View Full Version : ‘Flying Jeep’ saw recon, medevac duty in two wars

08-22-04, 07:02 AM
Issue Date: August 16, 2004

The Lore of the Corps
‘Flying Jeep’ saw recon, medevac duty in two wars

By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times

In two wars, a Marine’s best friend was often a light spotter plane known as the OY Sentinel, sometimes called the “Flying Jeep.”
When an OY showed up to keep tabs on the enemy or to give a commander a panoramic view of the battlefield, it meant Marines had a critical advantage.

The OY appellation identified the Sentinel as an observation craft (“O”) built by the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp. (“Y”), at its Stinson division in Wayne, Mich. Marines operated two models, the OY-1 and OY-2. To most in the aviation world, the plane is better known by its Army and Air Force name, the L-5. To those services, it was a liaison (“L”) aircraft, although they, too, used it for surveillance, artillery spotting and commanders’ flights.

“It’s a very solid aircraft,” said former Marine Capt. Hank Avery, 85, of Morganton, N.C., who owns several restored military planes and regards the OY-2 as his favorite. Avery flew transports at Bougainville in the South Pacific during World War II. Late in the war, he made a few flights in an OY-2.

“It was a very good plane to help commanders find out what lay just over the horizon,” Avery said.

The Sentinel was last in a series of small planes dating to the mid-1930s developed by Edward A. “Eddie” Stinson. An engineering team headed by A.P. Fontaine designed the plane, which was manufactured at Stinson’s 10-acre factory in Wayne, Mich.

Stinson built 3,600 of these aircraft, including 306 Army L-5B and L-5E models that reached the Marine Corps as OY-1s. In December 1948, some planes in this fleet were redesignated OY-2 to reflect minor changes in their electrical system.

With a wingspan of 34 feet, a speed of 129 miles per hour and a 190-horsepower Lycoming O-435-11 six-cylinder, air-cooled engine, the Sentinel took off and landed in just 300 feet. Like its namesake, the “Flying Jeep” could carry an ambulance litter to evacuate a wounded Marine.

“You get a fantastic view from the cockpit,” said Tommy Hennessee, 43, of Hickory, N.C., a pilot who regularly flies Avery’s OY-2. “She handles very beautifully, and you can put her down just about anywhere.”

Marines used the OY during the battle for Okinawa, Japan, in 1945. Sentinel pilots made up for their lack of armament and armor with stealth, agility and innovation. “We didn’t call it ‘map-the-earth flying’ then,” said former 1st Lt. Rod Betz, 79, of Tucson, Ariz. “That’s the term they use today. But we tried to hug the terrain, to use natural elevation to shield ourselves from their eyes and their guns.”

In the postwar era, half a dozen Marine observation squadrons operated the OY. According to “General Dynamics Aircraft and Their Predecessors,” by John Wegg, the final combat service of the OY-2 was with VMO-6, ending in April 1952, in Korea.

About 100 Sentinels make civilian flights today.

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of numerous books on Air Force topics, including “Air Force One.” His e-mail address is robert.f.dorr@cox.net