From the Planes You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of Department of Wingspan, we bring you the Convair Model 48 Charger.
During the Vietnam War, American forces were frustrated by an enemy that was capable of choosing when and where to fight, and Communist insurgents, who harassed American forces and then melted into the jungle, sapped the strength and the morale of US soldiers. One way of countering these attacks was to have eyes in the sky that could spot insurgent movements and be ready to swoop in to attack, and existing aircraft such as the Douglas A-1 Skyraider and North American T-28 Trojan were pressed into service in the counter-insurgency (COIN) role. While these aircraft were effective, the US military identified a need for a dedicated COIN aircraft that could operate from rough fields or roadways, have excellent short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities, long loiter time over the battlefield, and be able to strike the elusive enemy or attack its bases of operations.
The Marine Corps had first proposed such an aircraft as early as 1959, and their requirements gradually morphed into an aircraft that would serve the Marines, Navy and Air Force (the US Army was limited to rotorcraft). By 1963, the requirements for what would be called a Light Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (LARA) were offered to aircraft designers. Convair presaged the need for such an aircraft, and had been working on scale models of a small twin-boom aircraft for two years. They offered their Model 48 Charger in response to the LARA request, and had a flying prototype in the air in a matter of months.
The most striking feature of the Charger was its short wings which facilitated landing on roadways and other tight spaces. With its huge flaps and leading edge Krueger flaps, the Charger could take off in just 225 feet and clear a 50-foot obstacle after a takeoff roll of 485 feet. Power came from a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6 (T-74) turboprops that gave the Model 48 a top speed of 319 mph and a ferry range of 3,000 miles, which translated into excellent loiter time over the battlefield. The two-man crew was housed in a central pod between a twin-boom tail that offered excellent visibility, and the central pod could also accommodate a stretcher or five paratroopers. Armament consisted of four 7.62 mm machine guns mounted in pods on the fuselage, while five hardpoints could accommodate up to 2,000 pounds of ordnance. The Charger could also be fitted with floats for operations from lakes or rivers.
The Charger took its maiden flight on November 25, 1964 from Convair’s San Diego factory. However, despite its demonstrated capabilities, the US Navy selected the North American NA-300, an aircraft of very similar design which would become the OV-10 Bronco, even though the Bronco existed on paper only. The Air Force and Marine Corps protested the selection of the Bronco, and the Charger was allowed to continue testing, with modifications to its wing for improved low-speed handling. However, the single prototype was lost in a crash in October 1965 (the pilot ejected safely), and development was abandoned in favor of the Bronco. The Charger was the last aircraft to be built under the Convair name.