Revival of the First Liaison Aircraft Began Here

When the Alamo Liaison Group (ALG) was formed in 1981 by a group of San Antonio area aviators, the mission was to acquire and restore “liaison aircraft” that were flown by the U.S. military in World War II. The aircraft would be kept in flying condition, following their recovery and reconstruction, for the purpose of honoring those who operated them and all who served.

Group picture of the ALG L-1 through L-6 collection. Photo by Roger L. Beery
Group picture of the ALG L-1 through L-6 collection. Photo by Roger L. Beery

Led by Hardy Cannon, a Master Mechanic, ALG completed in 1982 the restoration of a 1941 Stinson L-1, a 1941 Taylorcraft L-2, a 1942 Aeronca L-3, a 1942 Piper L-4, a 1942 Stinson L-5, and a 1942 Interstate L-6. This collection of “L-birds” (L for liaison) represented the inaugural class in a succession of aircraft used principally by the Army Air Forces. 1

The most substantial of these aircraft, for reasons outlined herein, was the Stinson L-1 Vigilant. The L-1, as it is most commonly called, derived from Stinson Aircraft Company’s civilian Model 74. It was identified by the military as O-49, originally among the class of “observation” aircraft. In April 1942, the O-49 turned L-1, as the liaison designation ran ascendant to observation.

Alamo Liaison Squadron L-1 Restoration 1982
Alamo Liaison Squadron L-1 Restoration 1982

Notes:

  1. The liaison class would continue to evolve into the 1960s. As warbirds go, the L-birds were generally smaller and often unarmed. They were optimized for specific tasks and all featured short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities. Others carrying the L-bird moniker include:

    • L-7 Universal/Monocoupe/Luscombe pre and post-WWII
    • L-8 Interstate Cadet model S-1A (L-6 was model S-1B1)
    • L-9 Stinson 3-seat, yet smaller than L-5
    • L-10 Ryan 3-seat, only one served
    • L-11 Bellanca 31-50 Senior Skyrocket, only one impressed
    • L-12 Stinson Reliant, two each of the SR.5A and SR.7B
    • L-13 Stinson-Vultee/Convair with folding wing
    • L-14 Piper 3-seat
    • L-15 Boeing with its unique tailboom and dual downward-mounted stabilizers
    • L-16 Aeronca Champion/Champ with slightly better performance than the L-3 Chief
    • L-17 Ryan Navion
    • L-18 & L-21 Piper Super Cub, a higher performing L-4 Cub
    • L-19 Cessna Bird Dog was all-metal
    • L-20 de Havilland Canada Beaver 7-seat, similar in size to L-1 with higher payload
    • L-24 & L-28 Helio Courier 6-seat
    • L-60 Czechoslovakian Brigadýr 4-seat

  2. Lend-Lease was enacted to aid U.S. allies in the war against Germany, with the donation of nearly 9,000 combat aircraft flown from Great Falls, Montana to the Eastern Front via Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

L-bird Collection Complete

The world’s only flying collection of WWII liaison aircraft is once again whole following the acquisition of an Aeronca L-3 by Alamo Liaison Squadron.

Alamo Liaison Squadron (ALS) has completed its ensemble of L-birds with the recent acquisition of an Aeronca L-3 Defender. Based at Cannon Field in San Antonio, Texas—also known as Military City USA—ALS is home to the only collection of actively flying World War Two liaison aircraft, including L-2, L-3, L-4, L-5 and L-6 models.

Liaison aircraft of WWII, commonly referred to as L-birds, were slight in stature compared to other “warbirds,” yet they often performed critical duties on the battlefield. L-birds were called to action in artillery observation and reconnaissance; officer, parcel and message transport; among others, in support of frontline troops. While small in size, the accomplishments of L-birds were immense and the roles they played were as critical to the successes of Allied Forces as any mechanized means of combat.

ALS was formed in 1981 by Hardy Cannon, a master mechanic, and a group of San Antonio area aviators expressly for the purpose of acquiring and restoring WWII liaison aircraft. The following year, ALG had completed the restoration of six aircraft: a 1941 Stinson L-1, a 1941 Taylorcraft L-2, a 1942 Aeronca L-3B, a 1942 Piper L-4, a 1942 Stinson L-5, and a 1942 Interstate L-6.

