TV (LLLTV) to allow pilots to see in the dark in conjunction with the LARA program. The use of fiberglass was also indicated.

In August '63, as a result of KP's contacts with Gen. Hochmuth, I got orders to Quantico, and presumably the Development Center there, where I could participate in the program. As it turned out, I was assigned to the Education Center instead and Gen. Hochmuth wouldn't intervene to change it. I was in Washington, close to the action, but still on the outside.

It was at this stage of the game that the way the "system" drove programs to calculated mediocrity started becoming more apparent. First, there was the "requirement." The rules forbade the requirement from specifying how to do something, it could only indicate the end desired. Also, neither KP nor I had any direct input to the actual SOR. Thus, the 20ft wingspan and 6.5ft tread needed to operate from back roads near supported troops were specified as short take off and landing (STOL) from rough fields and a "short" wingspan. As a result none of the companies that responded even tried to meet the goal of operating from roads. They did all respond to the short wingspan, rough field and STOL requirements, however. The typical approach was to take the width of a standard fuselage, add clearance for the propellers, add the diameter of the propellers and then add a few feet for the ailerons. This resulted in a span of 30-34ft. Since anything over about 23ft was useless for the tactical objective, and the optimum span was about 40ft, they all paid a steep price and got nothing for it. (They all ignored the 6.5ft tread.) Quoting from the winner's (north American) internal planning at the time, the characteristics to be stressed (taken from SYSCOM's evaluation criteria) were:

  • Take off and landing distance
  • Loiter time and endurance
  • Max. speed
  • Ferry range

This was only one way the concept was twisted. Another element was the obvious, but of course unstated, opposition of both the Air Force and Navy BUWEPS, the systems command that was charged with its development. The Air Force got into the program after the RFP primarily to control, and ultimately do away with the concept and pushed for an aircraft with a limited Forward Air Controller (FAC) role that wouldn't compete with their centrally controlled jet fighter. BUWEPS opposed it because they hadn't originated it. They felt that they were best qualified to tell the "user" what he should have. (This attitude later infuriated a Marine general and got the V/STOL "Harrier" program started over their objection.)

OV-10 FACThe Air Force was able top add about 1000lbs of electronics to the no longer simple aircraft system, ostensibly to support the limited FAC role. BUWEPS set out early to specify the aircraft to failure starting with an unprecedented requirement to demonstrate operations from two specially constructed runways with different frequency sine wave undulations. No other vehicle could negotiate these runways at more than 10-13mph. This added another unnecessary 1000lbs, but in the end the airplane met the requirement (even though the pilot couldn't).

These developments also illustrate that the "system" will almost always accommodate additions, but never can anything be taken out. This is why all weapons grow in weight, complexity and price; and if something smaller is desired, you have to start over. Another rule in DOD procurement is that smaller and cheaper never justifies more numbers. You can never replace an expensive, complex system with more numbers of a simpler system.

All of the contractors that responded to the RFP in March '64 were aware of the politics involved and played the game of guessing who was the real customer (eg: the DOD, the Air Force, BUWEPS, the Marines, etc.), but BUWEPS was recognized as in charge of the evaluation. The proposals all tried to be light, simple and cheap, but with impressive payload, speed and weapon capabilities - all things to everyone, but nothing innovative enough to be considered radical or risky. As Beech pointed out later in a protest, they also lied about their design speed.

Nine companies submitted bids: Beech, Douglas, Convair, Goodyear, Helio, Hiller, Lockheed, Martin and North American. Ryan, one of our earlier contacts, had what I thought was a particularly good design, but declined to bid. Beech, Douglas and Lockheed had conventional single fuselage designs. Goodyear had an interesting design with a short wing and high mounted engines. Helio proposed a modification of their twin engine utility transport which was rejected early. Hiller, Convair, Martin and North American all had the twin boom configuration that KP had been pushing to eventually accommodate a recoilless rifle. Convair was notable because they were already building their entry. The Martin entry had an interesting inverted "V" tail design which featured exhaust gasses from the engines ducted through the booms to the "blown" ruddervator. North American, the ultimate winner, had a straightforward twin boom configuration and a notable helicopter-like canopy to promote visibility.

North American was selected as the winner and in October received a contract for seven prototypes. Meanwhile, the Convair "Charger" which had been corporately funded, was rolled out in September and had its first flight in November. Despite this competition from a "real" as opposed to a "paper" airplane the decision was not changed, but Convair did get a limited flight test contract which gave them a last ditch chance at further competition. Unfortunately, Convair's efforts evaporated when a Navy pilot lost the aircraft due to gross pilot error on 19 October, '65.

The "system" had finally come up with a contract for prototypes. The purpose of prototypes was to demonstrate the selected design and determine what changes, if any, should be made before a decision was made for production. In order to get some tactical thinking back into the program KP and I came up with the idea of an All Service Evaluation Group (ASEG). I wrote the initial charter for the group and included everything I could wish for, if I got the job. KP got it officially approved and implemented.

The ASEG had pilots from the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Army and was assigned a mix of aircraft that could be used to explore the widest variety of tactics and techniques. In addition to YOV-10s they had a Stearman bi-plane, a North American SNJ trainer, a Douglas AD dive bomber and a Grumman OV-1 Mohawk turboprop Army reconnaissance type. Also, all the assigned pilots received a special low altitude navigation course from crop dusters at Ohio State which emphasized the difference between skimming the treetops and flying consistently below treetops. We didn't expect the YOV-10 to be perfect, but we hoped that the ASEG would demonstrate all its possibilities and maybe come up with some new potentials.

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