My First Flight

Two Piper Cubs on a Grass Strip. Painting by Kerrie Shiel (my wife). Click the image to buy your own print of it.

Two Piper Cubs on a Grass Strip. Painting by Kerrie Shiel (my wife). Click the image to buy your own print of it.

In truth, I don’t actually remember my first flight. You see, I was just a baby whom Mom held me in her arms while Dad piloted the Stinson that he and Uncle Tommy owned. So, I’m going to have to skip that one. I’m also going to skip the seemingly interminable flight in a C-54 from Guam to Hawaii and then on back to the good ol’ USA at the end of the Korean War (Dad, a WW II navigator, had been recalled to navigate WB-29s through typhoons roaming the western Pacific during that conflict).

My first true recollection of the magic of flight came later.

In the summer of 1955, Dad decided to do some private flying out of a small grass airstrip in Mississippi. He hadn’t flown as a pilot since before his recall. We were at Biloxi while he completed his electronic warfare officer (EWO) training at Keesler AFB. After checking out in a Piper J-3 Cub and regaining his long-unused piloting skills, he offered me a ride. Eight at the time, I thought it sounded like a great fun. Of course, I hadn’t taken into account my brother Bruce, then closing in on three years old. The little rat had a fit when I climbed into the seat and he realized he’d be left behind on the ground. He wanted to go, too.

And as usual, he got his way.

Dad undid my seat belt, plopped the toddler in my lap, and fastened us in together. A hot, muggy day on the Mississippi coast in a Cub bouncing through thermals is probably not the best introduction to the wonders of aviation. Add a squirming, whining toddler on your lap and…well, you get the idea.

I remember being on the verge of throwing up through the whole flight.

But as the countryside unrolled beneath us, something clicked in my junior brain: this was the way to see the world.

***

A short while later, Mom decided she would get her private pilot’s license, too. In retrospect, I suspect it was more to please Dad than because she really wanted to be a pilot on her own.

Within a few weeks, she soloed in the Cub. I remember Dad, Bruce, and I standing along that grass strip watching as she completed the obligatory two touch-and-go landings followed by full stop landing, the latter involved some interesting non-standard gyrations and bounces. But she successfully brought the Cub to heel, taxied up in front of the WW II-era hangar, shut down the engine, and sat there as we gathered round to congratulate her.

Mom climbed out through the Cub’s big clamshell side door and stood there for a moment. My recollection is that she seemed just a bit shaky, but maybe that recollection is due mostly to my own excitement.

A few weeks later, after a couple more flights with her instructor pilot (usually referred to as an IP — “eye-pee”) and one more short solo hop, her IP suggested to Dad that Mom really needed some practice on her simulated forced landings. He said they could save a few bucks if Dad took her up and let her work out the techniques before her next dual lesson.

Dad agreed, thrilled I imagine that the IP entrusted that bit of training to him. In all truth, Dad always did consider himself God’s gift to powered flight. I’ve only flown with him once since that first flight, in my own 1946 Aeronca 7AC Champ out of Hondo Airfield, Texas, in 1975. Despite having not flown anything for quite a few years at that time, and probably having less than total 1,000 flight hours in his logbook, he did a good job with the Champ.

Anyway, one weekend afternoon a few days later Mom and Dad drove over to the grass strip to launch into the skies for that recommended forced landing practice.

***

Pilots practice forced landings, of course, in preparation for one of those unfortunate days when the engine decides it’s done flying for the day while you’re still airborne. Pilots are taught always to keep an eye out for a field of some kind where they can glide their powerless aerospace vehicle to a controlled and, they hope, safe landing.

During training, the IP will, without warning, pull the throttle back to idle and announce, “Forced landing.”

A student pilot, if he has been paying attention, already knows which field to head for. In reality, more often than not, the whole thing takes you by surprise because, well, just flying and navigating is using most of your brain’s synapses, at least during early training. So, you scan the area around the plane while slowing to the published best-glide speed (defined as the airspeed that yields the least altitude lost per distance traveled, in other words it’s the speed that gets you the farthest over the ground before you impact that ground you’ve been cruising around gawking at). Finding a suitable field that you’re sure you can make, you trim the airplane to hold your best-glide speed and determine the best way to get down there in one piece.

