Texas Flitfire – Vintage Piper J3 Cub

Texas Flitfire - Alamo Liaison Squadron

The Alamo Liaison Squadron in San Antonio, Texas, restored this 1939 J-3 Cub to resemble the “Flitfire” aircraft produced by Piper Aircraft. The aircraft resides at the squadron’s museum and is one among a collection of World War II L-birds the organization maintains in flying condition. (Photo by Paul Bigelow). General Aviation News, February 6, 2020, Leading Image, page 4. Read the full edition here.

Bearhawk Aircraft Announces First Deliveries of New Bearhawk Companion Kits

AUSTIN, TEXAS, JANUARY 24, 2020 – Bearhawk Aircraft announced today the first two Bearhawk Companion kits have arrived at their respective customer’s hangars. The new Bearhawk Companion is a side-by-side two-place aircraft. Introduced in August 2019, the Companion is STOL capable, cruises at 130–150 MPH, and carries from 950 to 1,150 lb. of payload.

Joining the Bearhawk lineup, the Companion complements other Bearhawk aircraft ranging in size from 1,320 lb. (LSA) to 2,500 lb. gross weight with two or four seats. All models enjoy significant payload capability and durable construction. Designed by Bob Barrows, Bearhawk aircraft feature aluminum wings completely flush riveted, a super strong steel tube fuselage, and fast cruise speeds with excellent slow speed manners.

Greg Charest took delivery of the first Bearhawk Companion kit this month. In selecting the Bearhawk Companion, Charest desired an aircraft with proven strength and a wide performance envelope. His dilemma was deciding between the Bearhawk 4-Place and Bearhawk Patrol, then the Companion was introduced.

Bearhawk Companion Kit Delivery

Read the story in Flying magazine.

Read the story in General Aviation News.

A Brilliant Glass Panel Experimental Huey

The archetypal Huey UH-1 utility helicopter is not what one would think of normally as an experimental aircraft. First of all, it’s got a well-earned reputation for dependability. If it were indeed an experiment, there would be some degree of dissolution in its 65-year tenure. Second, the Huey is a marvel of wonder among aircraft, in particular with fixed-wing pilots and amateur physicists who remain convinced that helicopters aren’t supposed to fly.

Huey UH-1 over water.
The iconic Huey UH-1 Iroquois over water.

The Huey is iconic. Its image is one synonymous with aircraft of the Vietnam, and Southeast Asia, conflict era. Despite the Huey’s demonstrable pedigree, the FAA regards many of today’s UH-1s as experimental, or amateur-built, aircraft. Bell Helicopter, a renowned manufacturer of type certificated civilian and military rotorcraft, created the UH-1 beginning in 1954. Surprisingly, the FAA registry shows an equal number of UH-1 examples under both “Amateur” and “Type Certificated” headings.

“The only category the FAA has for something like this is experimental exhibition, which is the category that all of the aircraft they don’t know what else to do with go to. It’s the land of weird aircraft,” said Andrew LaFollette, Chief Pilot with Mission Essential and G Force Air, owner of the formerly German registered UH-1 D / 71+46.

UH-1 D German Registered 71+46
UH-1 D helicopter as German-registered 71+46.

“Under experimental exhibition rules, an owner is not allowed to make money with their aircraft, plus there are often other limitations on operations,” continued LaFollette. Respective of these rules, G Force Air’s UH-1 has appeared on static display at public events. The Huey has also been used with local law enforcement in training roles and frequently gives rides to veterans.

“What’s remarkable about the Huey is that in bringing them back to life one brings back to life other people’s stories in them. It is truly an amazing machine that almost everyone I talk with, when out flying, has been affected by in one way or another. It’s no wonder they’re still around and will still be around for the foreseeable future,” LaFollette added.

Huey Glass Panel Modification

Gardner-Lowe Aviation Services is a comprehensive maintenance, service and avionics installation shop based in the Atlanta area. As a long-established outfit with a glowing reputation, Gardner-Lowe sees a variety of aircraft move in and out of its hangars. The Huey was already something of a standout when it arrived at Gardner-Lowe, no matter whom you talk with. The project UH-1 D flew in under its own power, albeit with a panel full of German-made avionics and instruments. When it left, N8379R was sporting a complement of glass panel displays from Garmin, a pedestal-mounted iPad electronic flight bag, and an indispensable array of USB power and 6-Pin LEMO headset ports throughout the cabin.

Huey glass panel.
UH-1 Huey panel with a complement of glass displays from Garmin.

Matthew Platt of Gardner-Lowe Aviation Services, located at Middle Georgia Regional Airport (KMCN) in Macon, Georgia, provided a rundown of the Huey’s newly installed equipment:

  • Garmin G3X Touch System with Dual GDU 460 10.6” Displays (replacing the mechanical 6-pack cluster: Airspeed Indicator, Attitude Indicator Gyro, Altimeter, Radar Altitude Indicator, Heading Indicator, VSI)
  • Dual Garmin G5 Flight Instruments, providing backup EFIS Attitude Indication and DG/HSI Display
  • Garmin GTN 650 GPS/NAV/COM/MFD Touchscreen with WAAS in the pedestal
  • Garmin GMA 350H Digital Helicopter Audio Panel in the pedestal
  • Garmin GTX 45R Remote-mounted Mode S ES dual-link ADS-B “In” and “Out” Transponder
  • Garmin GTR 20 Remote-mounted Comm
  • Garmin GRA 55 Radar Altimeter with corresponding GI 205 Radar Altimeter Indicator on the pilot (right) side of the panel
  • Mid-Continent MD93 Digital Clock with Dual USB Charging Ports on the main panel
  • Bose LEMO Headset Jacks, 10 places throughout the cabin
  • Stratus Power USB Charger Dual Ports, 4 places
  • iPad Air/iPad Pro 9.7″ AirGizmos Panel Dock in the pedestal
  • Engine Vibration Detector/Analyzer (an original “ALARM” instrument, standard on the German UH-1) on the pilot (right) side of the panel
  • Instrument panel and center pedestal were fabricated in full carbon fiber.