The restored L-birds of ALS, at the time known as Alamo Liaison Group (ALG), were owned by both the organization and the individual members. In succeeding years, members have rotated in and out, and a variety of aircraft have called Cannon Field home. Presently, the group is proud to say the L-bird ensemble is whole again. One notable exception is the rare, and complex, L-1. The original L-1 restored by ALG is under new ownership. Early in WWII, larger L-1 series aircraft were replaced by the succeeding five L-bird models which served to define the liaison class in vast numbers.

1942 Aeronca L-3 / ­O-58B
1942 Aeronca L-3 / ­O-58B acquired by Alamo Liaison Squadron in 2019.

Brought to the attention of ALS by member Chris Hiatt, a self-proclaimed “Aeronca guy,” the L-3 was offered by Jim Bilyeu from whom Hiatt had previously purchased an Aeronca Chief 1. For many months Hiatt’s Chief served as a stand-in for an Aeronca L-3 in the ALS collection.

The newly acquired L-3 is five years the Chief’s senior. Built in 1942, it once had the military designation O-58B. This “observation” class of aircraft were redesignated liaison aircraft later that year, following the military’s adoption of new tactical guidelines for aerial reconnaissance. The B models in the O-58 series had their canopy modified and additional radio equipment installed. Some 875 examples of the O-58B / L-3B were constructed along with other variations bringing the total of Aeronca L-3 aircraft built to around 1,490.

Derived from the Aeronca Model 65 Defender—a high-wing tandem seat military trainer—the L-3 avails a long line of predecessors including pre-war Chief models. The L-3 could operate from small hastily-built flying fields. It was used mainly for training liaison pilots before they moved on to frontline aircraft like the Piper L-4 or the Stinson L-5. During World War II, the L-3 did see some action in artillery fire direction, courier service, and other frontline liaison activities.

Due to the company’s limited manufacturing capacity, the L-3 was produced in smaller quantities for the military than the roughly 20,000 L-4s Piper built. Nevertheless, the L-3 and the Aeronca family of aircraft are highly praised aircraft. They topped the list in a recent Sport Aviation magazine (Feb 2019) article, “10 Best Buys in Classic and Contemporary Aircraft,” by Budd Davisson:

Aeronca is a proud name that goes back to what could be considered the first light general aviation airplane, the Aeronca C-2/C-3 series. After World War II, [the company] produced one of the more iconic airplanes of the period, the 7-series Champ. Champs have always languished in the shadow of the iconic J-3 Cub. All things being equal, Champ prices still lag well behind the Cub… [despite] the design goal of Aeronca to produce an airplane that addressed every shortcoming of the Cub (it’s wider, you solo up front, excellent visibility, etc.).

Today’s Cubs, and the Champ’s offspring Citabria, have improved on these points, in addition to equipping with more horsepower and often sophisticated electronics. Nevertheless, the demand for true warbirds in their “vintage” state remains strong. There is a strong correlation between L-birds and the modern “taildragger.” Both perform equally well, on the remote battlefields of the past and the alluring backcountry of the present.

ALS’s newly acquired L-3, O­-58B s/n 2082, was described by its previous owner, Jim Bilyeu: “Thought some of your bunch would like a real WWII bird.” He added, “Contributing factors to offering her for sale are creaky bones and expanding waistline that make in/out access to the cockpit exceedingly difficult.

“The Army Air Corps original paper work seems to be there except for a DD 214 [Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty issued by the United States Department of Defense]. Maybe because it went to the CAP [Civil Air Patrol], it wasn’t considered discharged.

“It is in civilian livery [tan and orange, as purchased], but fabric tests good and painting would be ok. For full effect, the greenhouse 2 could be reinstalled. I put the 85-­8 [85 hp Continental engine] (675 hrs since overhaul) from the 11CC [Aeronca Super Chief] on with Wagner STC [FAA Supplemental Type Certificate no. SA7NW]. It really perked the little bug up. Spins, steep banks, etc. are smooth. I have a friend who takes it up nearly every weekend. Flies an hour or so. Using 100LL and getting 4–5 [gal/]per hour.”

