Cessna O-2 Skymaster

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O-2 Skymaster
O-2 Skymaster-1.jpg
An O-2 Skymaster
Role Observation aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Cessna
First flight January 1967
Introduction March 1967
Retired 2010 (United States)
Status Limited service
Primary users United States Air Force (historical)
Botswana Air Force
Salvadoran Air Force
Produced 1967–1975
Number built 532
Developed from Cessna Skymaster

The Cessna O-2 Skymaster (nicknamed "Oscar Deuce") is a military version of the Cessna 337 Super Skymaster utilized as an observation and forward air control (FAC) aircraft. The United States Air Force commissioned Cessna to build a military variant to replace the O-1 Bird Dog in 1966.

Design and development

As with the civilian version, the Skymaster was a low-cost twin-engine piston-powered aircraft, with one engine in the nose of the aircraft and a second engine in the rear of the fuselage. The push-pull configuration meant a simpler single-engine operating procedure due to centerline thrust compared to the common low-wing mounting of most twin engine light planes, and also allowed for a high wing, providing clear observation below and behind the aircraft. During the Vietnam War, the Skymaster was introduced as a replacement of the O-1 Bird Dog. It was intended to be replaced in the forward air control (FAC) mission by the OV-10 Bronco, but the O-2A maintained a night mission role after the OV-10's introduction due to the OV-10's high level of cockpit illumination, rendering night reconnaissance impractical.[1] The O-2 was phased out completely after additional OV-10 night upgrades.[2][3]

The first O-2 flew in January 1967 and the plane went into production shortly thereafter, with the USAF taking delivery in March 1967. A total of 532 O-2s were built in two variants for the USAF by 1970. The O-2A served as a FAC aircraft with the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, while the O-2B was equipped with loudspeakers and a leaflet dispenser for use in the psychological operations (PSYOPS) role. Several USAF O-2 aircraft were later transferred to and operated by the former VNAF South Vietnamese Air Force.[3]

Following the Vietnam War, the O-2 continued to operate with both U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard units well into the late 1980s.

Six former USAF O-2A airframes were also transferred to the U.S. Navy in 1983 for use as range controllers with Attack Squadron 122 (VA-122), the Pacific Fleet Replacement Squadron for the A-7 Corsair II at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. These same aircraft were later transferred to Strike Fighter Squadron 125 (VFA-125), the F/A-18 Hornet FRS at NAS Lemoore, in 1986 for use in the same range control role.[4]

Of the six USN aircraft mentioned above, two were transferred to the U.S. Army in late 1990.[4] O-2As had originally entered the U.S. Army's inventory in 1967 from USAF stocks and were augmented by the 1990 aircraft transfer from the U.S. Navy. Several disassembled USAF O-2s remain in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.[4] Two O-2As were used at Laguna Army Airfield, Arizona as part of testing programs carried out by the Yuma Proving Ground. These were retired in October 2010 and sent to a museum.[1]

Operational history

USAF O-2 Skymaster in flight

A total of 178 USAF O-2 Skymasters were lost in the Vietnam War, to all causes.[5]

El Salvador

During the Salvadoran Civil War the Salvadoran Air Force received a total of 23 O-2As and 2 O-2Bs from the United States, the first arriving in 1981. The O-2s were employed to observe the movements of FMLN formations and direct air strikes against them, playing a major role in forcing the rebel movement to abandon large-scale operations. Near the end of the war in 1990, the rebel's acquisition of SA-7 missiles resulted in the loss of two O-2As, while another was destroyed by mortar fire, and two more were lost in crashes.[6]

Civilian use


In the mid 1970s, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, found that the contractor-owned air attack aircraft, mostly single-engine Cessna 182s and Cessna 210s, did not provide the airspeed and safety needed for the department's new air tanker program. In 1974, Senior Air Operations Officer, Cotton Mason, inspected 40 USAF O-2s at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The best 20 were selected and shipped to Fresno, California. These aircraft had been FAC aircraft in Vietnam and were shipped back to the United States in containers, and were disassembled and on pallets when they arrived at Fresno. A crew of California Conservation Corps (CCC) members under the supervision of a CDF Battalion Chief who was an FAA Certificated Mechanic with Inspection Authorization (IA), reassembled the aircraft. They were placed in service in 1976, and successfully served CALFIRE for more than 20 years, until replaced by a fleet of OV-10 Broncos.[7]