A former Huey pilot, Jeff Huntoon, having seen the new panel commented, “Except for the curve of the dashboard, there’s little in common with that panel versus the old Army UH-1H that I flew.” Huntoon has logged roughly 3,000 hours in rotary wing aircraft. However, his most recent time is in the cockpit of a 747 for a major cargo airline, an aircraft that more closely resembles the windscreen view of this modernized Huey.

Boeing 747 Cargolux cockpit.
Cockpit view of a Cargolux Boeing 747.

Based in Germany, Huntoon offered some insight on the country’s history with the UH-1, “The Americans used the UH-1 Huey as a general-purpose Utility Helicopter—UH, as its name implies—for which medical support was one mission. The Germans did the same, however, here the Huey had a much more involved role as a nation with EMS support. They are recognizable to the German citizenry as fire, police or ambulance service,” in army green with orange doors and an “SAR” (search and rescue) inscription. Replacements were painted red and white with “NOTARZT” (emergency doctor) lettering on the tail.

Huntoon continued, “More recently, civil EMS commercial operators fill that role, typically in yellow painted Eurocopters known as the Gelber Engel (yellow angel).” At sea, the German Navy is just now taking delivery of the first Airbus NH90 Sea Lion naval multi-role helicopter. But the Huey’s long operational history worldwide is a testament to the American-designed UH-1’s strength and stability.

Huey, the German Expat

The German manufactured, U.S. transplanted Huey is now N-registered and owned by G Force Air LLC, an organization based at KCMH in Columbus, Ohio. G Force also operates a Super King Air 300, Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain, Mooney M20K, American Champion Scout 8GCBC, and a ViperJet. The UH-1 is in good company following a long and distinguished military run. Its “experimental” distinction, though, is shared by only the lattermost mentioned of its current stablemates.

UH-1 D U.S. Registered N8379R
German-built UH-1 D Huey flying as U.S. Registered N8379R.

While the U.S. registration for N8379R shows it as a 1970-year model, LaFollette believes 71+46 was built in 1968. The German company Dornier, under license from Bell Helicopter, built a total of 352 UH-1s. They were identified as UH-1 D, but they were not the same as the U.S. built UH-1D models. The “D” in the German manufactured units stood for Deutsche/Dornier. In fact, the German built UH-1 D helicopters more closely resemble the U.S. manufactured UH-1H models.

“I like to say that the Germans took all of the faults of the UH-1H and fixed them,” said LaFollette. He continued, “These include solid CNC machined aluminum floor panels in place of fiberglass composite floors that have a tendency to not hold up to helicopter vibrations. The tail spar is also different, so the AD/SB [Airworthiness Directive 99-25-12 / Service Bulletin SW-18-29R1] that has come out on many of the U.S. Hueys is not applicable to the German birds. Also, all of the German birds have composite main rotors. The benefit includes a 10,000-hour service life versus 2,400 hours for the metal blade Hueys.”

The UH-1H was essentially the Bell Model 205 with a 1,400 shp Lycoming T53-L-13 engine. Its pitot tube was relocated from the nose to the roof of the cockpit to prevent damage. All the rotable parts (blades, heads, gearboxes, etc.) of the German UH-1 D are OEM Bell parts.

“We purchased this helicopter from a company in California [Rice Aircraft Services] who was importing them to be updated and sold to foreign militaries, and to be put right back to work. They had bought a number of them and decided to try selling a few in the U.S. market. After a lot of negotiations, we struck a deal and [c/n] 8206 was put back together,” said LaFollette.

The Huey had been shipped from Germany in a container. Following reassembly, LaFollette revealed, “It was test flown and that was it. We elected to have it painted in its current colors—gray camo, tiger stripe pattern. The light grey is used on current Marine Hueys.” The U.S. Marine Corps operates the UH-1Y Venom, a twin-engine version, also called Super Huey and Yankee. It is the Marine Corps’ standard utility helicopter and was still in full-rate production in 2018.

UH-1Y Huey helicopter of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit
UH-1Y Huey helicopter of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Ferry Flight from California to Ohio

LaFollette recounted the first U.S. cross country flight of N8379R and its subsequent panel upgrade: “The cockpit, minus the German military equipment, consisted of steam gauges and a single VHF comm with barely a transponder. We picked it up in California and flew it back to Columbus, Ohio, in June of 2018. What a trip that was. Four days and 25 hours later it’s on the ramp at its new home. I equate that experience to riding across the U.S. on a Harley, one that should be experienced by all. Navigating across the U.S. with basically an iPad, it quickly became obvious that to keep operating in today’s modern airspace, we needed an avionics upgrade.”

Finding the right fit for an avionics retrofit was the next step. “I interviewed a tremendous number of avionics shops,” said LaFollette, “and Matt at Gardner avionics was the only one that generally seemed excited and brought his own ideas to the table. We dropped it off with them in January (28th) 2019, and rolled it out the door just in time for Sun-n-Fun on April 4th. The owner elected to equip the helicopter with the latest and greatest, and we decided to remove the old wiring and systems that were no longer being used.”

Tracing Huey’s Past

What is known about this particular helicopter’s past service is limited, but 71+46 did have a role with the German Air Force, or Luftwaffe—literally translated as “air weapon.” In congruence with Huntoon’s remarks, other UH-1 D examples are still used today by the German Air Force serving a SAR role. These “Dornier” UH-1s all flew with a cross insignia—the Bundeswehr Kreuz—on their tail displaying their ship number. LaFollette noted, “The UH-1 Ds are slowly being retired and once they are parked for good they are auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder.”

Bundeswehr Kreuz, a cross insignia of the unified armed forces of Germany.
Bundeswehr Kreuz, a cross insignia of the unified armed forces of Germany, with German registration number 71+46.

Records show 71+46 was registered in Germany and stationed at Nörvenich Air Base (ETNN) in November 1991. Nörvenich has historically been home to the German Tactical Air Force Wing 31, or Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 31. Photos of the helicopter with the markings “KFOR” suggest it had a role with the Kosovo Force, a NATO-led international peacekeeping command founded in June 1999, in the autonomous region of Southeastern Europe. The Huey was later located in Schwechat, Austria, at Vienna International Airport (LOWW) in May 2008. Here it still bore the German flag, KFOR and 71+46 markings. The Huey arrived at Rice Aircraft Services in Olivehurst, California, in 2018.

