View Full Version : Versatile OE-1 Bird Dog had an Army pedigree

09-13-05, 01:28 PM
September 19, 2005
The Lore of the Corps
Versatile OE-1 Bird Dog had an Army pedigree
By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times

In Korea and Vietnam, a few Marine Corps aviators flew forward air-control missions in the Cessna OE-1 Bird Dog and its offspring, the OE-2. Both were versatile spotter planes that seemed capable of doing almost anything.

Its inception began in 1949, when the Army decided to replace its aging World War II-era spotter planes.

The Pentagon asked for a new aircraft that could support soldiers at the front by landing and taking off in 600 feet over a 50-foot obstacle. The winning proposal came from Cessna Aircraft Co. of Wichita, Kan.

Cessna’s aircraft was relatively heavy at 1,200 pounds without fuel or pilot. This design, soon dubbed the L-19 Bird Dog, won a 1950 Army production contract and was rushed into service for the ongoing Korean War.

In an arrangement that was routine in the early 1950s, the Marine Corps acquired the Bird Dog because it had a chance to benefit from an Army program.

In Army parlance, the first version was the L-19A, the “L” prefix signifying a liaison role. The Navy purchased 60 L-19As for the Marine Corps and gave them the designation OE-1, where the “O” signified an observation aircraft and the “E” was the company letter assigned to Cessna.

Army Gen. Mark Clark gave the L-19 its name. He was handed a list of names submitted by Cessna employees. The winner reaped a one-week vacation, $500 and the free use of a plane and pilot for a round trip anywhere within 500 miles of the Wichita factory. Clark’s first choice was Skyhawk, but that name was already copyrighted. He settled for Bird Dog.

The aircraft performed superbly as artillery spotters in Korea for the Army and Marine Corps because they were nimble and versatile. Often, OE-1 pilots lived with infantrymen and flew from unpaved fields.

Throughout their service, Bird Dogs were used for everything from training pilots to utility transport, and even as movie props. More than one L-19 was intentionally destroyed during the making of Army training films.

Based on Marines’ Korean War experiences, Cessna developed an improved version of the Bird Dog that introduced a more powerful engine, a different propeller, pilot armor and a wing based on the civilian Cessna 180 aircraft.

The improved model was called the OE-2 and dubbed the “Deuce” by Marines. The Corps acquired 27 of the planes, but the end of the Korean War halted further production in 1953.

When the Pentagon’s system for naming airplanes was overhauled in 1962, both the Army L-19 and the Marine OE became the O-1. The OE-1 version was redesignated O-1B, and the new and improved OE-2 became the O-1C. Although the Army operated 3,400 Bird Dogs, it never picked up the Corps’ OE-2 version, According to the Web site www.globalsecurity.org, three Marine observation squadrons operated mixed inventories of OE-1s and OE-2s during the 1950s.

Some Bird Dogs operated on an individual basis aboard aircraft carriers as the Corps explored new approaches to expeditionary operations. A few OE-2s went to Vietnam with the Corps in 1962 and were in the country when the name change to O-1C took place.

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


09-13-05, 08:53 PM
The writer is close but no cigar. The plane that went to Nam in '62 was an OE-1, not an OE-2. Why is history never quite right? :no:

History that is true and first hand;
In an OE-1, 1st LT. J.K. Ford and his back seat sunk VC boats and crews in the Soc Trang River with .45 cal grease guns. Don't ya love it, Marines can do about anything!
In an OE-1, !st LT. C.L. Garoutte after much searching could not locate the VC. He then reduced speed and flew at tree top level drawing enemy fire upon himself to locate them. Damn Marines, ain't got no brains, no wonder the Marines do it so well---Balls!

Semper Fi,