Following the L-3’s arrival at Cannon Field, ALS President and its ferry pilot, Gene Jensen informed, “We recently purchased an Aeronca L­-3B originally known as an O-­58B, more recently restored and hiding in civilian attire as an early model Champ. The aircraft is currently airworthy and made the trip from NW Dallas to Cannon Field in four hours flight time with a fuel stop in Cameron, TX. This aircraft is in original configuration which means that it does not have an electrical system and requires hand propping to start. Come see the new member of the ALG lineup and help with plans to return it to basic L-­3B paint scheme.”

The L-3 has been thoroughly inspected and confirmed to be in airworthy condition. It has subsequently been flown by various members of ALS. For its gentle and responsive handling characteristics, the L-3 is quickly becoming a favorite among members. Further review detected minor metal fatigue in the seat structure, and repairs were deemed necessary. In the process an adjustable seat was developed to allow for longer-legged pilots. Wear was also found, and addressed, in the exhaust system and carburetor.

1942 Aeronca O-58B

Other L-3 aircraft that have been based at Cannon include an Aeronca O-58B, c/n O-58B-1782, built in 1942, N52169, 236152. Nicknamed “Strafin,” this L-3 was formerly owned by late ALS member Henry B. Whitmore.

ALS seeks to perpetuate, in the memory and hearts of the American people, the spirit with which the liaison pilots, their crews and the airplanes served in the defense of not one, but many nations. To help punctuate these contributions, the ALS mission is to bring people together and thereby foster an interest in aviation and its history. Many of the organization’s activities offer an opportunity to increase awareness, bolster membership and grow support. In this way, veteran liaison pilots, along with those who built and supported the L-birds, can be remembered for their daring feats so often displayed yet seldom recorded.

As a 501c3 non-profit organization all funding is derived from member dues, reimbursement for flying expenses, and contributions. All member activities are performed on a volunteer basis, so all funding goes directly to support the aircraft and their upkeep. We encourage you to join ALS with an annual contribution, a one-time contribution, or donation. All enthusiasts are welcome to tour the facility at no cost. Demo flights can also be arranged.

Notes:

  1. The Aeronca Chief was a family of high-winged light touring aircraft built in the U.S. from 1936 to 1949. Following some thorough maintenance and updating of his Chief, Hiatt has since accumulated 100 hours on the 2-seat taildragger, an Aeronca 11AC originally built in 1947, and based at Cannon Field.
  2. Greenhouse refers to an area of the fuselage covered with windows. In the case of L-birds, extended rear windows and an overhead window improved visibility for the rear seated passenger whose function was to observe ground activities and spot enemy pursuits in time for the pilot to take evasive maneuvers.

Timber Play Plane

Constructed primarily of common lumber, this Play Plane is perfect for your child’s play time in the garden, garage, patio and driveway, or on the hangar floor. Even the most modest of craftsmen can build one with this fully illustrated set of plans and descriptions (19 pages in all). Order your plans today at etsy.com/shop/VoloFlyCollection.

DIY Play Plane Airplane, Pedal Plane, Child's Airplane, Young Pilot, Garden Driveway Garage Hangar Airplane
Timber Play Plane, a Young Pilot’s Airplane for the Driveway and Garden.

AERO Friedrichshafen 2019 – The Brightest in European Aviation

InFlightUSA-May-2019
AERO Friedrichshafen Brings Out the Brightest in European Aviation, Published in InFlightUSA | May 2019 (pp 34/36).

Originally published in In Flight USA magazine… AERO 2019 delivered a consistently pleasing balance of trade fair, camaraderie, evolution, esprit de corps, solidarity, and fine cuisine. AERO lacks the enormity, the casual spectators and the frequently petulant weather of comparable U.S. shows; and that’s just fine with the vendors and shoppers it’s devised to draw.

Download the article PDF.

Bearhawk Print Ad – Kitplanes Magazine 2019

Beyond compare in Strength, Performance, & Safety
Beyond compare in Strength, Performance, & Safety

All airplanes are not created equal…

4-Place and 2-place tandem model Bearhawks deliver the best in strength and durability:

  • 100% Flush-head solid rivets on all 2024-T3 aluminum skin wings
  • 17% Stronger, utility category strength at full gross weight.