Usually, the worst choice would be a field dead ahead and close to the limits of the distance you glide. What if you miscalculate, or you find an unanticipated headwind and can’t quite make it? No, far better to pick a field close by and set up an approach pattern that will leave you with some excess altitude as you turn toward final approach. Trust me, it’s much less nerve-wracking to lose that extra altitude on final than to turn final and realize you screwed up and can’t quite make it to that nice, level field you’d selected but, instead, are faced with dropping into the big drainage ditch just short of it.

For normally aspirated engines (pilot-speak for an engine with a carburetor rather than fuel injection), you have to periodically “clear” the engine during extended glides. Clearing the engine consists of advancing the throttle sufficiently to a low-cruise setting and then pulling it back to idle. This accomplishes two things: one, it helps to prevent the build-up of icing in the carburetor that might result in engine failure; and two, it ensures you that the engine is still operating and will accelerate for the climb-out from your approach to the chosen forced-landing field. Oh, you didn’t think this forced-landing practice continued all the way to touchdown, did you? During routine training, the IP will direct the student to initiate a go-around and abort the approach, typically at an altitude from which the IP can ascertain whether the student could make a successful touchdown and from which a safe acceleration and climbout can be completed.

Unless briefed otherwise, when the IP reduces the throttle to idle he is also responsible for activating the carburetor heat (which diverts heated air to the carburetor to combat that previously mentioned carburetor icing). Carb heat provides no absolute guarantee of keeping ice out of the carburetor, and its effectiveness does depend on the atmospheric conditions (temperature and humidity, for example).

***

Okay, enough explanation. Back to that story about Dad giving Mom some forced landing practice.

While they went out to the field to fly, I stayed home to babysit Bruce. Although I was only eight myself, this wasn’t as dubious as it might sound. We lived in government housing, albeit located off base, in a duplex. The officer and his wife who lived in the other half of the duplex (whose name I don’t recall) agreed to keep an eye on us until our folks returned. As I recall, one of them popped in frequently to make sure everything was copacetic and I hadn’t succumbed to the temptation to throttle the little jerk.

So, Bruce and I watched TV and ate whatever sweets I could find in the kitchen. The folks had assured us they would call us when ready to leave the airport and would be home in plenty of time to make dinner.

Dinner time came. No folks.

I figured maybe they’d had car trouble of something.

A half-hour past our usual dinner time. Still no folks. And no phone call.

I went next door and asked our duplex-mates if they knew what was going on. The wife took me back home to wait with Bruce in case they called there. Meanwhile, the husband called the airfield. A short while later, he came over and had a whispered conversation with his wife. Then they broke the news.

Seems Mom and Dad had had an accident while flying the Cub and had to land in a muddy field some miles from the airfield. They were both okay, but wouldn’t be home for a couple of hours yet.

The nice lady fed us and assured us Mom and Dad really were just fine. She said they had to take care of some paperwork because the government officials (doubtless the FAA) needed a full report.

When they finally did get home, mud still covered their clothes. Mom went straight to the bathroom for a soak in the tub. Dad explained to me what had happened, but I’ll admit that it wasn’t until years later that I actually understood it. He also told me the Cub was pretty beat up, and he planned to drive out to the field where they’d put down and help the owner of the flight school get the Cub onto a trailer.

***

What actually happened that day serves as an object lesson on why it can be dangerous to provide flight instruction if you have not been properly trained as an IP. It also points out the importance of a good preflight briefing so both student and IP understand their respective responsibilities during both normal and emergency situations, including simulated forced landings.

Dad had pulled the throttle to idle and announced, “Forced landing.” What he failed to do was turn on the carburetor heat, assuming Mom would do that since she was flying. He also neglected to clear the engine during the glide, again assuming she would take care of that. The field she selected looked fine from the air, flat and clear of obstacles. On short final at about 300 feet altitude, Dad directed her to go around. She advanced the throttle…and they both heard the engine cough a bit before going silent. Dad took control and continued the approach and touchdown.

What they couldn’t see from the air, in the late afternoon’s long shadows, was that the chosen field was mostly mud from recent rains.

Mud deep enough to hide tree stumps.