Dornier UH-1 D with Kosovo Force markings (KFOR).
Dornier UH-1 D with Kosovo Force markings (KFOR).

About the UH-1 Huey Helicopter

Developed by Texas-based Bell Helicopter to meet a United States Army’s 1952 requirement for medical evacuation and utility use, the UH-1 was produced from 1956–1987. Though commonly known as the “Huey,” a nickname derived from its original, later-transposed designation HU-1, the helicopter was also identified as the Iroquois—a name borrowed from the North American Indian tribe founded by the “Great Peacemaker.” The Huey’s entangled role as both utility/military workhorse and peacemaker resonates appropriately, despite the obvious paradox.

The Huey was the first turbine helicopter produced for the U.S. military. It is powered by a single turboshaft engine with two-blade main and tail rotors. Recognizable for the sound it makes when flying, the two-bladed design gives the Huey its characteristic “thump,” particularly evident during descent and bank maneuvers. More than 16,000 Hueys were built and many continue to operate worldwide today.

UH-1 Variants

Model number UH-1A was assigned to the first 100 production models. Follow-on UH-1B models were equipped with a more powerful engine and a longer cabin. The UH-1C addressed aerodynamic deficiencies of the armed UH-1B units and further upped engine power. Following another stretch of the cabin, the UH-1D emerged along with a multi-fuel capable engine.

In the civilian market, these aircraft were designated Bell 204 and 205. Approximately 4,000 A through D models were built, most being upgraded, armed or otherwise modified at some point in their operational life. Some were later converted to the UH-1H standard, and most-produced version, starting in 1966. The UH-1H’s dual controls consist of a single hydraulic system boosting the cyclic stick, collective lever, and anti-torque pedals.

UH-1 War Service

The UH-1 first saw service in combat operations during the Vietnam War, with around 7,000 helicopters deployed. Primary missions included general support, air assault, cargo transport, aeromedical evacuation, search and rescue, electronic warfare, and ground attack. During the conflict, the Huey was upgraded, notably to a larger version based on the Model 205. This version was initially designated the UH-1D and flew operationally from 1963.

Army UH-1

Designed as a troop carrier, the UH-1D replaced the piston-powered Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw, an anti-submarine aircraft originally intended for the Navy, in service with the U.S. Army. The UH-1D  seated two pilots and additionally up to 13 passengers or crew in its cabin.

UH-1s tasked with ground attack or armed escort were outfitted with rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and machine guns. They were also modified locally by the military outfits themselves, who fabricated their own mounting systems. These gunship UH-1s were commonly referred to as “Frogs” or “Hogs” if they carried rockets, and “Cobras” or simply “Guns” if they had guns. UH-1s tasked and configured for troop transport were often called “Slicks” due to their absence of weapons pods. Slicks did have door gunners, but were generally employed in the troop transport and medevac roles.

Marine UH-1

Already in service with the Army, the U.S. Marine Corps selected the UH-1B as an assault support helicopter. Later modified, it became the UH-1E and replaced Cessna O-1 (L-19 Bird Dog) fixed-wing aircraft used for liaison and observation, and Kaman OH-43D helicopters of German design origins.

Navy UH-1

The U.S. Navy acquired UH-1B/C helicopters from the Army, and these aircraft were modified into gunships with special gun mounts and radar altimeters. They were known as “Seawolves” with the Navy and served in river patrol operations.

Air Force UH-1

The U.S. Air Force added later UH-1F and UH-1P models to its inventory. The Air Force also used the UH-1N for support of intercontinental ballistic missile sites, including transport of security personnel and distinguished visitors. As recently as September 2018, the Boeing/Leonardo MH-139 (an AgustaWestland AW139 variant), won a competition to replace the UH-1Ns.

Retrofitted, German-built Huey during training exercises.
Retrofitted, German-built Huey during contemporary U.S. training exercises.

D” is for Dornier

Dornier Flugzeugwerke, the now defunct German aircraft manufacturer, under license by Bell built the slightly customized UH-1 D helicopter from 1967 to 1981 for the Bundeswehr (German military). Original plans were to deliver a total of 406. These constructions saw service with the German Army and German Air Force in light utility roles and in SAR operations. Other variants of the UH-1 were built under contract in Italy, Japan and Taiwan.

The UH-1 D’s engines were produced by Motoren- und Turbinen-Union GmbH (Motor and Turbine Union, a German company), now MTU Aero Engines of Munich. The 85-year-old company was originally founded as BMW Flugmotorenbau GmbH (Flight engines construction). Today, MTU is a global provider of commercial and military engine and maintenance services, and a partner to industry leaders GE, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce.

The Dornier UH-1 D has a spacious cabin with seating up to 15, or six stretchers and a medic. It can be loaded quickly through its large sliding doors and has a high carrying capacity. Also capable of performing an attack role, the German Army, or Deutsches Heer, however, used the UH-1 D almost exclusively for transport purposes. Considered among the safest of aircraft, it was used by Germany’s Federal President, Chancellor, and other government Ministers and Members.

Utility Helicopter Workload Reduction

LaFollette elaborated on why the Huey panel retrofit, “The term situational awareness gets thrown around a lot, but I think that nails exactly what we were going after. With the G3X and the ability to display traffic, weather and airspace via one quick touch, this greatly reduces the pilot workload. Especially when operating a helicopter, all of your body parts are being used mostly all of the time. Things that get taken for granted like changing comms or typing in a frequency are no big deal in an airplane, at certain times in a helicopter can be a very big deal. We went from a single comm that used rotary style switching to two digital smart comms with standby frequencies that, just about know what frequency you want and loads it in for you. The synthetic vision is a huge help. With Garmin’s helicopter obstacle database, it has more detailed terrain and a large amount of power lines that are overlaid on the screen.

UH-1 D Huey with Garmin G3X System.
UH-1 D Huey panel retrofit with Garmin G3X System.

