Cessna O-1 Bird Dog (L-19) Liaison and Observation Aircraft
Due to its inherent multi-role capabilities, the lightweight Cessna Bird Dog saw extensive action in the skies over Korea and Vietnam.
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In 1947, the United States Army Air Forces ceased to exist in the American military structure, replaced instead by two autonomous entities in the United States Army and the United States Air Force (USAF). This left the United States Army without its own dedicated air support wing which was still required in fulfilling various battlefield roles including light scout, liaison, artillery spotting and observation. Following the events of World War 2 (1939-1945) a very robust product was now envisioned revolving around use of all-metal skin. The U.S. Army then put forth a requirement for a new two-man, single-engined platform capable of short-field/rough-field operations with excellent handling at low altitudes and equally-excellent vision out-of-the-cockpit. Taking their Model 170 as a starting point, the Cessna concern entered their Model 305A into the competition.
The Cessna design incorporated a conventional aircraft arrangement with the engine fitted to a compartment at front and a single-finned tail unit at rear. The undercarriage was simplistic yet rugged, made up of a pair of single-wheeled main landing gear legs and a small tail wheel. The whole undercarriage was non-retractable which further aided in simplicity and kept procurement and maintenance costs in check. The engine drove a two-bladed propeller assembly at front while the cockpit utilized a tandem-seating (inline) arrangement for the two crew and all sides of the compartment were windowed for maximum viewing. To further improve on a largely unobstructed view, the straight monoplane wing assembly was sat upon the top of the cabin and this also gave good lifting qualities and strong handling at low speeds. Indeed pilots soon learned they could simply "float" their Model 305s "in space" without stalling and land with very little runway distance ahead. Struts emerging from the lower fuselage sides ran upwards to each wing underside for added strength and support of the flexible structure.
First flight of the Model 305 occurred on December 14th, 1949 with the end result being a U.S. Army contract. The aircraft was formally accepted into service as the L-19A "Bird Dog" with introduction set for December of 1950. The "Bird Dog" name was provided by Cessna through an employee contest and referenced hunting dogs used by masters to help identify possible game.
Due to the growing American commitment in the Korean War (1950-1953), the Bird Dog was immediately pressed into service in the conflict as soon as usable numbers became available. The American military went ahead with a 3,200-strong order of the small, agile aircraft and manufacture of these aircraft spanned from 1950 into 1959. Eventually they stocked both U.S Army and USMC air wings and their roles broadened from general liaison and observation service to more harrowing MEDEVAC, artillery spotting and airborne communication relay roles. In 1953, an instrument trainer variant was developed and hurried placed into production to serve new generations of Bird Dog flyers and spotters. The Korean War can to an uneasy cease-fire in 1953 though Bird Dog use continued.