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70th Anniversary of the Korean War: A Brief Look at Army Aviation, Fixed Wing Aircraft.

Looking Back / By Mark Albertson: On June 25, 1950, the U.S. Army began the Korean War with 1,211 fixed wing aircraft.[1] Many of these were holdover L-4s and L-5s from the global conflict. Just prior to the opening guns, the Cessna 305 emerged the winner from a competition held by the Army to upgrade its cooperation aircraft. To the Army it will be known as the L-19 Bird Dog.

2008 l 19 bird dog

An O-1 (L-19) Bird Dog; a derivative of the Cessna 305, replaced the L-4 Cub and Stinson L-5 as the Army Ground Forces' cooperation aircraft. Known as the Bird Dog, it would faithfully serve in two wars, Korea and Vietnam.

The L-19 proved able to shoulder the Army’s combat requirements: Directing artillery fire, wire laying, emergency supply drops, air taxi for brass as well as training. Desired rate of production was for 25 to 30 machines per month.

One of the aircraft passed over was the Piper Super Cub or L-21. A backlash from Piper, though, motivated the Army to procure 150 L-21As in 1951, followed by 568 L-21Bs, which were used in the Far East. The L-21, though, was purged from the Army stable in 1953.[2] But by 1952, the L-19 had assumed the liaison tasks previously the province of the L-4 and L-5.

The war, though, enabled the Army to continue to modernize its fixed wing fleet. On December 22, 1951, the de Havilland L-20 Beaver made its debut in Korea. AKA the U-6, the Beaver was an all-metal, six-place, single-engine utility aircraft. As a replacement for the L-17 Navion, the Beaver weighed some 3.000 pounds empty and, could shoulder upwards of a ton. A pair of litter patients could be accommodated plus a medic; or, five troops. Among its other uses was that of laying wire, aerial photography, courier services, air drops of supplies and/or personnel and command taxi. The Beaver’s 450 horsepower engine enabled a top speed of 136 knots and a service ceiling of 18,000 feet. Range was 794 nautical miles.

The de Havilland was at home, though, in that freezer locker known as Korea. “The popular feature of the L-20, as far as mechanics were concerned, was the cold weather starting characteristics of the plane. An oil dilution system built into the aircraft allowed for easy starting with the battery alone, even on mornings of 11 degrees below zero. The working of the system was simple. At the end of each winter’s day flight, a switch was flipped to activate a fuel pump which forced gasoline into the oil system of the aircraft’s engine. The gasoline thinned the viscosity of the oil during the Arctic-like nights so that easy starting in the early morning run up could be accomplished without first having to thaw the oil. All of the gasoline injected into the oil system would be boiled out during the first 30 minutes of the engine run up the following morning.[3]

2008 u 6 beaverThe de Havilland L-20 (U-6) Beaver, a six-place, single-engine utility aircraft, made its debut in Korea, December 22, 1951. The Beaver's cold-weather starting capability proved an advantage in Korea.

The plane replaced by the Beaver was the Navion. The L-17 was found wanting when directing fighter strikes, the result of blind spots. Early on aviators “found that the aircraft in front of the Navion and at lower altitude, or, any aircraft below or even above could not be seen. And when directing high-performance aircraft, problems could and did occur, such as on October 18, 1950. Lieutenant John Stanton and his observer, Lieutenant John Watkins of the 24th Infantry Division, were directing fighter strikes by four F-51s in North Korea, south of Pyongyang at Sinmak. One of the F-51s, after a strafing run, pulled up and crashed into Stanton’s L-17, killing all three men.”[4]

The L-23 Seminole, or U-8D/F, was built by Beech; and, was Army Aviation's first twin-engine fixed wing aircraft. This air taxi for staff personnel was a six-place type with a tricycle landing gear. Between 1952 and 1962, the Army procured 358 machines.

The L-23 Seminole, built by Beech, was the Army’s first twin-engine aircraft. It first hit Korea on December 1, 1952; a six-place, high performance, all-weather personnel transport and courier type with a tricycle landing gear. Primary function was as an air taxi for command and staff personnel. AKA the U-8D, the Seminole was a military version of the Beechcraft Model 50 Twin-Bonanza. The “F” model was based on the Beechcraft 65 Queen Air. The Army purchased 358 Seminoles, 1952-1962.[5]

The Aeronca L-16, a derivative of the "Champion," was a Cub-type aircraft. Just over 800 were procured. Most were transferred to the Civil Air Patrol by 1954.

