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Local Veteran’s Recollection Comes Full Circle

Max Corneau flying a Mohawk on the DMZ in Korea ca. 1995

(ROCKWALL, TX – Nov. 9, 2019)  Last week my veteran’s recollection was a gut-wrenching loss of a friend who died at the Stuart Airshow while flying his OV-1 Mohawk. Now it seems most appropriate to close the loop with the “Good News” story of Mohawk tail number “926” because hers is wonderful story woven into the fabric of my life from 1991 to this day.

My first flight in 926 was at Fort Hood on July 161991 when our unit had recently returned to stateside operations after Desert Storm and we received 926 from the 641st Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation) of the Oregon National Guard. This unit was formerly known as the 1042d Military Intelligence Company (Aerial Surveillance) or MICAS.

When I first strapped on this impeccable Mohawk, you wear a Mohawk by attaching six points of restraint to the ejection seat plus your oxygen system (7), it was clear she was not like the others.  She bore pilot conveniences for helmets, charts, approach plates and bags all in ergonomically ideal locations. I thought 926 was a thoughtfully equipped, lovingly cared for airplane, not merely a military “line bird”. Too bad our overburdened active duty Army unit would soon let it become like the rest of the fleet.  Eventually she did become like the rest of our fleet – dirty, worn, and in need of TLC.

Eventually 926 was “disposed of” by the Army but  she  eventually made her way back to Salem, Oregon and the now retired unit. Before she found her way back home to Oregon, this amazing airplane had a second life as a commercially operated OV-1 under Mohawk Technologies, LLC of Lantana, FL from 1996 to 2005, under a US Army contract to test new airborne sensors which are in use today by the US Military. Ultimately 926 was purchased in 2006 by the Mohawk #926 Project (501( c )3 ) in Salem Oregon, trucked back  on two flatbed trailers over the Oregon Trail to Salem, arriving  Saturday, June 25, 2016. After a three-plus year restoration effort the aircraft was finally restored for static display at the National Guard Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) at the Salem Airport in Oregon.

926 Surveilling her final, dignified resting place in Oregon (photo courtesy of Gary Clark)

In its day, there was no finer Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform than the Mohawk.  She was responsive, quiet, and could take high resolution, all-aspect photos from nose and belly cameras both day and night (IMINT). She carried an electronic intelligence package (ELINT) that characterized and located enemy radars as well as infra-red and Side Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) for targeting.  Almost everything we did was classified of course, but in support of the Homeland, you can see an image from one Oregon National Guard Mohawk capturing her wingman flying into the erupting Mount St. Helens. This image is featured in the book, “Volcano Cowboys” by Dick Thompson. To capture this, the Mohawks scrambled, planned a mission, coordinated with emergency officials, loaded mission gear and worked the highly dynamic (explosive) conditions to capture this iconic image below.

926 a member of the Volcano Cowboys of Mt Saint Helens  and in 2017 before Homecoming Restoration at right

There are not enough accolades for the committee that was formed to acquire, transport, restore, mount, and display 926 in all her final glory at the Oregon National Guard Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) in Salem, Oregon.  My hat goes off to the men and women who donated thousands of volunteer hours through their fibrous affiliation to the Mohawk and the unit to make this project vision into reality.

On 2 November, 2019 the 926 permanent display was dedicated in honor of OV-1 crew who vanished without a trace while flying a classified surveillance mission over Laos on the night of July 13, 1966.

The crew remained POW/MIA (among the names on Dr. Joe’s Mohawk).  Not until 50-plus years later (February 2, 2018) were the remains of Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Nopp (pilot) and SSG Marshall F. Kippina (Aerial Sensor Specialist) recovered in Laos and repatriated so these warriors could be laid to rest with fully military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Mohawk 926 also honors the first female Mohawk Technical Observer (Aerial Sensor Specialist) to be qualified in the Mohawk. Sergeant First Class Kimberly D. (Robinson) Jark completed training in 1974, becoming the first female to do so in this combat airplane.  She flew many missions, including the Mount St. Helen’s work.

I remain proud to be a part of the Mohawk family. She “allowed me to fly her” in peace and war for over 1,600 hours throughout the world  and always brought me home from battle and faraway lands to the loving embrace of the family I cherish, the land that I love and the nation I was willing to sacrifice all.

Mohawk!

The author wishes to thank Gary Clark, Co-Chair of the 926 project, for his historical advice on this article.

Guest article by Rockwall resident Max Corneau

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.)

United States Army, Aviation

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