The weather finally broke for a couple of days just before I left for work so I headed out to the airport to see how the hangar and airplane had weathered the recent storms. As I drove into the airport I saw a dark colored tailwheel airplane entering the pattern in a manner not usually used by the local pilots.
As I got to my hangar I saw a Cessna O-1 taxi by on the way to the fuel island. So, I plugged in my engine heater, closed up the hangar and headed off to meet our visitor. The pilot’s name is Carl and he is from near Fort Bragg, CA. He flies from his own 1300’ grass strip on his property. He had come to Stead today to drop off a computer for his daughter and to pick up his grand-daughter to fly her back to Ft. Bragg for a visit. He said his grand-daughter loves to fly. I imagine the view from the back seat with all that glass around her is really spectacular. After all, the “O” in O-1 stands for Observation. It’s what the plane was designed to do.
The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog started out as the Cessna 305A, a derivative of the venerable Cessna model 170. The model was submitted to the Army by Cessna in 1950 in response to a request for a new liaison aircraft made of metal rather than the tube and fabric models that had been used in WW II. The Army liked the model and ordered over 400 of them, giving the new aircraft the L-19 designation. The Department of Defense ended up buying almost 3200 of the aircraft and passed them out to virtually all of the military services. In 1962 the Army re-designated the model as the O-1. The Bird Dog name reputedly came about as the result of a naming contest among Cessna employees.
In addition to being used in Korea, the O-1 saw extensive use in Viet Nam. It was used both as a liaison aircraft and, more importantly, as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) aircraft. FACs directed air strikes on enemy troop positions by marking target locations with white phosphorus (“willy pete”) rockets carried on the underside of the wings. As the Viet Nam conflict progressed more and more of the Bird Dogs were turned over to the Vietnamese Air Force to be flown in support of their own forces. In 1975 one South Vietnamese major reportedly loaded his family (wife and five children) into the pack of his O-1 took off and evaded ground fire long enough to fly past the South Vietnam coastline eventually coming upon a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. The O-1 circled the carrier and dropped a written message requesting the deck be cleared so that he could land. Several UH-1 helicopters were pushed into the water and the plane landed safely.
Carl said that he intended to enter the competition for restored aircraft that is held during the Reno Air Races each year. If you plan to attend the races you may see this plane on display in the competition area near where these photos were taken.