The Aeronca L-16, a derivative of the “Champion,” was of the Cub-type. Powered by an 0-190-1 Continental engine of 95 horsepower, with a cruising speed of 95 knots. With tandem seating, the L-16 was first procured in 1948. These aircraft were used during the early stages of the Korean War.[6] Most of the L-16As were eventually transferred to the Civil Air Patrol, 1952-1954; while L-16Bs were used for pilot training.[7]

An L-4 Cub taking off from USS Ranger, November 9, 1942 during Operation: TORCH, the invasion of French Northwest Africa. The L-4 was backbone of the Air Observation Post for the Army Ground Forces in World War II. But by the Korean War, was not the aircraft required as the Air Observation Post matured into Army Aviation.

The retirement of the L-4 and L-5 from service was emblematic of the transformation of tactical aviation in the United States Army: Certainly indicative of the demise of the Air Observation Post concept of World War II and the maturation of what it was becoming, Army Aviation. New aircraft such as the L-19, U-6 (L-20) and U-8 (L-23), together with rotary wing aircraft such as the H-19, presaged what was on the horizon with Vietnam and beyond. For thirty years after the Korean War, Army Aviation became a branch of the United States Army.

Endnotes

  1. See page 24, Wars and Interlude, History Study No. 13, Organization of Army Aviation, U.S. Army Aviation Systems Command, by Dr. Howard K. Butler.
  2. See page 49, Chapter IV, Research, Development and Procurement,” A History of Army Aviation, 1950-1962, by Richard P. Weinert, Jr.
  3. See page 77, “Peace Talk,” Operation Grasshopper, by Dario Politella. In addition . . . see page 7, of the DHC-2 Beaver Flight Manual of March 31, 1956, Section I, “Description of Aircraft,” 1.7 Oil System, 1.7.2, Oil Dilution: “When a start in cold weather is anticipated, the oil may be diluted with gasoline before stopping the engine. The oil dilution valve is operated by a solenoid which is controlled by a spring-loaded switch to the left of the instrument panel. For dilution percentages and times, see Section V, para 5.2. “Oil dilution should not be used intermittently, because of oil filter sludging, but should be continued during the season once it has been started.” 
  4. See page 36, Politella.
  5. See page 19, “U-8D/F Seminole,” Army Aviation: Cub to Comanche, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., 1992.
  6. See page 10, “L-16,” Army Aviation: Cub to Comanche.
  7. See page 16, “Fixed Wing Aircraft,” Part III, The Army Aviation Story, by M/SGT Thomas M. Lang. W.E. Butterworth writes, “The two-place machine was first bought in 1947. In June 1948, there were sixty-one 85-hp L-16As on the Army’s books, and one year later, 742 L-16Bs, the same ship with a 90-hp engine. Most of these were given to the Civilian Air Patrol between 1952 and 1954.” See page 69, Chapter Seven, “Korea,” Flying Army, by W.E. Butterworth.

Bibliography

  • Army Aviation: Cub to Comanche, Army Aviation Publications, Inc., Westport, Ct., 1992.
  • Butler, Dr. Howard K., Wars and Interlude, 1942-1953, Organization of Army Aviation, Historical Division, U.S. Army Aviation Systems Command, St. Louis, Missouri, 1988.
  • Butterworth, W.E., Flying Army: The Modern Air Arm of the U.S. Army, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY., 1971.
  • De Havilland Beaver Flight Manual (Part # PSM-1-2-1), The De Havilland Aircraft of Canada LTD, Postal Station “L,” Toronto, Ontario, Mar. 31 56.
  • Lang, M/SGT Thomas M., “Fixed Wing Aircraft,” Part III, The Army Aviation Story, United States Army Aviation Digest, Fort Rucker, Alabama, August 1962.
  • Politella, Dario, Operation Grasshopper, Robert R. Longo, Company, Inc., Wichita, Kansas, 1958.
  • Weinert, Richard P., Jr., A History of Army Aviation, 1950-1962, TRADOC Historical Monograph Series, Office of Command Historian, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia, 1991.

L4
An L-4 Cub taking off from USS Ranger, November 9, 1942 during Operation: TORCH, the invasion of French Northwest Africa. The L-4 was backbone of the Air Observation Post for the Army Ground Forces in World War II. But by the Korean War, was not the aircraft required as the Air Observation Post matured into Army Aviation.

L16
The Aeronca L-16, a derivative of the "Champion," was a Cub-type aircraft. Just over 800 were procured. Most were transferred to the Civil Air Patrol by 1954.

L-23
The L-23 Seminole, or U-8D/F, was built by Beech; and, was Army Aviation's first twin-engine fixed wing aircraft. This air taxi for staff personnel was a six-place type with a tricycle landing gear. Between 1952 and 1962, the Army procured 358 machines.

U-6_beaver
The de Havilland L-20 (U-6) Beaver, a six-place, single-engine utility aircraft, made its debut in Korea, December 22, 1951. The Beaver's cold-weather starting capability proved an advantage in Korea.