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Cessna O-1 Bird Dog (L-19)

Liaison / Observation STOL Aircraft [ 1950 ]

Due to its inherent multi-role capabilities, the lightweight Cessna Bird Dog saw extensive action in the skies over Korea and Vietnam.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 09/07/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

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.

From the period of 1955 to 1975, the conflict in Vietnam brewed and eventually grew the American commitment in that part of the world. As a result, the Bird Dog was back in play for its multi-role capabilities and the USAF now took interest in the mount for the Forward Air Control (FAC) role. FAC was utilized to provide direction for Close-Air Support actions assisting ground "friendlies". In this way, the little aircraft could relay pertinent information to incoming strike aircraft and (hopefully) avoid friendly casualties while laying waste to nearby enemies. During the war, the Bird Dog faithfully served in the communications, spotting, scouting and other like-roles which further solidified the diminutive aircraft's forte in a combat zone. Air-to-surface rocket tubes were affixed under the wings to provide a limited offensive punch when needed. Nearly 500 Bird Dogs were lost during the war. Ex-American Bird Dogs were passed to the South Vietnamese Air Force and additional service during the war came from several Australian Army-directed Bird Dogs.©MilitaryFactory.com
Bird Dog operators proved plentiful and reached Cambodia, Canada, France, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, Spain, Taiwan and Thailand among many others (see operators listing for full report). Japanese military stocks were strengthened through local license production of the aircraft under the Fuji brand label and Italian Army versions were delivered as the SM.1019 with local production by SIAI-Marchetti.

Total Bird Dog production eventually reached an impressive 3,431 aircraft during a very lengthy career worldwide.

Bird Dogs were gradually being replaced across all major branches of service in the American military heading into the 1970s - the final frontline example was retired in 1974. Despite this, civilian-governed models have still soldiered on into the new millennium and have remained popular with owners. The similar Model 325, based on the Model 305, is another notable form and used in the agricultural spray business.

Designations of the Bird Dog line included the original L19A used by the U.S. Army of which 2,486 were eventually produced. These were then redesignated as O-1A in the 1962 U.S. military designation reorganization. TL-19A signified dual-control trainer versions which became TO-1A in 1962. 310 TL-19D instrument trainers were produced and became the TO-1D. The L-19E was an improved L-19A with increased gross weight, becoming the O-1E in 1962 and seeing production reach 469 examples. OE-1 were 60 original USMC Bird Dogs in the L-19A standard, becoming the O-1B in 1962. The OE-2 was the OE-1 but with Cessna Model 180 wings and a revised fuselage. These were redesignated to O-1C in 1962 and saw production total 27 examples. The O-1D line were TL-19D trainers modified for the Forward Air Control (FAC) role with the USAF. The O-1F followed suit and was based on the O-1D while the O-1G was the O-1A of the USAF for use in FAC.

The XL-19B was a "one-off" experimental Bird Dog with a Boeing XT-50-BO-1 turboprop engine of 210 horsepower. Similarly, the XL-19C existed as two prototype Bird Dogs outfitted with Continental CAE XT51-T-1 turboprop engines of 210 horsepower. None were furthered in serial production.

The typical Bird Dog (taking the O-1E as an example) design was powered by a Continental O-470-11 six piston engine developing 213 horsepower. This supplied the design with a maximum speed of 130 miles per hour, a range out to 530 miles, a service ceiling of 20,300 feet and a rate-of-climb of 1,040 feet per minute. Dimensions included a length of 25 feet, 9 inches, a wingspan of 36 feet and a height of 7 feet, 3 inches. Empty weight was 1,600lbs with a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 2,800lbs being reported.©MilitaryFactory.com
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Service Year

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Not in Service.


Cessna / Ector Aircraft - USA
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(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
Special-Mission: MEDical EVACuation (MEDEVAC)
Extraction of wounded combat or civilian elements by way of specialized onboard equipment and available internal volume or external carrying capability.
Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
Training (General)
Developed ability to be used as a dedicated trainer for student pilots (typically under the supervision of an instructor).

25.8 ft
(7.85 m)
36.0 ft
(10.97 m)
7.3 ft
(2.22 m)
Empty Wgt
1,614 lb
(732 kg)
2,401 lb
(1,089 kg)
Wgt Diff
+787 lb
(+357 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Cessna O-1E Bird Dog production variant)
Installed: 1 x Continental O-470-11 six piston engine developing 213 horsepower.
Max Speed
130 mph
(209 kph | 113 kts)
20,341 ft
(6,200 m | 4 mi)
530 mi
(853 km | 1,580 nm)
1,040 ft/min
(317 m/min)

♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030

(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the Cessna O-1E Bird Dog production variant. Performance specifications showcased above are subject to environmental factors as well as aircraft configuration. Estimates are made when Real Data not available. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database or View aircraft by powerplant type)
8 x air-to-surface rockets

Supported Types

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(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 2

L-19A - Initial US Army Production Model; 2,486 examples produced; redesignated to O-1A beginning in 1962.
TL-19A - Dual Control Trainer Conversion Models from L-19A production models; redesignated to TO-1A beginning in 1962.
XL-19B - Proposed L-19B production model; fitted with 1 x Boeing XT-50-BO-1 turboprop engine of 210 shaft horsepower; single example constructed.
XL-19C - Proposed L-19C production model; fitted with 1 x Continental CAE XT51-T-1 turboprop engine of 210 shaft horsepower; 2 examples produced.
TL-19D (Cessna Model 305B) - Based on the L-19A production model; instrument trainer version; dual control cockpit; 310 examples produced; redesignated to TO-1D beginning in 1962.
L-19E (Cessna Model 305C) - Based on L-19A production model; improved form; increased gross weight; 469 examples produced; redesignated to O-1E beginning in 1962.
OE-1 - USMC model based on L-19A; 60 examples delivered; redesignated to O-1B beginning in 1962.
OE-2 (Cessna Model 321) - Revised fuselage and Cessna Model 180 wing assembly; based on the OE-1 production model; 27 examples produced; redesignated to O-1C beginning in 1962.
O-1A - 1962 Redesignation of L-19A production model.
TO-1A - Trainer conversion form of O-1A production models.
O-1B - 1962 redesignation of OE-1 production models.
O-1C - 1962 redesignation of OE-2 production models.
O-1D - Forward Air Controller conversion models from TO-1D production models; USAF usage.
TO-1D - 1962 redesignation of TL-19D production models.
O-1E - 1962 redesignation of L-19E production models.
O-1F (Cessna Model 305E) - USAF Forward Air Controller conversion models.
O-1G (Cessna Model 305D) - USAF Forward Air Controller conversion models.
CO-119 (Cessna Model L-182) - Canadian Army designation; seating for four; 1 x Continental O-470-L piston engine of 230 horsepower.
SIAI-Marchetti SM.1019 - Italian Army designation fitted with turboprop powerplant.

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