From the Cockpit Part 51: OV-1 Mohawk

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Editor’s Note: This is part 51 of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

An unexpected delight, Rankin tests his aviation mettle against a massive aircraft he never expected he’d get a chance to fly this year—the OV-1 Mohawk. Manufactured by the legendary Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation (today Northrop Grumman) from 1959 to 1970, only 380 were ever made and few still fly today. Rankin found his courtesy of “Mohawk Joe” Masessa, a dermatologist and surgeon who leads a double life performing aerobatics in airshows across the country.

Nicknamed the “Iron Works,” Grumman holds a reputation not only for unusual looking aircraft, but unusually sturdy aircraft, and the Mohawk is no exception. Designed largely for reconnaissance, the plane excelled in Vietnam and Desert Storm as an observation platform. Though it could be equipped with machine guns and rocket pods, only one air-to-air kill was ever recorded, and it took the Mohawk 38 rockets and two bursts of machine gun fire to accomplish. But with no North Vietnamese MiG-17s on the horizon, Rankin enjoys the view. “The visibility is unparalleled, other than being in a helicopter,” he says, noting not only the bubbled windows giving the pilot room to lean out to either side, but also windows installed above and below for maximum perspective.

And while the Mohawk’s size and sturdy appearance may fool one into thinking it a sluggish, lumbering machine, Rankin attests to the opposite. Powered by twin turboprop Lycoming T53s, “it definitely gets up and goes,” he says. Masessa, who regularly performs low-altitude aileron rolls in his shows, would agree. And there’s a reason his Mohawk is controlled via stick, instead of a yoke. There’s no hard and fast rule, says Rankin, but a stick typically indicates a plane ready to yank and bank. Cloud surfing through the skies (slaloming between the clouds as if they were physical obstacles—“very Star Wars”), the Mohawk darts around with surprising agility.

For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Ryan Flies

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