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L 19 Birdog story

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Wanttaja

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 15, 2013
Messages
1,522
Location
Seattle, WA
I have about 15 hours in a Bird Dog. How I got them was a bit off-the-wall.

In the mid-'70s, Civil Air Patrol picked up a bunch of surplus L-19s. They're excellent search airplanes...but even then, it was tough finding people willing to fly them. Not only were they more expensive to fly (squadron members had to pay $13/hour vs. $10/hour for the PA-18 or Citabria), they were ex-trainers that, perhaps, had been around the pattern too many times. The gear was glitchy.

Couple that with, even then, the rarity of pilots qualified to fly taildraggers, and the Bird Dogs didn't get much use. CAP required a minimum of 300 hours total time, and (I believe) 100 hours taildragger for a checkout, and ten hours of dual. There were few takers.

Enter Ronald J. Wanttaja, Cadet Colonel, Civil Air Patrol.

CAP regularly offered familiarization flights to cadets in its airplanes. I usually took my flight solo, as I'd learned to fly on the squadron Citabria. This was the first time the Bird Dog was available for familiarization flights. I signed up for a ride in it... not solo, of course.

Unbeknownst to me, the senior member (CAP major) flying the airplane was the Wing (state organization) check pilot for the Bird Dog. I was wearing my wings on my uniform, showing I had my Private. He asked how many hours I had, and asked what I'd been flying. When I told him I had 200 hours in a Citabria, he offered to let me take the front seat and fly.

I don't remember much about that flight, but when we landed, the major asked if I would be interested in a checkout. I told him, "Of course!" but that I had only 200 hours vs. the 300 required. He said "Never mind that."

One problem: He was located in a town ~200 miles away, and I'd have to do the checkout at his airport. Not the major of a problem; my grandparents lived just 30 miles away. So I arranged to show up for a weekend to start my checkout.

The Cessna 305/L-19/O-1 Bird Dog is one heck of a machine. If I couldn't have a Fly Baby, I'd have a Bird Dog. It has a lot of Cessna 170 heritage in it, which means a nice wide fuselage for a tandem airplane. The pilot sits waaaaayyy up high in the front. The side windows several inches away. The side windows are slanted outward so you can lean over an look straight down.

Everything is military, from the paint to seat to the pilot's harness to the panel layout to the throttle with multiple switches on it. One of the things I REALLY got a kick out of was the master "solenoid." It wasn't a solenoid, it was a big bar with L-shaped ends and a thumbwheel in the middle. You pushed the bar into the lower panel, and it physically connected the battery to the aircraft power bus.

I loved the way it flew. Light controls, seemed almost immune to stalls, you could turn tightly over a point with confidence. It had Cessna Barn Door flaps before the barns got downsized. They lowered to 60 degrees, letting you land almost anywhere.

It's been more than 55 years, and I only remember two specific instances during the checkout.

The first was the major saying, "Have you ever done a loop?" When I answered in the affirmative, he had me loop the Bird Dog. This was, apparently, part of the Army training syllabus.

The second was my final landing. A bit of a crosswind had come up. I'd landed OK. Then the nose darted right...probably a combination of the crosswind and the beat-up gear.

I slammed on left rudder to catch it...and a half-second later, I heard the major's foot hit HIS left rudder pedal below me. My reflexes had been faster than his.

At that point, he signed me off. Five hours of dual (vs. the 10 CAP required), 200 hours total time (vs. the 300). I was one of the few (if not only) CAP Cadets ever signed off to fly the Bird Dog. Our squadron's Bird Dog was based at the airplane right next to my college, and I was able to duck over there and fly it between classes.

Sadly, I was just marking time to go on active duty. About three months later, I got my orders, and apparently the Bird Dog languished, unloved, after I left.

Ron Wanttaja
 

Patrickh99

Member
Joined
Aug 6, 2015
Messages
16
Location
SC airpark
My father was crew-chief on an L-19 at the Fort Lewis Army base in WA during the late 50s. He had a lot of stories, such as putting spools of communication wire on the wing racks, tying a rock to the end of wire, and dropping it out the window to string it across rough terrain. They had night landing practice, using smudge pots for markers. Someone flared 'a bit high' and they needed to replace the curled prop and landing gear, but it flew again. He could still recite the serial number of "his" Bird Dog and would look for it every time we went to Oshkosh. He still had a few sparkplugs and other discarded parts from the Bird Dog when we cleaned up his estate this past summer.

