Army Aviation

65 Years Ago: From Farm Tractor to Cadillac

L19 bird dogIn April 1950, the Cessna 305 won the Army’s design competition. Known to the Army as the L-19, the Bird Dog was an all-metal, high-wing monoplane used by Army Aviation. The Bird Dog made its inaugural appearance in the Korean War on February 16, 1951. That same year, an L-19 was used to shuttle Dwight D. Eisenhower on a inspection tour of UN Forces.

As a replacement for worn out L-4s and L-5s, the L-19 was a breath of fresh air, “with a built-in VHF multi-channel radio, flaps, heater, electrical system and primary blind flight group of instruments. For old-time Grasshoppers, stepping into the L-19 for the first time was like driving a Cadillac after months on a farm tractor.(1) During FY 1951, the Army had 701 copies; FY 1952, 1,435 and FY 1953, 1,816. Peak strength was 1958, 1,969 aircraft.

The Bird Dog put in sterling service during a second conflict, Vietnam. While the helicopter assumed much of Army Aviation’s duties, the L-19 (O-1) like the L-4 in World War II, flew top cover for truck convoys on jungle roads, directed air strikes, staked out targets for destruction and located friendly troops versus enemy. The Bird Dog would go on to serve until 1974. A total of 3,431 copies saw service in the U.S. armed forces.