Dad flared for landing. The mud sucked the little puddle-jumper deep into it. The tail started to rise in an incipient nose-over.

That’s when they hit the tree stump.

The stump ripped off the right main landing gear and brought the Cub to an abrupt stop within a few feet, propeller nose down in the mud. After determining that neither of them were injured, they crawled out.

Into mud well above their knees.

They struggled out of the field. Many years later, I learned that Mom, in no uncertain terms, repeatedly stated that she would never again fly with him no matter what, while they made their way slowly to the gravel road on one side of the field. By the time they got there, the sun had set and the Mississippi mosquitoes had come out to feed. This did not improve Mom’s outlook one bit.

They flagged down a passing car, and the driver took them to a nearby gas station. From there they called the airfield, and the owner said he’d pick them up straightaway. While waiting, they called our neighbors, deciding it would be best to explain the situation to them rather than get me worked up on the phone.

***

That night was when I first realized that aviation can be dangerous. But it was far from the last time I dealt with its dangers and their aftermaths.

Oh, and Mom never did fly in a lightplane again, with Dad or anyone else.

Grow and Give for Prostate Cancer

Walt on Nov 1 - Clean Shaven

Here I am on November 1, clean shaven and ready to start growing those ‘burns!

I am a Regional Champion (UP region) for ZERO-The End of Prostate Cancer (a national non-profit).

I have signed up with ZERO’s Grow & Give fundraising campaign to grow some facial hair during the month of November and encourage folks to contribute to the cause. With ZERO, 98¢ of every dollar donated goes directly to prostate cancer research and legislative advocacy.

I have elected to grow the longest, bushiest sideburns I can in one month (no doubt they’ll be gray). I’m not growing a mustache or beard because my dear wife hates them…and I don’t want to go a whole month without kisses! (I’m also not going to cut what hair I have on my head for the whole month, not that I expect a lot from that.)

Please check out my ZERO Grow & Give Fundraiser page and share this post with your social media friends (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

I’ve set a modest $250 goal but would love to exceed that.

Metz Wildfire Audiobook and Video

DEVIL IN THE NORTH WOODS is an historical novel based on the 1908 Metz, Michigan, wildfire that decimated almost two million acres of northeastern lower Michigan. The photos in this video are historical photos taken shortly before or immediately after the fire.

The 1908 Metz, Michigan, fire is an historical fact. DEVIL IN THE NORTH WOODS accurately traces its beginnings, progress, and devastating results. Newspaper accounts and documented interviews record the names and actions of those who survived, as well as those who did not, and formed the basis for much of the history in this book.

Some of the characters in this book are either composites of real people or have been created solely for the fictional purposes of this book. Most of the conversations, details, emotions, and motivations have been fictionalized, although much has been drawn from 90 years of hand-me-down Hardies family stories.

This book, previously available in print and e-book editions, is now available as an audiobook.

Audiobook Sample – Rough War

Here’s a great sample from the audiobook edition of Rough War: The Combat Story of Lt. Paul J. Eastman, a “Burma Banshee” P-40 and P-47 Pilot. Emil Galena, the outstanding narrator, put it together using photos from the book.

You can find out more about the book on the Rough War website, including many of the dozens of photos and other images from the book.

If PTSD had been recognized back then for the destructive nature of this affliction, Paul doubtless would have been diagnosed with it.

The book is available in print, e-book (both Kindle and ePub), and audiobook formats.

Wildfire decimates NE Lower Michigan

Devil in the North Woods audiobook cover“Will have readers frantically turning the pages! . . . leaps off the written page and into the hearts of readers.” — Joyce Handzo, In The Library Reviews

OK, this wildfire didn’t happen yesterday. It happened 106 years ago in the area of northern lower Michigan between Metz, Alpena, and Rogers City.

Earlier this week, I approved the final files for the audiobook edition of my historical novel Devil in the North Woods: A Novel Based on the Tragic 1908 Metz, Michigan, Wildfire.

I am hoping that the audiobook will be on sale by October 15, the 106th anniversary of the Metz fire. In the meantime, here’s the audio sample of the book:

Bryant Sullivan is the narrator and did an outstanding job with a difficult manuscript, which included a large cast of characters and numerous accents. In addition, there are some very emotional scenes in the book that Bryant delivered with perfect pacing and sincerity.