An O-2B Skymaster dropping leaflets over Vietnam
Version designed for use in forward air control missions, features ordnance hard points underneath the wings to hold rockets, gun pods or flares. 513 were delivered.[3]
Version designed for psychological warfare, and was equipped with loudspeakers and a leaflet dispenser, but otherwise carried no weapons. Thirty-one former civil 337s were converted to O-2Bs.[8]


Cessna 337 Skymaster on the ground in New Jersey, 2008
 Costa Rica
 Dominican Republic
 Ivory Coast
State Flag of Iran (1964-1980).svg
  • Namibian Air Force - Six O-2A,[9] five of which were delivered on June 26, 1994, for use in the anti-poaching and anti-smuggling rôle.[12]
 El Salvador
  • Salvadoran Air Force - 18 O-2A and two O-2B, delivered starting 1981.[9] Eight O-2A and one O-2B remain in service.
 Solomon Islands
 South Korea
 South Vietnam
 United States

Specifications (O-2)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2 - Pilot and Observer
  • Length: 29.75 ft (9.07 m)
  • Wingspan: 38.17 ft (11.63 m)
  • Height: 9.17 ft (2.79 m)
  • Wing area: 202.5 ft² (18.8 m²)
  • Empty weight: 2,848 lb (1,292 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 5,400 lb (2,448 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Continental IO-360C six-cylinder flat engines, 210 hp (157 kW) each



Aircraft on display

Notable appearances in media

See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. 1.0 1.1 The OV-10 Bronco Association (March 2002). "What is the Pave Nail system?". Retrieved 3 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Bronco" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Skutack, Daniel (February 2003). "COVEY's in Southeast Asia" (PDF). Retrieved 3 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Fact Sheets : Cessna O-2A Skymaster : Cessna O-2A Skymaster
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The United States Military Aviation Directory, AIRTime Publishing, Norwalk, CT, c2000, p. 231, ISBN 1-880588-29-3
  5. Hobson, Chris. Vietnam Air Losses, USAF/USN/USMC/ Fixed-Wing Southeast Asia 1961-1973. 2001. ISBN 1-85780-115-6
  6. Cooper, Tom. "El Salvador, 1980-1992". ACIG.org. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. This section contains public domain material taken from "CDF Aviation Management History", CDF official website, retrieved August 23, 2007
  8. Andrade 1979, page 140
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 "Cessna Skymasters used by non-US Air-Forces", Skymaster.org.uk. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  10. Haiti Air Force
  11. 21st. Counter Insurgence Squadron O-2A
  12. AIR International, December 1994, page 323.
  13. US Navy O-2 Pelican
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 "T". Chancefac.net. Retrieved 2014-02-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. United States Air Force Museum
  16. National Museum of the US Air Force - Cessna O-2A Skymaster
  17. Hulburt Field - O-2A Skymaster
  18. "vmap - O-2A Skymaster (Gray)". Vmap.wikispaces.com. 1967-11-20. Retrieved 2014-02-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Shaw AFB
  20. USAF Armament Museum
  21. New York ANG - 105th AG, Newburgh
  22. USAF History and Traditions Museum
  23. Kelly Field Heritage Museum
  24. Dyess Linear Air Park
  25. Air Mobility Command Museum
  26. Travis Air Force Museum
  27. "Hill Air Force Base - Fact Sheet (Printable) : "SUPER SKYMASTER"". Hill.af.mil. Retrieved 2012-09-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Museum of Aviation - Cessna O-2A "Skymaster"
  29. Grissom Air Museum - Cessna O-2A Super Skymaster
  30. Illinois ANG - 182nd AG, Peoria
  31. Pima Air & Space Museum
  32. Castle Air Museum
  33. Chanute Display Center
  34. Valiant Air Command Museum
  35. March Field Air Museum


  • Andrade, John (1979). U.S. Military Aircraft Designations and Serials since 1909. Midland Counties Publications. ISBN 0-904597-22-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links