“We typically fly with two pilots, however, now that the panel has been completed, single pilot operations are a breeze. When we did the panel mod we were able to lay out the engine gauges in the order that we wanted and moved the really important instruments right in front of the pilot’s view. Another example is our starting clock. In the old cockpit, we had to wind it up to make the second hand start moving, then push a button to activate it for our 40-second start limit. Now we use a Mid-Continent clock/timer/USB charger and it’s a very easy one button start.”

Retiring After 60 Years of Service

As early as 1967, the UH-1B/C Huey was being replaced by the Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. Huey gunships were rendered impractical by the increasing intensity and sophistication of anti-aircraft defenses. In 1979, the U.S. Army relegated the UH-1 primarily to support Army Aviation training and Army National Guard units at the introduction of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. The UH-1 was ultimately retired from the Army in 2016.

Devotees of the UH-1 in a gunship role extol its ability to act as an impromptu “Dustoff”—a call sign for emergency patient evacuation of casualties from a combat zone. The Huey is also commended for its superior observational capabilities, notably its large cabin, which allowed return fire from door gunner positions. During the 1972 Easter Offensive by North Vietnam, UH-1s equipped with TOW launchers (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided anti-tank missiles) were given the nickname “Hawk’s Claw.”

Why We Do This

Nearly half of the 7,000-plus UH-1s flown in Vietnam were destroyed. The troops’ toll was 2,177 lost in their operations. Today, the Huey and its operators are memorialized in museums and collections around the world, for example Wings & Rotors Air Museum in Murrieta, California.

Wings and Rotors Air Museum UH-1
Wings and Rotors Air Museum UH-1 Huey helicopter.

A recent aviation magazine article (Sport Aviation, September 2019) profiled Huey pilot/owner Jimmy Graham. His restored and updated UH-1H is used to honor veterans. In doing so, he “unites” with those who flew them. The EAA Young Eagles co-chairman and pro football player said he flies the Huey with pride, “carrying a piece of history and moving it forward.”

For G Force Air and the UH-1 D crew, the sentiment is similar. Whether flying veterans, police trainees, or enthusiasts alike, the Huey makes a lasting impression. Extricating the helicopter from its storied past and giving it a new life means others can feel that sense of pride. Keeping it flying takes commitment, and the costs are significant. Despite the obstacles, a flying museum is a place where stories can be shared, passions kindled, and ideas nurtured, making the efforts, valiant, nostalgic or plume, immeasurable for all involved.

Today, state-of-the-art in helicopter experimentation and design can be found in the Sikorsky HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter, “Whiskey” rendition. The “W” iteration was one of but a few letters not used in the evolution of the UH-1. Nevertheless, the Huey’s legacy is unmistakably part of the new HH-60W. Providing an unprecedented combination of range and survivability, the Whiskey strives to be the most sophisticated rotorcraft the world has known. In retrospect, this is precisely what the Huey proved to be throughout the latter half of the 20th century. A vintage Huey with a modern glass panel cockpit offers a brilliant reflection on just how advanced helicopter design has come.

Retrofitted, German-built Huey in hover.
The retrofitted and U.S. registered, German-built Huey in hover.

UH-1 D 71+46/N8379R Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: Dornier (Bell)
  • Model: UH-1 D (Iroquois, model 205)
  • Construction Number: 8206
  • Aircraft Type: Rotorcraft
  • Number of Seats: 14
  • Number of Engines: 1
  • Engine Type: Turbo-shaft
  • Engine Manufacturer and Model: Lycoming T53-L-11
  • Engine Output: 1,400 SHP
  • Cruise Speed: 205 kph / 125 mph
  • Range: 500 km / 310 miles
  • Gross Weight: 4,315 kg / 9,512 lb
  • Carrying Capacity: 3,880 lb
  • Empty Weight: 5,215 lb
  • Main Rotor Diameter: 48 ft
Huey
– Huey –
Avionics News magazine, January 2020

Read this article in Avionics News magazine – January 2020, feature article on pp 28-34.

Helicopter Maintenance magazine February-March 2020

Read this article in Helicopter Maintenance magazine – February/March 2020, cover story beginning on pg 8.

71+42 instrument panel
Instrument panel of UH-1 D 71+42 at Berlin Gatow, November 2019. This was the standard cockpit configuration of the German-manufactured Huey, including 71+46.

Better Design, Better Solutions

A lot of people in [any] industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. – Steve Jobs

Knowledge vs. Experience
Knowledge vs. Experience. Better design and better solutions result when one can connect the dots with a broader perspective on the problem. Connect with Connect Communications for experience in resolving your marketing communications problems.

ADS-B Users Gather Round, As The Means They Are a-Changing

Weather + Position + Attitude… Keeping it all in check with ADS-B.

SkyVision Xtreme Portable, in its Xth and final iteration, was a convenient, hard-shell black briefcase of spy grade avionics that could receive and display aviation traffic and weather. More than that, SkyVision Xtreme Portable was the first demonstrable product in a complicated scheme to force general aviation’s adoption of ADS-B. Released in 2013, though conceived in 2010, the portable device offered ADS-B In & Out with little or no burden of installation.

SkyVision Xtreme Portable
SkyVision Xtreme Portable ADS-B In & Out System.

By FAA mandate, aircraft operators are now (by January 1, 2020) obligated to equip with ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast). Essentially, ADS-B is an upgrade to the commonplace transponder, or “squawk” box, that it now circumvents. SkyVision’s portable gave sleuthy first adopters a means to participate in the scheme.

The SkyVision Xtreme Portable concept was simple: Allow pilots to bring their weather and traffic system to the airplane with them; and it worked. Others quickly followed with compact portable devices offering a subset of capabilities. NavWorx offered WxBox, a hot selling weather-only unit, and PADS-B, an “In & Out” device that included traffic and position reporting. Appareo released its Stratus line, while Garmin introduced its GDL receivers. Everyone suddenly wanted “In.”

NavWorx WxBox
WxBox ADS-B weather receiver from NavWorx.
NavWorx PADS-B
PADS-B from NavWorx, full ADS-B In & Out with a portable device.

A common refrain among pilots fortunate enough to fly with traffic warning systems is that they suddenly feel vulnerable in aircraft without them.