Based on contemporary reports and recorded oral histories, Devil in the North Woods accurately depicts the 1908 fire’s genesis, growth and aftermath. The story’s real-life protagonist, 10-year-old Henry Hardies, survived the fire but his mother and three younger sisters did not. Henry left behind a wealth of personal stories preserved by his offspring. A thorough manuscript review by noted wildfire expert Chuck Bushey (President of Montana Prescribed Fire Services, Inc.) ensured an accurate depiction of the fire and its effects.

The story reminds us of the benefits of modern technology and leaves the reader buoyed by faith in the resilience of the human spirit and love’s ability to germinate amid the ashes.

Audiobooks – A Journey

Last year, I decided to try to get my book-length works into audiobook format. First, I investigated narrating them myself but quickly realized that I had neither the time, nor the proper facilities, nor, for that matter, the voice for it. Below, I’ve recapped the production of my books by professional narrators, with short sample clips at the end of each story.

Once A Knight audiobook coverThe first book to gain a narrator was Once A Knight: A Novel of Aerial Combat and Romance in World War I, which was already available in print and e-book formats. I worried about finding somebody who could do justice to the book primarily due to its first-person narration. The first-person voice of the story — Everett “Tex” Ross — was born and raised on a West Texas ranch in the late Wild West era (circa 1890), orphaned in his early teens, worked at a variety of jobs from ranch hand to roughneck, and eventually became a Texas Ranger (the kind who chases criminals not baseballs). As WW I escalates, he joins the British Royal Flying Corps and becomes a pursuit pilot. Characters in the book have a variety of accents — upper-crust & lower-class British, French, South African, French Canadian, German, etc.

But I got lucky right away. Adam Mendelevitz signed on to narrate the book, and he did a great job of handling Tex’s narrative voice as well as the variety of other accents without overdoing any of them.

Here’s a sample from the Once A Knight audiobook:

Rough War audiobook coverRough War: The Combat Story of Lt. Paul J. Eastman, a “Burma Banshee” P-40 and P-47 Pilot was next to gain a narrator. Emil Nicholas Gallina is an experienced narrator, including many documentaries shown on TV, and the producer of the Military Channel’s “An Officer and a Movie” series.

This story is also a bit complicated to narrate since it includes many excerpts from Paul’s combat diary and letters to his wife as well as many other historical documents and my own recap of the events in the worldwide war that framed Paul’s experiences.Although the many photos, of course, can’t be viewed in the audiobook, I’ve posted most of them on the Rough War website.

Emil’s outstanding narration adds a new level to the poignant story of one young man’s combat experiences.

Here’s a sample from the Rough War audiobook:

Rather Shorts audiobook coverThen, the same day I posted the audition script, I gained another outstanding narrator for Rather Shorts: Six Short Tales of Crime in a Small Texas Town. Narrator Bill Brooks has more than 40 years experience as an actor, recording artist, emcee, and news anchor (and a lot more). His application of a Texas accent to the first-person stories of Chief Orin Cage really bring to life Cage’s gentle humor and patient approach to law enforcement. I wrote those stories, but Bill’s narration had me smiling a lot while listening to them.

I could not have found a better narrator for Rather Shorts!

Here’s a sample from the Rather Shorts audibook:

Devil in the North Woods coverFinally, my historical novel Devil in the North Woods: A Novel Based on the 1908 Metz, Michigan, Wildfire is now in production with Bryant Sullivan doing the narration. It’s coming along nicely, and Bryant is doing an excellent job with the myriad characters in the book. The audiobook edition should be available for sale next month.

Audible, Amazon, iTunes logosAll of the above books are also available in print and e-book editions everywhere books are sold online and at many brick-and-mortar bookstores. I doubt I could ever have managed to get all four of these books into the marketplace as audiobooks without Amazon.com’s own Audible Creation eXchange, a unique service that allows writers and publishers to connect with a huge pool of available narrators. All audiobooks produced through ACX become available for sale on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible!

Basic Fighter Maneuvers – The Yo-Yo

I’ve mentioned previously that I participated in an aggressor program up in Alaska, pitting our Lockheed T-33s against the Alaskan Air Command F-4Es. The goal was to break bad habits that fighter pilots can inadvertently pick up if they always train by dogfighting with identical aircraft.

