was unsung hero of missions over Vietnam - forwarded by Leonard Charbeneau
Keith A. Milks
Special to the [Marine Corps] Times
In the skies over Vietnam, amid fast-moving attack aircraft executing
support missions and helicopters ferrying troops in and out of remote
landing zones, an unobtrusive aircraft usually loitered in the
playing a key, yet understated role in that war.
Dubbed the Bird Dog, the O-1 series of aircraft was a common sight in Vietnam,
its pilots logged a staggering amount of hours flying the durable
the duration of the war. It was flown by Marine Corps, Army and Air
pilots, as well as aviators with the New Zealand and South
air forces, among others.
The Bird Dog was a militarized version of the Cessna C-170, and was
fulfill the Army's need for a standard liaison and observation
Production began for the Army in 1950 and the Marine Corps and Air
ordered theirs soon after.
entering military service, the C-170's designation was changed to L-19
cabin modified slightly to accommodate more radios. Unlike its
civilian counterpart, the L-19 had space for two crewmen, the pilot and
observer sitting fore and aft, respectively. In 1962, the aircraft
another name change and received its final designation as the O-1.
The O-1 was used in Korea
In both conflicts, it was primarily employed as a platform for
observation and to control artillery fire and air-support direction.
Retired Master Sgt. Ed Alexander, who served with Marine Observer
Squadron 6 in
and operates a Web site dedicated to it (http://members.cox.net/hueyguns),
recalled that the '50s-era plane's radio-wiring harnesses became
age and, when stepped on, would shatter.
"It would take about eight hours to rewire a UHF radio harness and then
the aircraft would have to go on a maintenance test flight to make sure
a 50-mile range test with the radios," he recalled in an Oct. 7 e-mail.
After rewiring one of the Bird Dogs, Alexander, then a staff sergeant,
lieutenant the plane was ready to go, and the two flew north out of
for a test flight.
Ten or 15 minutes later, Alexander said, "we were on the north side of
DMZ taking pictures of NVA flags -- with no weapons aboard the plane.
flights after that I let other Marines in the squadron fly, I told them
their M-16s with them."
The primary differences in the Bird Dog's five variants were in the
propeller system used and the aircraft's power plant. Early variants
used a 210
horsepower Continental O-470-11 piston engine that later was upgraded
provide an output of 265 horsepower.
With a maximum speed of up to 130 miles per hour, the Bird Dog could
miles. Most valuable to the infantry was the aircraft's on-station
and ability to loiter over a battlefield for up to five hours. Its
just over 5,600 meters, and climb rate was 1,150 feet per minute.
Rugged and compact, the Bird Dog could operate from even the most
airstrips, which usually were carved out of the jungle. Weighing in at
pounds, the aircraft had a wingspan of 36 feet, was 26 feet long and
mere 7 feet, 4 inches tall.
The Bird Dog could carry various payloads on four pylons under its
Usually, the aircraft was outfitted with 2.75-inch white-phosphorus
rockets to highlight the precise location where attack aircraft were to
munitions or where helicopters should land.
For night missions, the pylons could be outfitted with 2-million
flares to provide illumination for ground operations. Though not
engage in combat and no official record exists of any armament carried
aircraft beyond personal weapons, a photo on USMC Vietnam Helicopter
Association Web site, located at http://www.popasmoke.com/visions/image.php?source=3453,
shows an unidentified ordnanceman arming rockets on a VMO-6 Bird Dog.
"The O-1 pilots in Vietnam
were the most decorated of any pilots and had the most causalities,"
recalled Robert J. Moriarty, a captain when he flew the Bird Dog with
VMO-6 in Vietnam
1968-69. At least two pilots he knew earned the Silver Star for their
he said, and nearly every O-1 pilot received at least one Distinguished
"The O-1 was the slowest aircraft in the Marine inventory, flew the
lowest, drew the most fire and was by far the deadliest plane we used,"
Although the Bird Dog was less glamorous than attack helicopters or
jets, pilots were renowned for their allegiance to the little plane and
their contribution to the war. The O-1 remained in service for several
and still can be seen in frontline service in countries throughout the