Dave Hirschman, AOPA Pilot, April 2013

SkyVision Xtreme Portable was revolutionary, taking full advantage of what ADS-B had to offer. First, it was a step up from old-school radar traffic devices. Satellite-derived ADS-B sees traffic all the way to the ground when radar cannot. The Xtreme system also included graphical weather display, GPS derived position information, and an attitude heading reference system. Most importantly, the Xtreme Portable provided full ADS-B In & Out capability, the latter a requirement of the FAA mandate. SkyVision Xtreme arrived well in advance of the pending FAA 2020 deadline, appealing to early adopters and stoking developers.

Inside the SkyVision Xtreme Portable was an ADS-B universal access transceiver (UAT) from NavWorx. The briefcase was a self-contained, complete system and its only physical connection was a 12/24-Volt power plug. An internal battery supplied backup power. A pair of antennas tethered to the unit. On an iPad, or other tablet device, the data was displayed, transmitted via Wi-Fi. As aircraft came into view—before they could be seen through the windscreen—each was shown with distance, relative height, heading, speed, climb/descent trend, aircraft type, and call sign (if available). The device was smart and advanced. It set a standard others would follow.

SkyVision Xtreme on iPad
SkyVision Xtreme traffic and weather displayed on an iPad.

How rapidly development occurs. Nearly every existing avionics manufacturer, and a surge of newcomers, produced, bought or sought compatible products with the new ADS-B standard. The rush was on. With both open source content and competitive mettle at work, ADS-B adoption was indeed a contest. Big investment, from heavyweights like Garmin, aimed to head the standard. An indulgent FAA selectively conspired. Programmers and electronics entrepreneurs concocted ideas and seized opportunities. The community of aviators welcomed a supply of creative new products.

Nearing the end of 2019, the innovation continues. There’s Stratus 3, the nexus of the SkyVision concept, several years into its product life cycle. It comes from marketeers of aircraft transponders, electronic flight bags, and an array of other technology innovations. Simple to use, portable, free benefits (such as weather, traffic, GPS navigation), works on almost any device, and compatible with all the top apps, Stratus is now a commodity for ADS-B In, priced at around $700.

There’s also FlightBox, a palm-sized cuboid sprouting two antennas with, “All the features of the Stratus 2S at one-fourth the price,” according to the company. It’s an open source artifact of ADS-B development. With electronics available off-the-shelf, its users are emphatically embracing it. In the spirit of SkyVision and NavWorx affordability, FlightBox represents a culmination of ADS-B In development, setting one back a mere $239.

There’s even a DIY option with Stratux, an open source software adaptation of ADS-B development that can be used with widely available component parts. For example, one can get a 3D printed enclosure, add the electronics, and drive it with Stratux. The software is free, and public forums actively support it. Stratux is a bridge from the world of experimental aircraft to commercial ADS-B development.

A commodity in situ, culmination at play, and more bridges still ahead, ADS-B technology will continue to advance. We are seeing a glimpse of this at uAvionix, a company that integrates ADS-B into wingtip nav lights/strobes and tail beacons. These ultracompact and simple to install turnkey solutions are just the beginning.

uAvionix offers another pair of affordable and compact ADS-B solutions, one for the US—echoUAT—and one for the UK—SkyEcho. The echoUAT is a dual-link 1090 MHz / UAT device. An integrated Wi-Fi system talks to portable displays. A old-fashioned wire links it to common EFIS systems. A stealthy transcoder picks up Mode C signals. SkyEcho, by comparison, does all of the above framed in plastic roughly the size of a Tic Tac box. Both give the user everything presently available with ADS-B, not the least of which are compliance with national regulations and universal connectivity to popular avionics devices.

echoUAT and SkyEcho with display
echoUAT and SkyEcho with display.

SkyBeacon and tailBeacon, the aforementioned wing and tail light solutions from uAvionix, have a street price of around $1,800. They are “Out” only, hence there’s no need for a display, and require a conventional transponder. A typical ADS-B capable transponder runs $3,000 (there’s a net assumption that your current transponder is worth $1,200). By contrast, the latest touchscreen navigator from Garmin costs five G and comes with lots of extras; to add ADS-B is an additional $2,700. In this analogy, it makes good economic sense to ADS-B equip with uAvionix. But, the means they are a-changing.

Today, uAvionix is on the innovative edge of the general aviation industry, and it’s about time someone stepped up. There are few who challenge convention and succeed. Boxed avionics which occupy every bit of instrument panel real estate are not the future. Integration and applications will transform avionics, much like they did with the telephone. In its latest move, uAvionix purchased AeroVonics, makers of the smartly simple AV-20S Multi-Function Display (MFD) and AV-30 Primary Flight Display (PFD) products. Both bring low cost and ease of installation to GA. For now they are stand-alone products, but they will shape the future for electronics, data and display integration including ADS-B and future situational awareness technologies.

So what’s next? Single ADS-B microchips will integrate all now standard functions. These chips will be embedded in the aircraft; one might say implanted under its skin. GPS, ADS-B and all its forms will get “smart,” interrogating and resolving issues, often before pilots are even aware of the anomaly. Aircraft surveillance, under ADS-B or its global equivalent, will persist for the sake of safety. The advantages of free weather and traffic will be suppositional while the voyager-pilot beleaguers other tasks. Though for now, we can just fly a bit more secure in knowing that we are less distant from disaster in the event of nearby peril.

Note: The legacy SkyVision Xtreme is still available today with Skyvision Xtreme Moving Map Software employing the Stratux receiver and an 8-inch tablet display.

This article was published in InFlightUSA magazine, November 2019.

Bearhawk Aircraft News – Summer 2019

Bearhawk Aircraft manufactures high quality quick-build aircraft kits for the Bearhawk 4-Place, and the Bearhawk Patrol and LSA two-place tandem models. These aircraft have in common excellent utility and superb flying characteristics. Bearhawks are known for their short field capability, higher than expected cruise speeds, and very gentle slow speed manners.