As part of this Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT) training program, several of us T-Bird pilots were qualified for the DACT missions and, eventually, developed a training program to qualify other T-Bird pilots for DACT.

However, before engaging with the Double Ugly (aka F-4), we had to learn the basics of dogfighting each other (T-33 vs. T-33). Basic fighter maneuvers (BFM) is the generic term for the set of maneuvers that are employed during within visual range (WVT) combat to allow an attacker to maneuver into lethal parameters against a bandit. Defensive BFM allows the defender to save his know-know-what and, he hopes, become the attacker.

One of the first BFM tactics learned is the Yo-Yo, wherein an attacker reduces both the distance and the angles between his aircraft and the bandit’s aircraft so he can spit some lead at him or launch a heat-seeking missile. There are two basic variations: High Yo-Yo and Low Yo-Yo. The choice depends on the relative airspeed and distance between the two aircraft and the dynamics of the fight. During initial BFM training, the defender maintains a constant airspeed in level flight with a constant G load.

Here’s the standard Low Yo-Yo diagram (the shaded aircraft is the attacker and the numbers are time references):

Low Yo-Yo diagram

At the start, both aircraft are at positions labeled 1. This puts the attacker too far back and in a lag pursuit position (i.e., his nose is pointing behind the defender’s aircraft). The attacker must tighten his turn (pull more Gs) and descend to gain airspeed. This allows the attacker to cut across the defender’s circle for an intercept. However, this maneuver results in a high angle-off position for the attacker, in addition to being well out of the defender’s maneuvering plane. Therefore, the attacker must choose the correct moment to convert that excess airspeed into a higher altitude (back in the defender’s maneuvering plane) by starting a pull-up. If he does nothing else, he would arrive in the defender’s plane with an even higher angle-off, resulting in an overshoot (vertically and/or horizontally). To solve that problem, the attacker must time a slight vertical overshoot so that he can roll back down on the defender, letting God’s G help him. He then times his pull-down to arrive back in the defender’s plane with a turn matching that of the defender (actually a bit tighter to give him a lead pursuit solution from which to fire).

There is another standard variation of the Yo-Yo: the High Yo-Yo:

High Yo-Yo diagram

This time, the attacker pulls up and rolls over into a tight descending turn, again allowing God’s G to help him pull to the inside of the defender’s maneuvering plane. With higher airspeed at position 4, he can pull a tighter turn to “saddle up” on the defender in a shooting solution (lead pursuit).

Of course, in the real world the defender is unlikely to play “duck” and hold such a nice, steady, and level turn, unless you’ve managed to sneak up on him. You may find it necessary to transition from a High Yo-Yo to a Low Yo-Yo, or vice versa…or employ one of the other maneuvers in the BFM bag of tricks. But everyone has to learn the basics one step at a time before allowing the fight to progress to a free-play environment.

When we fought the F-4E with a T-33, we often used the Low Yo-Yo and turned really hard to meet the F-4 on the opposite side of the fighting circle with as much airspeed as the old Lockheed Racer would give us (up to its maximum of 505 KIAS or 0.8 Mach or “aileron buzz,” whichever came first. Our big advantages were the fact that we could out-turn the F-4 at any speed in our envelope and could maneuver well at airspeeds below 200 KIAS. The Phantom’s biggest disadvantages were that it lost airspeed quickly in a hard turn and maneuvered like a bloated pig at anything much below 250 KIAS.

All of which meant that our goal was always to force them into a hard turn at the outset. How we did that falls into the realm of Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics 9DACT). But, trust me, we did it regularly.

More L-19/O-1 Bird Dog – Cessna Warbirds, Chapter 5

I’m still working my way through the updated and revised second edition of Cessna Warbirds, As I noted earlier, Chapter 5 is one of the longest chapters and details the long and storied history of the L-19 Bird Dog, which served admirable in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

If you missed the earlier excepts, be sure to catch up on them:

The Cessna Dynasty
The First Military Cessnas
The T-50 Bobcat
The LC-126
The L-19/0-1 Bird Dog

Since the Bird Dog chapter is so long, I decided to post a two-part except. Even so, this will represent less than 10% of the total chapter, which is about the length of typical novella with dozens of photos.