Unmatched in performance, nothing flies as fast, lands as slow, is tougher built:

  • Patrol touches down at 35 mph and cruises at 150+ mph
  • 4-Place has 1,350 lb useful load and outclimbs the competition.

Built-in safety margin is best in class, with more utility:

  • Riblett airfoils outperform in climb, speed and slow flight
  • Beefy 4130 steel frame provides a safe and roomy cabin.

Will the warbirds return to Friedrichshafen in 2019?

The carbon-composite SkyLeader UL-39 Albi two-seater, ultralight concept presented in 2017 was not seen in 2019. However, other aircraft were on display from its manufacturer Zall Jihlavan Airplanes of the Czech Republic.

SkyLeader UL-39 Albi from Zall Jihlavan Airplanes
SkyLeader 600 all metal 2-seater from Zall Jihlavan Airplanes.

The JH Aircraft Corsair is a replica of the legendary Vought F4U Corsair American fighter aircraft certified to LTF-L German civil airworthiness requirements and U.S. American FAR part 103 regulations. It returned in 2019 and is available in a ready-to-fly aircraft as well as kit form.

Corsair replica from JH Aircraft
Ultralight Corsair replica from JH Aircraft of Germany.

Marketed as “a fighter jet design in a luxurious form,” the desert camo plumed TL Ultralight Stream was seen again in 2019 suspended in its hangar/hall at Messe.

Desert cammo plumed TL Ultralight Stream
The TL Ultralight Stream from the Czech Republic.

The Stampe SV4-RS from Ultralight Concept in Belgium is a light-sport full scale replica of the 1930s Stampe-Vertongen SV4b. It returned in 2019 and is available ready-to-fly at under €100,000.

Ultralight Concept Stampe SV4-RS
Ultralight Concept Stampe SV4-RS replica.

While two examples of the T-131 PA Jungmann were present at Aero 2017, Air Res did not show in 2019. The T-131 is a stunning replica of the Bücker 131 offered by the flight school and maintenance operation of Air Res Aviation of Poland.

T-131 PA Jungmann from Air Res Aviation
T-131 PA Jungmann from Air Res Aviation in 2017.

The ChemTools T-28 Trojan seen in 2017 was scrubbed and the company branded Extra EA-330LT was on exhibit in its place in 2019.

ChemTools Extra EA-330LT
ChemTools of Germany’s Extra EA-330LT aerobatic and touring aircraft.

The Tomark Viper SD4 is an all-metal two-seater microlight/LSA aeroplane seen again at Aero 2019. The company is pitching the SD4 as a Primary Air Force trainer.

Tomark Viper SD-4
Tomark Viper SD4 from the Slovak Republic.

Blackshape, though neither vintage nor warbird, presented two exciting aircraft including the full carbon fiber framed high performance two-seater Prime alongside Gabriél. The latter, powered by Lycoming, was pitched as an airline trainer. According to Blackshape, “both aircraft have been inspired by cutting edge approaches in military training syllabuses.”

Blackshape Gabriél
Blackshape Gabriél and Blackshape Prime are built in Italy.

The Zeppelin is ever-present at Messe Friedrichshafen. This year the Europa Park logoed Zeppelin was tethered at the airfield. Based at Bodensee Airport adjacent Zeppelins are available for scenic flights of the area.

Europa Park Zeppelin
Europa Park Zeppelin at Bodensee Airport in Friedrichshafen.

Again, a newly manufactured Junkers F13 was present, this time on the aircraft’s 100th anniversary. It was the second in a contemporary minting of the Junkers F13 being built from original drawings. The F13 was developed in Germany at the end of World War I and first flew in 1919. Like other manufacturers of civil aircraft immediately after World War I, Junkers was faced with competition from the very large numbers of surplus warplanes and the F13 was the company’s answer.

Junkers F13
Junkers F13 newly manufactured aircraft from Junkers Flugzeugwerke in Switzerland.

A newcomer to Aero 2019 was the Bücker 133 Jungmeister, an advanced trainer of the Luftwaffe in the 1930s. This one is named for Liesel Bach, a German aerobatic pilot and flight instructor, and the first woman to fly over Mount Everest.

