Reprinted from Vintage Airplane magazine, June 1982, by E. E. “Buck” Hilbert

The Army Air Corps had a whole series of “O” planes in use long before the Army asked the manufacturers to participate in the “Great Maneuvers” in Tennessee and Louisiana in 1941. These “O” types included some names still very familiar today, and a few that are now history. On active duty in 1941 were Thomas Morse O-19s, Douglas O-38s, O-43s and the O-46; North American O-47s, Stinson’s O-49s and the Curtiss O-52. Our own EAA Museum had a prime example of the O-52 donated a few years back by B&F Aircraft Supply, Oak Lawn, Illinois.

They were still experimenting with Bellanca’s YO-50, and Ryan had a real Dragonfly with their YO-51. In the main, these were all big, heavy airplanes with sophisticated engines and airframes that required technicians who were in very short supply in the ground forces in those days. The stick, wire and rag men were in short supply too.

What was needed was the simplicity of the Piper J-3s, the Aeronca TCs and the Taylorcraft DCs. They were sturdy, cheap enough to be expendable, and yet durable enough to get the job done. Also, they could be spliced together by draftees from the motor pool, if need be. The rag could be patched with a little pot of dope and a piece of bed sheet, and the engine could be swapped for another one in a very short time if need be. A new prop could be uncrated and in place in the time it takes to tell about it. Another very rewarding asset was the ability to operate from 600 foot semi-prepared strips which were much too small for any other aircraft.

This was even more in evidence after the Army produced their first “L-1”, another big airplane with a 280 Lycoming which like all the rest of the earlier “O” planes was just a little too sophisticated for the average G.I. use. The specifications of the Stinson L-1 follow: Span—50 feet 10.875 inches; length—33 feet 6.5 inches; height—9 feet 10 inches; empty weight—2,591 pounds; useful load—731 pounds; gross weight—3,322 pounds; fuel—47 gallons; oil—5 gallons.

There is no doubt that alongside a Cub the L-1 was big, but it was a real performer. The performance figures include take-off over a 50 foot obstacle at 391 feet! Service ceiling was over 20,000 feet and cruise was 121 mph. But just imagine trying to hide this guy in the trees, or push that 3000 pounds through the mud. This was a lot of airplane for the job.

The Bellancas and Ryans were even bigger with greater span, more weight and more sophistication. The Bellanca YO-50 even had that new fangled inverted Ranger V-12, the V-770, an aircooled upside down V-12 that put out 315 hp. The Dragonfly had a 52 foot span and sported a P&W Wasp Junior of 420 hp. These gas drinkers really presented logistics problems too as they had to have avgas. The little 65s would run on about anything available at the motor pool.

So enter the “L” Planes… let’s take them in their order of designation and start with the L-2 by Taylorcraft.

Officially designated the D-65, it was a two place tandem and was issued ATC #746 [25 November 1941; A-696 approved April 7, 1941; A-699 approved April 5, 1939; A-700 approved October 7, 1939 & April 7, 1941]. Span was 35 ft. 5 in.; length—22 ft. 9 in.; height—7 ft.; and the gross weight was 1200 lbs. It carried 14 gallons of fuel giving it a range of almost four hours at economy cruise, and if need be it could cover about 300 miles in that time. This aircraft participated in many significant experiments that led to the refinement of Army Aviation techniques. And that verse, “Over fences, Under wires, We are known as Army Fliers!” was, I think, directly attributable to this machine. We’ll try to get into the features of the individual airplanes later in articles devoted strictly to each type.

Next, the Aeronca L-3 ATC #757 [A-675 & A-702 approved September 11, 1940; A-728 approved June 15, 1940 & November 24, 1941 & March 13, 1945; A-751 approved September 4, 1942 & March 13, 1945] a direct descendant of the TA models, was somewhat modified with a greenhouse and an empty weight of 870 lbs. Aeronca always did build them lighter than everyone else. Span was 35 ft.; length—21 ft. 10 in.; height—9 ft.; and gross weight 1300 lbs. Slower than the others, about 80 mph, it also had a much lower service ceiling and rate of climb. It was admittedly a little doggy, but again it did the job very nicely… even at 80 mph.

Now the Piper L-4 which was probably the most sought after of the three. No ATC on this one [A-691 approved July 6, 1939; A-692 approved January 4, 1943; A-698 approved May 27, 1940], but we all know it was a modified J-3. Span was 35 ft. 2.5 in.; length—22 ft. 3 in.; height—6 ft. 8 in.; empty weight—750 lbs.; and gross weight—1170 lbs. It claimed a cruise of 85 mph, a 12,000 ft. service ceiling and was a lot of fun to fly. Piper produced about 20 a month all through the war years, delivering about 6000 in total.

All Pipers weren’t L’s, I might hasten to add. A heap of them were plain J-3s that went to various W.T.S. (War Training School) contract operators who gave pre-pre-flight training to the College Training Detachments, primary flight training to the WTS pilots who later became the nucleus for our Primary Flight Schools for the military, and some went to the newly formed CAP for their use. In any event Piper made history and had an enviable record for producing light aircraft during the wartime period.

These three then, were the forerunners and the “proof of the concept machines.”

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