So, here we go…a bit more from Chapter 5:

A Bit More: L-19/O-1 Bird Dog

By the end of 1961 President Kennedy had authorized additional aircraft for the VNAF—three more squadrons including a third liaison squadron of L‑19s. USAF Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay established the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (code named “Jungle Jim”) at Eglin AFB, Florida, to train air commandos. A Jungle Jim detachment deployed to South Vietnam to set up the “Farm Gate” program at Bien Hoa with 151 personnel and a variety of obsolete aircraft.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara authorized three more US units to deploy to South Vietnam in March 1962—a C‑123 squadron, a squadron of USAF U‑1A liaison aircraft, and an Army O‑1A company—with authorization to remain for no more than one year, at which time the aircraft were to be turned over to the VNAF. However, in July 1963, a second Army O‑1A company deployed to South Vietnam with its aircraft dispersed among various Army corps advisors. In September, the USAF activated the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) at Bien Hoa, flying O‑1s. USAF also established a FAC training detachment at Tan Son Nhut Air Base—instructors developed an extensive list of comparable English and Vietnamese words needed for voice communications in the air. By October, VNAF students had entered training in the US at Hurlburt Field, Florida, after first attending a new eight‑week English language school at the base.

In 1963, the VNAF renumbered its squadrons. Three Liaison Squadrons were established, with the 110th and 114th (under the 41st Air Wing) based at Da Nang and the 112th (under the 23rd Tactical Wing) at Tan Son Nhut. All flew O‑1s, and the 114th also flew Cessna U‑17s (see Chapter 9). The VNAF Bird Dogs sported light gray on the upper wing surfaces to help the VNAF fighter‑bombers spot the slow‑moving FAC aircraft from above against the jungle foliage.

Later in the year, the US began the build‑up of advisors to South Vietnam in earnest. As part of that build‑up (which included the “Dirty Thirty,” a deployment of 30 USAF pilots to serve as copilots on VNAF C‑47s, freeing VNAF pilots for strike fighter assignments), USAF deployed a detachment to Nha Trang to establish a training center for O‑1E Bird Dog pilots and maintenance personnel. As part of the Rules of Engagement, the American advisors were only allowed to participate in combat sorties with a South Vietnamese on board. After the coup that overthrew the government of South Vietnamese President Diem in November 1963, the air war heated up, particularly along the border with Cambodia, and the US began deploying more of its own aircraft to South Vietnam as direct combatants. Between May and August of 1963, a total of 534 preplanned air strike requests from III Corps commanders went unfilled—167 due to insufficient aircraft and 244 due to a lack of VNAF FACs. As a result, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) commanders began calling on the readily available US Army helicopter gunships for close air support.

On March 19, 1964, an O‑1E from the 19th TASS, flown by a USAF pilot accompanied by a Vietnamese observer, allegedly strayed over the border where it was shot down by Cambodian Royal Khmer Aviation (RKA) T‑28s, killing both the pilot and observer.

In 1964, the VNAF activated another O-1E unit, the 116th Liaison Squadron based at Nha Trang. When the incident off the coast of North Vietnam led Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, American forces in Vietnam no longer had to negotiate the intricate labyrinth of rules caused by non‑combatant advisors flying occasional combat missions. The US provided more aircraft to the VNAF squadrons to increase their strength and to replace losses, including sufficient Bird Dogs to allow the VNAF to assign a FAC to each ARVN division.

It was about this time that the USAF asked the Army for 50 more O‑1s for the buildup in South Vietnam. Jerry Robinson, a Fort Rucker student pilot at the time, remembers that they “raided the Fort Rucker fleet for every old piece of junk airplane we could find (including a museum display airplane that had had the fuselage shortened by six inches) for ‘hulls’ to be reconditioned at the factory and sent to the Air Force for FAC use in Vietnam.”

US Air Force O-1E banking away from camera.