Bücker Jungmeister Liesel Bach
Bücker Jungmeister “Liesel Bach” at Aero 2019.

Inside the Dornier museum at Bodensee Airport one can learn about the Do-27. TQ Avionics, based in Germany, is well aware of the importance of this classic high-wing taildragger. Built for military use in a light utility role, it’s a heavy hauler, and compared to similar STOL-capable it’s a standout, which correspondingly reflects the diverse capabilities of TQ Avionics’ parent company, TQ Group. The company has recently purchased a Do-27, and while it will based in the U.S. one can expect to see it in many places including North American fly-ins and cameoing in international press.

Dornier Do 27
The Dornier Do 27 first flew in 1955 and was the first mass-produced aircraft in Germany after World War II.

In 1919, ground trials began for the Siemens-Schuckert R.VIII bomber. In 2017, Siemens brought the Magnus eFusion aircraft to Aero. The eFusion fully electric design was unfortunately lost in a test flight accident in June 2018. But at Aero 2019, the Magnus returned.

Magnus Fusion
The Magnus Fusion from Hungary.

Trig Avionics displayed a pair of Pitts S-1D Specials at Aero 2017. These aircraft have since been retired and their pilots have ventured into an organization called Ultimate Warbird Flights offering experiences in a variety of warbirds including Supermarine Spitfire, TF-51D Mustang, ME109 (Hispano Buchón) Hawker Fury, Hawker Hurricane Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, and North American T-28 Trojan.

A pair of Pitts S-1D Specials
A pair of Pitts S-1D Specials.

A newcomer to Aero 2019 was the ScaleWings Mustang. The company’s SW-51 Mustang replicates the historic North American P-51 Mustang in ultralight and experimental kit versions. It is produced in Poland and Germany.

ScaleWings SW-51 Mustang
The ScaleWings SW-51 Mustang 70% replica.

This Focke-Wulf 190 A 5 was spotted at Aero 2019.

Focke-Wulf 190 A 5
Focke-Wulf 190 A 5 at Aero 2019.

Tecnam brought its new P2002JF MkII CS-23 / FAR Part 23 certified fully IFR trainer in silver military camo.

P2002 Sierra MkII
The P2002JF Mark 2 from Tecnam of Italy.

Jets and helicopters were display by the German military at Aero 2019.

German Luftwaffe Tornado
German Air Force (Luftwaffe) Panavia Tornado multirole combat aircraft on static display.
German military helicopter
German Army (Deutsches Heer) Eurocopter EC135 T1 helicopter in the halls of Messe Friedrichshafen.

The stealthy looking Nexth aircraft from Aero & Tech of Italy will be German LTF-UL certified and constructed of faceted aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber components.

The stealthy Nexth
The stealthy Nexth from Aero & Tech of Italy at Aero Friedrichshafen.

© Mike Taylor. Contact mtay.us for re-publication and hi-res images.

Aero Friedrichshafen 2019 Show Capsule


Aero 2019 was held again at Messe Friedrichshafen on the northern banks of Lake Constance in central Europe. The exhibition delivers a consistently pleasing balance of trade fair, camaraderie, progress, esprit de corps, solidarity, and fine cuisine. It lacks the enormity, nay listless spectators and petulant weather, of comparable shows in the U.S.; and that’s just fine with the vendors and punters it’s intended to draw.

Europeans categorically think of General Aviation (GA) as those aircraft not used in scheduled or chartered air traffic, essentially characterizing them as “sport” aircraft with the occasional appendage of “utility.” Much of what might be characterized as purpose-built aircraft in the U.S. are simply folded into sport aviation in Europe, and this is particularly evident at Aero. Style is pervasive, flair dominates, and a strong sense of nationalism and personality distinguish one European offering from another.

Take for example the Blackshape Gabriél. This aircraft is an outgrowth the company’s Blackshape Prime, popular for sport flying. Co-branded with Transavia, Gabriél is a prime example of the crossover between sport and utility as its intended role is training for the airline. Stylish Italian design teamed with Transavia, an Air France/KLM subsidiary, to promote the Gabriél as a flight training platform.