Bearhawk Aircraft and the many builders and owners are excited to be once again participating in AirVenture Oshkosh—the world’s greatest aviation experience. For a glimpse of what you can expect to see, here’s what’s new at Bearhawk Aircraft:

Bearhawk 4-Place Skylight Option

We are changing the design of the ceiling of the 4-Place so it can either have a skylight or fabric with no modification. Should be well received. -Mark Goldberg, president of Bearhawk Aircraft

Bearhawk Sales and Support in Brazil

A new Brazilian distributor is taking possession of the first Bearhawk LSA kit to arrive in Brazil.

Bearhawk LSA Meets Canada’s Advanced Ultralight Category

In Canada they have a category of planes called Advanced Ultra-Light Aeroplane. Our LSA can live within that category.

Bearhawk Completed in 6½ Months

A Patrol flew in Virginia after only 6½ months of building time. Record time.

Read the full report here.

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, its mission was to acquire and restore liaison aircraft flown by the U.S. military in World War II. These aircraft were to 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 liaison aircraft, 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 introductory class in a progression of light aircraft used principally by the U.S. Army Air Forces. 1

The most substantial, and certainly exceptional, among these aircraft was the Stinson L-1 Vigilant. The L-1 derived from Stinson Aircraft Corporation’s civilian Model 74. It was identified by the military as O-49, originally among the class of observation aircraft (O for observation). In April 1942, the O-49 turned L-1 when the liaison designation ascended that of observation.

Alamo Liaison Squadron L-1 Restoration 1982
Alamo Liaison Group’s L-1 Restoration in 1982.

The L-1 was envisioned as a highly versatile air defense instrument. Its requisition came with a monumental list of specifications and capabilities. Its design engaged with every demand of a vigilant military. However, the grand concept proved itself overindulgent. Ground forces, the predominant operator of liaison aircraft, found the L-1 to be complex and costly.

The liaison aircraft function demanded simplicity. L-birds were tasked with flying from point to point, often on short hops. They gathered, delivered, and reported stores and information. From their manufacture to delivery in the field, to the verity of improvised maintenance and the absolute necessity of organic 2 pilot/crew operations, the L-1 was a bear when the Army needed a cub.

As the role played out, succeeding L-bird models would prove ideal to the task. They were smaller and lighter, yet delivered results with greater and weightier outcomes than the L-1. Demand for liaison aircraft engagement still outstretched the ability to supply them. Nevertheless, L-birds were produced by the tens of thousands.

The L-1 was superseded in procurement by vast numbers of the Piper L-4 (in addition to similar Aeronca and Taylorcraft models) and the later Stinson model L-5 Sentinel. Nearly 4,000 L-5 examples were produced. Peak production of the L-4 was one aircraft every 20 minutes with over 5,000 going to the military. Piper delivered over 19,000 of the L-4 / J-3 3 type between 1938 and 1947. The smaller L-birds earned the nicknames “Puddle-jumper,” “Grasshopper” and “Flying Jeep.”

The L-1 was by no means inferior. It was extremely well-conceived, well-built, well-equipped, and performed to the illustrative standard Fieseler Storch that spawned its creation. The L-1 served with U.S. and Allied forces beginning in 1941, and up to 1947 with the Royal Air Force. The proliferation of simplicity, and ubiquity, within the liaison function necessitated its demise. The L-1 was the largest L-bird used in World War II.

3-View diagrams showing relative sizes of the most popular L-birds of WWII.

The Stinson L-1 Vigilant was used throughout the world, seeing service in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Alaska. Its primary missions included running supplies, transporting key personnel, and medical evacuation. The L-1 was also used in diverse roles such as towing training gliders, spotting artillery, and special espionage flights. Some were modified to perform amphibious air ambulance missions.

Origins

The Stinson O-49 / L-1 was conceived in response to a 1938 U.S. Army Air Corps 4 competition for a two-seat light observation aircraft. When a German-manufactured Fieseler Storch was demonstrated at the Cleveland Air Races—a national air race competition taking place in the U.S. since 1920—the Air Corps revised its specifications in an attempt to match the performance of the impressive Storch.

Stinson Aircraft Corporation of Wayne, Michigan, won the $1.5 million contract with the O-49, beating eleven competitors. A second contract was later awarded to Stinson, by that time a division of Vultee Aircraft Corporation, for the O-49A which had a slightly longer fuselage and other equipment changes. In all, 324 iterations of the Stinson O-49 / L-1 were built.

The Stinson Model 74, on which the O-49 / L-1 was based, was a high-wing monoplane with a single radial engine. It incorporated pilot-operated slotted flaps for low speed and high lift performance. It was built with full-span automatic slats (manufactured by Handley Page of the U.K.) on the leading edge of its wings. Both design features improved the airplane’s angle of attack and stall speed.

The aircraft was built of steel tubing and fabric, with the fuselage forward of the wing covered in sheet metal. Control surfaces and the empennage were fabric-covered stainless steel. The Lycoming powerplant, capable of 295 hp, was hand-cranked inertia starting and fitted with a Hamilton Standard constant speed propeller. First flight of the Model V-74 / YO-49 designated prototype took place on July 15, 1940.

The Vigilant was capable of stopping in less than its own length, and could maintain stable flight at 31 miles per hour. Coming in at a steep angle, then leveling off, it could land at 10 miles per hour. Anecdotally, it was said to be capable of backwards flight in a strong headwind. While the lighter L-birds could achieve the same, such performance was stunning for the larger, heavier L-1.

Up to 17 L-1 and 96 L-1A aircraft were allocated to the British Royal Air Force under the Lend-Lease Act of 1941. 5 The RAF designated these aircraft the Vigilant Mk I and Vigilant Mk II respectively.

In Canada, General Harry Crerar, Commander of the First Canadian Army in Europe during World War II, maintained a Vigilant for personal use. George S. Patton was provided a Stinson O-49 and a personal Air Corps pilot in 1941, during his participation in the Louisiana Maneuvers. He also flew a privately owned Stinson 10A—a model that would later become the L-9. In October 1944 at Burtonwood, a former joint RAF/USAAF base in the U.K., two L-1C litter-equipped air evacuation models were modified by the installation of a rear seat in place of the litter and intended for General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal use. 6

The ALG Restoration

Throughout the years a number of L-birds have operated from Cannon Field, home to the now renamed Alamo Liaison Squadron (ALS). These aircraft included actual L-birds with military history and other modern constructions resembling warbirds. Among them, the L-1 was a rarity. Keeping it flying was an onerous task. Its restoration proved, above all, a treasure hunt for the one-of-a-kind systems, accessories and equipment that made it unique. Despite the L-1’s absence today, ALS is proud to claim its revival began here.