USAF O-1E over South Vietname (US Army Aviation Museum photo)

March 1965 proved a turning point for US involvement in the war in Vietnam. Congress authorized General William Westmoreland to use US aircraft any time the VNAF could not respond in a timely manner with appropriate support and withdrew the requirement for a VNAF crewmember to fly aboard any US aircraft committed to combat. That same year, President Johnson authorized additional US military advisors and authorized direct air strikes against North Vietnam. By the end of the year, the USAF had 500 aircraft in Southeast Asia and 21,000 personnel stationed at eight major bases throughout South Vietnam.


NOTE: This presents only a very small portion of the Bird Dog story, an aircraft produced by Cessna until 1963 with more than 3,000 delivered to the US Army and Air Force and armed forces around the world..

Copyright ©2013 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

Air Combat and God’s G

In a previous post I mentioned that I participated in an aggressor program up in Alaska, a program that pitted our Lockheed T-33s against the Alaskan Air Command F-4Es. The goal was to break bad habits that fighter pilots can inadvertently pick up if they always train by dogfighting with identical aircraft.

As part of this Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT) training program, several of us T-Bird pilots were qualified for the DACT missions and, eventually, developed a training program to qualify other T-Bird pilots for DACT.

One of the first things we covered was the effect of gravity (colloquially referred to as “God’s G”) on aircraft performance when engaged in a vertical fight.

Here’s the graphic we used to help explain the concept (typically call the Egg):

Egg-shaped diagram of two fighters in a vertical circle.

Total G is the number displayed on the G-meter in the pilot’s cockpit. Radial G is the actual turning G available after taking into account the 1G always acting on the aircraft (due to the Earth’s gravitation pull). That 1G is the force you feel when standing or sitting on the ground, or when flying along straight and level in unaccelerated flight. That’s God’s G.

If the two fighters in the diagram are exactly opposite each other, each pulling 4 Gs on the cockpit meter, and without vectored thrust of any kind, they will have the same radius of turn when one is at the 3 o’clock position and the other is at the 9 o’clock position. God’s G is neither adding to nor subtracting from their total 4G.

However, if one is at 12 o’clock (the top of the Egg) and the other at 6 o’clock (the bottom of the Egg), then the pilot of the 12 o’clock position will turn tighter despite both aircraft G-meters reading 4 Gs. God’s G is adding another G to his ability to turn, i.e., pulling down and tightening his turn. The guy at the bottom is still reading 4 Gs in the cockpit, but God’s G is subtracting 1 G from his ability to turn, i.e., pulling down and widening his turn.

If they arrive at those two positions (12 and 6 on the diagram) at the same time, the pilot at 12 was the advantage and can maneuver into a position for a quick, high-deflection shot with his guns (a “snapshot”), because for a brief period he will be able to out-turn the guy at the bottom.

Of course, “vertical” fights are often less than purely vertical since many other factors come into play. Despite that, God’s G will still effect both aircraft in varying degrees depending on how close to vertical they are fighting at any given moment…and how far about on the circle they are at that moment.

So, here’s a more realistic diagram of a “vertical” fight tilted off the vertical.

Fightng Egg overlaid with two diagrams of a less-than-vertical fight.

In a real close-in dogfight, of course, many other factors determine the relative effects of God’s G on the dynamics of the fight. The two aircraft are probably not identical and can sustain different levels of G at different airspeeds. One might have vectored thrust capability and can point his nose irrespective of the G-load available to him. One pilot might be better at coaxing the most out of his aircraft.

In any case, God’s G will still effect both aircraft and an understanding of how to turn it to advantage just might be critical in determining who wins.

L-19/O-1 Bird Dog – Cessna Warbirds, Chapter 5

As I continue working my way through the updated and revised second edition of Cessna Warbirds, I’ll keep posting some excerpts. Chapter 5 is one of the longest chapters and details the long and storied history of the L-19 Bird Dog, which served admirable in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

If you missed the earlier excepts, be sure to catch up on them:

The Cessna Dynasty
The First Military Cessnas
The T-50 Bobcat
The LC-126

Since the Bird Dog chapter is so long, I’ll post a two-part except. Even so, this will represent less than 10% of the total chapter, which is about the length of typical novella with dozens of photos.

