San Antonio Express, Friday, May 28, 1982, by Joe Fohn.
Nobody will mistake Hardy Cannon’s back yard for the hedgerows of Normandy.
But the grass airstrip behind his home on loop 1604 near Somerset provides a natural habitat for an antique airplane collection unique in the world: Six World War II liaison planes, one example of each type used by the United States in that conflict.
Liaison is a misleading term to describe what the what the light two-place airplanes actually did in the war, stated Dave Smith, president of the non-profit Alamo Liaison Group which owns three of the planes.
“Low and slow, on top of the grass, that’s how they flew,” Smith said. “To direct artillery fire or spot enemy troops and tanks.
“They could land on any road, in any field. One landed on a fishing pier In Manila and took off again later from the same pier.”
Most of the collection joined Armed Forces Week aircraft displays at Randolph Air Force Base recently.
ALG members new the planes there at their own expense.
Most of the 26 ALG members are also “Colonels” in the Confederate Air Force, said P.D. Straw, a member of both groups. But they are two distinct organizations.
“We’re doing the same thing, only with liaison planes,” added Smith. “This is one facet of aviation that did not get much publicity.”
Cannon, who is part-owner or the collection’s rare L-6 Interstate, has restored most of the aircraft to their wartime appearance and maintains the whole fleet at his home.
A retired school teacher, Cannon once was part owner of the largest postwar civilian flight school in San Antonio. His partner then and now was Bill Stratton, who today owns an antique aircraft restoration service.
Three of the six airplanes represent off-the-shelf light airplanes being produced by American manufacturers when war broke out.
Pointing to a rare Taylorcraft L-2 painted in Army blue and yellow, Smith said “This, the Aeronca L-3 and the Piper L-4 were aircraft the U.S.A.A.F. asked manufacturers to send examples off to maneuvers in Louisiana in 1940. They just took this one off the line and said, ‘that’s an L-2,’ and took another model and said ‘that’s an L-3’ — that’s why there are so many different kinds.”
That is also why a Piper J-3 Cub immaculately restored to its distinctive yellow paint job, sports American NC numbers on one wing and the British roundel military insignia on the other.
Desperate for training and utility airplanes, Britain bought 48 Cubs from the Piper factory and shipped them across the Atlantic, said Stratton. There, they hurriedly painted military insignia right alongside the American numerals, dubbed them “Flitfires” and sent them into action.
The first specialized liaison airplane the Consolidated L-5, is represented. The first medevac aircraft, before helicopter revolutionized battlefield casualty removal, it allowed a huge section of its fuselage to be opened to allow a litter to be put onboard.
One of the group’s rarest acquisitions consists of a tangle of tubing, wires and rotted canvas.
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 of our plane. It had the same tail number,” Stratton smiled.
Photo cutline: CHECKING THE GAS is simple on this restored spotter plane, Bill Stratton demonstrates for AI Almond. The gauge is a wire attached to a cork. Staff photo by Charles Barksdale.