I stopped by a glider-port one day a few years ago in the far west suburbs of Chicago. After watching a few glider launches and chatting with some people, the tow pilot asked if I wanted to fly with him. It was a Bird Dog. He talked me through the procedures as I towed two gliders aloft that day. The pitch angle looked impossibly steep and the rudder got a good workout as the gliders "box maneuvered" behind the tow plane. It was a good, solid, predictable airplane. I wouldn't mind flying one again.
 

crusty old aviator

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 17, 2014
Messages
238
Location
Grantham, NH
There are several glider clubs in New England that use Bird dogs for tow planes. Most have been rode hard and put away wet their entire towing careers, but they’re tough and survive to tow another season. They’re some of the shabbiest birds you’ve ever seen, but they fly delightfully, even with some ham-fisted glider student on the other end of the towrope, pulling your tail this way and that. Fortunately, there’s an outfit in Missouri called Air Repair that has a large inventory of parts for airframe & engine, and excellent customer service, that helps keeping these old gals aloft. Steve Noyes, in Massachusetts, also is a pretty good source. There were enough Continental O-470-11’s built to support the few that are still flying, and they’re as wicked tough as their airframes.
They were also built under license in France. There’s one of them towing out of Franconia, NH. Most glider clubs are looking for tow pilots, so if you can meet the insurance minimums for tailwheel time, they may check you out.
 

Riggerrob

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 9, 2014
Messages
1,482
Location
Canada
“A Hundred Feet Over Hell” describes L-19 missions flown over VN by the author’s brother. One of most realistic combat books. I was sweaty, exhausted, smelly and had a mysterious ache in my left arm by the time I read the last page.
 

Aerowerx

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Joined
Dec 1, 2011
Messages
5,601
Location
Marion, Ohio

TFF

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 28, 2010
Messages
13,400
Location
Memphis, TN
That’s back when you could borrow a division of active tanks to make a movie. They probably had L-19s for real maneuver training even that late. I love the glide and listen in the movie since I was a kid. L-4s are my favorite; use to be one next hangar over. There is a nice L-3 one airport over and one across the city has a pair of L-19s that always fly formation together. https://masseyaero.org/docs/liason.html I think all the single digit ones are WW2. The early Cubs were just Cubs in green without the observation windows O-59s I think.
 

TFF

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Joined
Apr 28, 2010
Messages
13,400
Location
Memphis, TN
You don’t have the squeaking tank tracks in your pictures.
Wasn’t there an old Saturday Night Live skit “What if Caesar has a Piper Cub”?
 

Dana

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Apr 3, 2007
Messages
9,332
Location
CT, USA
When I was keeping my T-Craft at Colts Neck, NJ, in the 1980s there was a banner tow operation there that had a Stearman and two really ratty Bird Dogs. I was offered a job towing banners along the Jersey Shore, which was real tempting because of the Stearman. I told the guy I didn't have a commercial, he replied, "I don't care, I've seen you fly." Thought about it for awhile, but in the end I decided I didn't want to give up every Saturday and Sunday all summer long, which is what he wanted, and I had a new girlfriend (now my wife) at the time.

Good thing, too, as a couple of weeks later one of the Bird Dogs had an engine out while picking up a banner from the island in the bay they were using to avoid going back to the airport every time. The pilot was OK but the plane was totaled... if it had been me with only a PPL I'm sure the FAA wouldn't have viewed it kindly...
 

PMD

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 11, 2015
Messages
242
Location
Martensville SK
We had L-19s in Canada as well. I started flying at an artillery base when I was 11. We could collect 100 bottles and cash in for $2.00 - that got you 60 minute in the front seat of a J3 with a commercial pilot trying to rack up the required hours. This was a former BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan) base and the private stuff was RCFCA (Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association - that did the BCATP training for WWII). Since we had hangars full of stored (mostly dismantled) DCH-1, 3NM (C45 to you Yanks), P51 and others, I had a very early and very keen interest in light planes. 6 years later, when Dad had been posted to another base in the West (near another BCATP/RCFCA airport) I finished high school by falling in love with a delightful young woman who's Father was with the Signals Corps. He was an infantry guy and Korea vet who suffered back injuries in tracked vehicle travels so they gave him the "easy" job of back seat in an L-19. The AirOP (Ovservation). After we were married, I spent many hours with my new FIL and his two sons at the AirOP (grass field on base with very large artilery ranges). The pilots (all commissioned officers) were quite accommodating and encouraged me to resume flying, this time formally.

I owe over a half century in aviation to that airplane. Sadly, though, never got to fly one.
 

jedi

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Joined
Aug 8, 2009
Messages
2,148
Location
Sahuarita Arizona, Renton Washington, USA
I flew many flights (airline, not in L19s) with a reserve pilot that claimed he had the best possible reserve duty in years gone by.

He had a waterfront home on Lake Washington and the army gave him an L19 on floats and a credit card.

He told all his friends about the “great deal” and got them to sign up too. Years later when it was time to re-up VN was starting to heat up so he dropped out while all his friends went to the Far East.

Another pilot gave a detailed description of how an L19 pilot can outfly a Huey that is attempting to get the L19s N number. Took the better part of an hour before the Huey gave up and returned to base. Turned out he was the only L19 flying at the time though.
 
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