Thankfully, the restoration undertaken by ALG on L-1 serial number 41-18915 in its 41st year survived another 37 years. Its history traced, the airplane now resides at the Alaska Aviation Museum on Lake Hood Seaplane Base in Anchorage, Alaska.

This aircraft (s/n 41-18915) was first constructed in 1941 as an O-49A, a lengthened (by 13 inches) version of the original O-49. It was later configured as a model L-1F which incorporated amphibious pontoon floats (manufactured by Edo Aircraft Corporation) and an ambulance configuration. Only five such conversions were done. The plane was put into service with the U.S. Army Air Forces on December 22, 1941—two weeks after the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

After serving in several southern states, in military exercises and training, 41-18915 was shipped to Alaska for service with the 11th Air Force at Fairbanks and Anchorage in 1944. It was stationed in Nome, participating in search and rescue operations as part of the Lend-Lease Act. It likely also performed supply hops and special espionage missions behind Japanese lines for the 1st Air Commando during the 1944–1945 China and Burma campaigns. 7

Following WWII, 41-18915 was sold in 1946 by the War Assets Administration at its last base of operations in Alaska. It began use with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and gained civilian registry as N704 operating in Anchorage, Alaska from 1947–1953.

As an L-1A (in parity with its O-49A military designation), 41-18915 was registered as N704E by Lawrence E. Flahart of Anchorage, Alaska on December 6, 1953 (until 1972). It was modified as a cabin airplane by replacing the “greenhouse” with a solid top. 8

L-1, N704E prior to restoration.
Stinson L-1, N704E, prior to restoration by ALG.

The “L-1F” floatplane was withdrawn from use between 1977 and 1981 by James Harrower of Anchorage, Alaska. It was subsequently bought by Bill Stratton and, with floats removed and wheels installed, flown to San Antonio, Texas on May 27, 1982. Stratton also purchased what existed of N1377B (an L-1 s/n 41-19015 later restored by James P. Harker of Blaine, Minnesota ) for spare parts.

San Antonio Express-News article by Joe Fohn, May 28, 1982: One of the group’s rarest acquisitions consists of a tangle of tubing wires and rotted canvas. Four known. It is an L-1, the largest liaison plane used and one of four known to exist anywhere. ALG members found it after it had lain for decades in the Alaskan wilderness. Within a year, Stratton said, they hope to have it flying alongside the other five planes. Stratton said the group wrote to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Air Force Museum for a photograph of an L-1 to guide restoration. “The picture they sent us was our plane. It had the same tail number,” Stratton smiled.

The aircraft underwent restoration by ALG in 1982. “The big Stinson was taken down to the bare air frame and sandblasted to bare metal so every part could be inspected. Slowly, the reassembly began as each additional part was refinished and installed,” Vintage Airplane magazine February 1984. After a nearly six-year grounding, the L-1 was flying again, as a landplane, to airshows and events:

May 1983, at Randolph AFB, Texas. Photo by John Dienst.
May 1983, the newly restored L-1 at Randolph AFB, Texas. Photo by John Dienst.
At the Kerrville, Texas EAA Fly-In in September 1983 is the Stinson L-1.
Touching down at the Kerrville, Texas EAA Fly-In in September 1983 is the Stinson L-1. Photo by Chuck Larsen, Vintage Airplane magazine February 1984.
April 1984, at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Texas. Photo by John R. Kerr.
April 1984, the ALG’s L-1 at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Texas. Photo by John R. Kerr.
June 1984, at Confederate Air Force Airshow in Denton, Texas.
Stinson L-1 Vigilant at the Confederate Air Force Airshow in Denton, Texas, June 1984. (photos above and below)
Stinson L-1 Vigilant

Flying Times, a publication of Kelly Air Force Base, August 3, 1984: A ride in a vintage 1941 Vultee L-1 “Vigilant” liaison plane is not typical of a ride in other small aircraft… As he is cleared for take-off, Straw revs the already-deafening engine and works the exposed cables that operate the flaps. The L-1 leaves the ground at only 30 mph, and about 10 seconds later it has climbed to a respectable altitude. The aircraft soars high above San Antonio – all the while it feels like a strong wind could blow the light plane over… In an abrupt landing, the L-1 straightens out and slows to about 30 mph. Rubber kisses the pavement and the plane shudders and shakes to a halt.

Hill Country Recorder September 19, 1984, by Roger L. Berry: The ALG L-1 was the only restored plane of its type left in the world. The USAAF [U.S. Army Air Force] flew them in Burma (Air Commandos), Europe, Alaska, and Hawaii (several were destroyed by the Japanese in the Pearl Harbor Attack). This “one-of-a-kind” aircraft has been restored in the markings of Bellows Field, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. Alamo Liaison Group flies over Boerne during the Kendall County Fair Parade.

Stinson O-49 / L-1 at Bellows Field, Hawaii, 1941
A Stinson O-49 / L-1 at Bellows Field, Hawaii (1941). Photo courtesy of the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation Airport Division.
Second September 1984 edition of Trade-A-Plane shows the L-1 in formation flight among seven aircraft of ALG.
Second September 1984 edition of Trade-A-Plane: Flying Liaison Aircraft Museum, ‘The Alamo Liaison Group.’ Photo by Roger Berry (above and below).
ALG Flying Liaison Aircraft Collection
October 12, 1984, edition of Ft. Sam Houston News Leader (A Publication of The 502nd Air Base Wing – Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston). L-1 performed in a Confederate Air Force Air Show on Oct. 4th.
Spectators view the [Stinson L-1] on display as part of the Confederate Air Force Air Show. Photo by Allen Goralewicz, Fort Sam Houston News Leader (502nd Air Base Wing, Joint Base San Antonio) Friday, October 12, 1984.
October 12, 1984, edition of Ft. Sam Houston News Leader (A Publication of The 502nd Air Base Wing – Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston). L-1 performed in a Confederate Air Force Air Show on Oct. 4th.
A Stinson-Vultee “Vigilant” and Taylorcraft “Tee-Cart” fly over Fort Sam Houston during the Confederate Air Force Show Oct. 4. Photo by Allen Goralewicz, News Leader.
San Antonio Light newspaper, October 5, 1984.
San Antonio Light newspaper October 5, 1984: Winging their way. Single-engine L-bird liaison aircraft belonging to the Confederate Air Force cruise over Fort Sam Houston yesterday. Photo by Leonard Parness.
At the Ft. Sam event October 19, 1984. (newspaper unknown)
An L-1 Vigilant receives some attention at a recent CAF Airshow preview at Fort Sam Houston. San Antonio, Texas, Friday, October 19, 1984 (newspaper unknown). Photo by Charles Barksdale.
Photo taken at Fort Sam Houston, October 1984.
Photo taken at Fort Sam Houston, October 1984. ALG’s restored L-1 in background.

