Cessna O-2A Skymaster (c/n 337M-0375, formerly 68-11150 of the US Army, N409TH), flying display at open doors event held in Čáslav air force base, the Czech Republic, June 2013.
The O-2 Skymaster is the military variant of popular American utility aircraft Cessna 337 Super Skymaster, developed in the early 1960s.
The first version of the aircraft, designated Model 336 Skymaster, performed its maiden flight on 28th February 1961. The aeroplane was powered by two Continental IO-360-A engines mounted in push-pull configuration (each generating 195 hp) – the front engine was placed at the nose while the rear one was positioned behind the passenger cabin, between two booms that merged into vertical and horizontal stabilizers. Such a positioning of the engines gave the Skymaster a centreline thrust but also a very specific sound.
In February of 1965, after manufacturing 195 examples of the M336 Skymaster, Cessna introduced the upgraded variant, designated Model 337 Super Skymaster. It was characterized by retractable undercarriage and redesigned air intake for the rear engine. The aeroplane was powered by two 210 hp Continental IO-360-C engines. Next year, Cessna developed also a turbocharged variant named T337 Turbo Super Skymaster.
The Skymaster was quite a successful design. The aeroplane quickly attracted attention not only at the civilian market but also the US military authorities. Therefore, and already in 1966, Cessna was assigned the task to develop a military variant of the Super Skymaster. Initially, it had to be observation and liaison aircraft being a successor of another Cessna-produced aeroplane in the US military service, the O-1 Bird Dog.
The military variant of the Skymaster featured additional view panels for ground observation, military navigation suite and communication equipment. In addition, interior upholstery and four seats were removed from its cabin, leaving just fore and aft seats for pilot and observer. Nevertheless, that military version of the M336 was significantly heavier than its civilian counterpart.
In January of 1967, the military variant performed its maiden flight and shortly after was approved by the US military authorities, receiving an official designation O-2 Skymaster. The aeroplane was officially introduced into operational service in March of the same year.
There were 532 examples of the O-2 Skymaster built, in two specialized A and B variants. The O-2A was basic forward air control (FAC) aircraft that entered combat service during the Vietnam War. That variant was later used also by the US Navy as range controller, some of the O-2As were also transferred to Republic of Vietnam Air Force. In later years, the O-2A Skymasters were also acquired by several air forces from small nations such as Botswana, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti or Dominican Republic.
The O-2B was a converted civilian aircraft designed for psychological operations (PSYOPS). It was equipped with loudspeakers and a leaflet dispenser. A total of thirty-one Super Skymasters was re-built for that specific task.
The aircraft featured within our Photo of the Week series is one of the only six O-2A Skymasters acquired by the US Army. For its entire military service, that Cessna stationed in the West Germany and was used for VIP transport, as well as surveillance of the Berlin corridor. It is the only one of those six Skymasters that survived until today in airworthy condition.
The aircraft is still wearing its original livery used during its operational service with the US Army.