So, here we go…Chapter 5:

The L-19/O-1 Bird Dog

In August 1949, the US Army and the US Air Force announced a competitive procurement for an Army Observation Aircraft—an all‑metal, two‑place, high‑wing observation aircraft to replace the fabric‑covered Piper L‑4s and Stinson L‑5s that had served admirably during and after World War II. The new aircraft—intended to operate on wheels, skis, and floats—would serve as a platform for ground observation, aerial search and rescue, visual and photographic reconnaissance, forward air control (FAC), cargo and personnel transport, control and adjustment of artillery fire, and pilot training. In addition, the Army wanted a rugged aircraft easy to maintain in the field and able to operate from unimproved forward airstrips. The official specification, released on November 15, 1949, included a requirement for landing over a 50‑foot obstacle in a total distance of less than 600 feet. The Army scheduled a fly‑off between competing contractors (Piper, Taylorcraft, Temco, and Cessna) for March 1950.

With several civilian projects underway and an engineering staff of only 18, Cessna decided to capitalize on their existing designs to meet the planned fly‑off date. They chose the basic wing design of the Model 170 and the tail assembly of the Model 195 (which the military had already purchased as the LC‑126), and focused the majority of their design efforts on a new fuselage, new landing gear, and new powerplant installation. The landing‑distance‑over‑an‑obstacle requirement necessitated high‑drag, high‑lift flaps (unlike the plain or split flaps on other Cessnas of the day), manually operated to save weight. Cessna engineers decided to modify the 170’s 45° slotted flap design to allow for 60° of extension by using an external hinge bracket with a pivot point below the wing (a configuration later seen on civilian Cessnas).

They chose the six‑cylinder, 190‑horsepower Continental O‑470‑11, with a 213‑horsepower takeoff power rating, which Continental modified to meet the Army design and performance requirements. They coupled this to a 90‑inch McCauley two‑blade, fixed‑pitch, metal propeller with a very low pitch. This allowed high RPM for short takeoffs and landings but reduced available power at cruise to avoid exceeding the rated RPM. The carburetor delivered more pressurized fuel than the engine required so they installed a fuel return line. A unique fuel valve design ensured adequate flow while returning excess fuel to the currently selected tank (another design subsequently used on other Cessnas).

The engineers laid out the fuselage design on full‑scale Mylar sheets stretched out on six bolted‑together drafting tables. The Cessna Experimental Department built the first fuselage from laminated aluminum templates created from the original full‑scale Mylar prints. Prototype construction began on September 8, 1949. The first Model 305 rolled out of its Wichita womb a mere 90 days later.

The 1,400‑pound aircraft (200 pounds over the specification weight) sported a semi‑monocoque aluminum fuselage with bulkheads and stringers made of aluminum alloys. The semi‑cantilever wings, like those of the C‑170 from which they had been borrowed, had dual spars, stressed aluminum skin, and single struts. The cockpit provided tandem seating for a pilot and observer in a fishbowl of Plexiglas—windows all around plus six panels in the cabin roof. The pilot and observer each had a full set of flight controls, although the observer could remove and stow the control stick when it was not needed.

Model 305 prototype on ground from right side.

Model 305 engineering prototype (N41694). Kansas Aviation Museum/Robert J. Pickett Collection photo

The new airplane first flew on December 14, 1949. After further factory test flights to determine the optimum takeoff and landing procedures to meet the short‑field requirements, Cessna’s Chief Test Pilot, Hank Waring, ferried the prototype (registration number N41694) to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. During the fly‑off evaluation, conducted between April 6 and April 14, the prototype Model 305 logged just under four hours. When the 305 proved it could meet or exceed all performance requirements, including the rigorous 600‑foot landing over a 50‑foot obstacle, its slight weight problem ceased to be an issue. The Army notified Cessna on May 29, 1950, that they had won the competition and would be issued a contract for 418 aircraft, designated the L‑19A.

The Army requested delivery of the first production aircraft by September 1950, but that was delayed until December while Cessna acquired an approved type certificate from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA—forerunner of today’s Federal Aviation Administration), as the Army had mandated adherence to Civil Aeronautics Regulations rather than military standards. The CAA pilots put the new aircraft through its paces between August 2 and October 26, 1950.


NOTE: This presents only a very small portion of the Bird Dog story, an aircraft produced by Cessna until 1963 with more than 3,000 delivered to the US Army and Air Force and armed forces around the world..

Copyright ©2013 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.