Ultralight aviation also characterizes a large part of GA in Europe where it maintains a distinctly different certification class from the U.S. Aero is dominated by light aircraft. However, at this show this distinction may refer to multiple certification standards, including Ultralight (UL), Very Light Aircraft (VLA), the U.S. standard Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA), and a large number of small EASA CS-23 / FAR Part 23 certified aircraft. Examples include the Shark from Letisko of the Slovak Republic,“a type of airplane that flies safe and efficient,” and the Fly Synthesis Syncro LSA and UL from Italy.

General aviation in Europe also flourishes at the intersection of speed and style. More examples at Aero included the Tomark Viper SD4 all metal two seater from Slovak Republic, and the colorful Belmont Patino from Latvia.

AERO Friedrichshafen is “Europe’s largest exhibition for general aviation, and with regard to innovations and premieres, it’s the industry’s foremost exhibition in the world,” said Messe Friedrichshafen CEO, Klaus Wellmann. He speaks the truth with respect to sheer numbers of aircraft at an indoor exhibition, and in particular 1- to 2-place aircraft. The show makes its mark with a dose of European flair, for example, the TL 3000 Sirius by TL Ultralight and the VL-3 Evolution JMB Aircraft greeted visitors with beauty and style.

Aero offers more.

While the most crowded areas at Aero, namely the corridors connecting Halls A3 through A6, were designated for general aviation services, equipment, engines, pilot supplies, and avionics (including Garmin, which is gaining a foothold in Europe) there were many other interesting areas to browse.

Twelve large hangar halls at Messe Friedrichshafen are complemented by an outdoor static display area populated by pre-owned aircraft for sale, a small collection of military and historic aircraft, and the Europa-Park Zeppelin on the adjacent airfield. German military technology was on display at Aero. Inside were search-and-rescue and law enforcement helicopters. Outdoors was a German Luftwaffe Tornado.

Europe loves its gliders, such as the L23 Super Blaník all-metal glider remake. In 2019 the “sailplanes” displays were moved to Hall A1 at main entrance.

Eastern and Western Europe differ ideologically according to Christoph Becker, editor of FliegerRevue magazine, speaking specifically with regards to a fascination for aviation. The East is rife with engineering, design, development and has a long manufacturing history in this industry. For non-German speakers, I was told, the aircraft featured in FliegerRevue provide “aviation eye-candy.”

Junkers Flugzeugwerke from Dübendorf is one of the Swiss aircraft makers represented at the Aero. The company is currently building a second replica of the six-seater Junkers F13, an all-metal transport plane originally constructed in 1919. A recently completed F13 is flying under the Rimowa moniker. The company hopes to produce at least five units of this classic design from original blueprints.

When old and new technology meet, the results are some interesting aircraft that seem to exist without any particular reference to time and place. Those at Aero include the Bücker Bü 133 Jungmeister Liesel Bach on display and the FK12 Comet tandem folding-wing biplane produced in Germany.

Power to the piston

Sustainable and e-flight (electronic flight) continue to be nascent technologies in the aviation world. However, a newly vinted and unusual-looking aircraft featured at AERO was the “flying wing” made by Horten Aircraft from Eisenach, Germany. Another notable design presented at Aero was the vertical take-off and landing e-flyer AutoflightX which, figuratively speaking, plans to elevate transport.

Two sides of the Altantic

North American and European aviators maintain a strong bond. This is evidenced by nearly every vendor at Aero. They are well aware that their market is not limited to one continent. Airplus of Germany, which markets unique products for aircraft performance and customization, is responding to overwhelming demand for installation of ADS-B equipment in the U.S. by providing this capability on business aircraft flown to Europe.

A number of exhibitors at Aero 2019 admitted to being travel-worn, having just arrived from a week in Florida at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-in. Back-to-back shows this year put a strain on personnel. Curiously, though perhaps favorably, the two shows will occur at the same time in 2020 making it imperative that duties be divided, rather than sweeping. Aero Friedrichshafen 2020 will be held April 1–4.

A condensed version of this article was published in General Aviation News, May 23, 2019.

AERO Friedrichshafen 2019 Photo Highlights