Dave Smith of the International Liaison Pilot and Aircraft Association, San Antonio, Texas, registered the aircraft (N704E) in April 1985 (until 1992).

September 1986, at Wings Over Houston, still “in the silver war games paint.”
September 1986, at Wings Over Houston, the L-1 is seen still “in the silver war games paint.”

Flying Magazine October 1987, by Gordon Baxter: The big L-1 almost seemed to hover at its touchdown speed of 30 knots, slower than all the other liaisons. Load hauling in the roomy cabin seemed to be limited only by what the landing gear could stand. The gear was a weak point in the design of the L-1, and with its greater weight the big monoplane did not hop and skip over ground irregularities as the lighter liaisons did, but collapsed its landing gear. First in use as a liaison, the L-1 stayed on the longest [in government service]. In the postwar years there was a rush for the surplus airplanes, then all but the Interstate and L-1 went back into long, happy lives.

Express-News October 18, 1987, by Nora Lopez: They were called called the “Jungle Angels” during World War II since they swooped down from the heavens bringing medical supplies and hope to the wounded… All six “L-birds” were on display Saturday… there was the Stinson L-1. [The event took place on Saturday the 17th. This was the Sunday edition. On the following Monday, the infamous “Black Monday” stock market crash occurred.]

The L-1 at Stinson Airfield in San Antonio, Texas, in 1991, while being recovered. Photo by John R. Kerr.
The L-1 at Stinson Airfield 9 in San Antonio, Texas, in 1991, while being recovered. Photo by John R. Kerr.
In 1991, the L-1 emerged from painting at Stinson Airfield with a new green camo paint scheme and its “Vigilant Virgin” nose art (a female figure seated on a white lion rug). Photo by Craig Parchman.
In 1991, the L-1 emerged from painting at Stinson Airfield with a new green camo paint scheme and its “Vigilant Virgin” nose art (a female figure seated on a white lion rug). Photo by Craig Parchman.

N1ZS (s/n 41-18915) was registered in April 1992 (until 1995) to Dave Smith of San Antonio, Texas.

In 1993, at EAA Oshkosh. Photo by Ken Videan.
In 1993, the L-1 at EAA Oshkosh. Photo by Ken Videan.
On October 9, 1993, at Confederate Air Force Air Show in Midland, Texas.
On October 9, 1993, the L-1 at Confederate Air Force Air Show in Midland, Texas.
In October 1993, at Stinson Airfield.
In October 1993, the L-1 at Stinson Airfield.
At EAA Oshkosh. Photo by Carl Schuppel, EAA Sport Aviation September, 1984.
The L-1 at EAA Oshkosh. Photo by Carl Schuppel, EAA Sport Aviation September, 1984. (above and below)
At EAA Oshkosh. Photo by Carl Schuppel, EAA Sport Aviation September, 1984.

Karl S. Johnstone of Anchorage, Alaska, registered N1ZS on June 26, 1998 (until 2002).

“The Alaska Aviation Museum purchased 41-18915 from Alaska Judge Karl Johnstone in 2001” (per museum facebook). “The aircraft was donated to the Museum by Karl S. Johnstone in 2002” (per museum website). “It is the sole survivor of approximately 400 L-1s manufactured during WWII” (per museum website). Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage-Lake Hood, Alaska, registered the aircraft on January 29, 2003.

On July 7, 2005, at Lake Hood Seaplane Base.
On July 7, 2005, the L-1 at Lake Hood Seaplane Base, Anchorage, Alaska.
On June 10, 2010, uncovered and with wings removed at Alaskan Aviation Heritage Museum.
On June 10, 2010, the L-1 uncovered and with wings removed at Alaskan Aviation Heritage Museum.

A second restoration of 41-18915 began in 2015, and was completed in summer 2016. The Alaska Aviation Museum opened the exhibit of its newly restored Stinson L-1 Vigilant on September 21, 2016.

The L-1 on display at the Alaska Aviation Museum. (above and below)

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. Other single-engine aircraft 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 Voyager 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 J-5 Cruiser 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 & L-22 North American/Ryan Navion & Super Navion
    • L-18 & L-21 Piper Super Cub, a higher performing L-4 Cub
    • L-19 Cessna Bird Dog, 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. Organic refers to the ground arms desire to have complete control of the use of their planes while being manned by personnel from the units they served and stationed as close to them as possible.
  3. Many J-3 models went to various War Training School operators.
  4. The U.S. Army Air Corps became the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 20, 1941.
  5. 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.
  6. The Fighting Grasshoppers by Kenneth Wakefield, p. 36.
  7. World War II Journal #15: U.S. Warplanes by Ray Merriam, p.27.
  8. Ibid, World War II Journal, Merriam, p.27. Greenhouse refers to extended cabin windows both overhead and aft. This was done to improve visibility for the rear-seated occupant.
  9. Stinson Municipal Airport was established in 1915 when the Stinson family, three siblings Marjorie, Katherine and Eddie, initially leased the land from the City of San Antonio, Texas. Here, they created the Stinson School of Flying. The airport is now the second oldest general aviation airport in continuous operation in the U.S. In 1920, Eddie founded Stinson Aircraft Company in Dayton, Ohio.

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.