Talking Proud --- Military

The O-1 "Bird Dog," the toughest dog in the fight, "our little flivver"

There are countless ways to come to grips with the almost indescribable courage and bravery of our armed forces in the Vietnam-Laos Wars. Understanding the men who flew the O-1 "Bird Dog" Forward Air Controller is one. The valor of those Americans who fought these wars creates an inexplicable reverence in our hearts. Much has been capably written about these FACs and their machines. More must be written, more must be read, more must be understood. These were "chariots with wings," the toughest little dogs in the fight, the eyes in the sky, a warbug, a centerpiece of the hunter-killer team that heaped lead upon the enemy's head.

March 26, 2006

"Late Arriving Bird Dog photo gallery" activated on May 26, 2006, last updated December 9, 2017 with photo of a Huey rescue of a Bird Dog

January 21, 2008: A suite of video grabs from the Air Force Association (AFA) "USAF Tradition of Excellence DVD Collection," the edition about "Forward Air Controllers: Eyes of the Attack." There were so many video grabs that we had to create yet another page.


The results of artillery bombardment. The once tree lined road to Guillemont. Aug-1916. Presented by Trenches on the Web Photo Archive.

French soldier at Verdun in WWI is said to have made this observation:

"To die from a bullet seems to be nothing; parts of our being remain in tact; but to be dismembered, torn to pieces, reduced to pulp, this is the fear that flesh cannot support and which is fundamentally the great suffering of bombardment."

It was that kind of observation that resulted in the birth of the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft, their pilots, and backseat observers.

Brigadier General William W. Ford reflects that observation in a poem written for a celebration dinner at the end of WWII. You will see the word "redleg" in his poem. This is a traditional name for an artilleryman that dates back to when the various branches of the Army had colored stripes down the outside of the uniform trousers. The infantry had a blue stripe, cavalry a yellow one, and artillery was red, to wit, the term "redleg" (thanks to Bob Mercer for the history).

General Ford's poem:

Once "redlegs" sought in vain a tree
Up which to shinny and to see
That shells that came riproaring out
Their field artillery cannon spout.

But then, "O-ho!" the wise ones said,
"This ground observer stuff is dead.
Give us a chariot with wings;
We’ll leap aloft as though on springs
From hedgerow, beach or tennis court
And undertake the gentle sport

"Of heaping quantities of lead
Upon the Kraut’s defenseless head."

Twas done! A million so-called pilots
(Never considered shrinking violets)
Forth with began to strut their stuff.
Believe me boy, it was enough!
They filled the air with Cubs, and though
They flew the damned things low and slow
They (ponder this with greatest awe)
With some assistance won the war.

General Ford went on to press for filling the air with those Cubs that would heap quantities of lead on the enemy's head. His article,
"History of Army Aviation: Grasshoppers", provides terrific insight into the evolution of the requirement for the FAC aircraft. He called it, "our little flivver:" low and slow, light wing loading, highly maneuverable, cruise at 80 mph, land at 45, land damn near anywhere --- a cow pasture will do.

In 1940 and 1941, the Army took the advice and said the L-4 Grasshopper and L-5 Sentinel could do the job. Capt. Alfred "Dutch Schultz," shown here in later years, took his Grasshopper, named "Janey," to North Africa, over Sicily, Italy, and southern France and Germany, and flew the only Cubbie to survive WWII in tact. He even used Janey to lure a Messerschmitt 109 into a mountain and received a credit for a kill. The French put "Janey" on display at the Eiffel Tower!

By 1941 the requirement envisioned by General Ford was clear. Cessna won the contract for the L-19, named the Bird Dog by Jack Swaze of Cessna, a name approved by General Mark Clark, who wanted her to be a hunter. Clark had the right idea. We've seen Army guys call her "The headhunter."

The Army, Air Force and Marines bought 'em.

Pictured here is David Pierson of Rolling Hills Estates, California, while stationed in Korea during 1952 at airstrip 1x13. Dave also served in WWII flying P-47's. He was recalled to Korea and did his tour of duty in Bird Dogs. Korea was the first real combat test for the new Bird Dog. Note he is wearing a flight suit similar to that used in WWII. Presented by International Bird Dog Association.

She flew her first combat mission in Korea on February 16, 1951. Her mission expanded greatly from that envisioned by General Ford. The pilots and aircraft did so much they called her the "Jeep on Wheels."

She and her pilots and mechanics achieved their places in history during the Korean and Vietnam-Laos Wars. Every American owes these men a sharp salute and a strong "Thank you."

This editor has found this a very difficult report to prepare. He has been brought to tears and shivers more than once --- awe, respect, pride, courage, gallantry, an unyielding commitment to their fellow war fighters on the ground are words and phrases that come to mind.


Cessna L-19 (later re-named the O-1) Bird Dog. Presented by War Bird Alley

The Cessna L-19, later re-named the O-1, and always known as the "Bird Dog," made its combat debut in the Korean War and was used extensively in the Vietnam-Laos Wars. We are going to focus on its role as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) during the Vietnam-Laos Wars. Simply said, the FAC's job was to find enemy targets and arrange for their destruction by other aircraft or artillery. They were part of a very potent and effective hunter-killer team that fought with the odds stacked against them, and prevailed.

The evolution that led to this aircraft's development and use in the FAC role is fascinating and historically significant. The requirement for this aircraft were driven in the main first by the need to lay down long range artillery on targets that were out of visual range of the artillery battery. That mission promptly expanded to provide what today is known as close air support (CAS) to troops engaged or about to be engaged with enemy on the ground. In the Vietnam-Laos Wars, the Air Force's first Bird Dogs to go to battle were brought in to find targets for air interdiction, men and supplies flowing from North Vietnam through Laos to South Vietnam over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

For this report, we want to introduce you to the airplane and convey what our fliers did with it. Theirs is a story of immeasurable intestinal fortitude and courage, mixed with intense will.

Our Australian friends and allies claim to have conducted the very first FAC mission in combat. We'll not bicker with them, because we love them and they pointed out what differentiates a FAC from a simple observer or reconnaissance flier.
The Australian Air Power and Development Centre Bulletin of August 5, 2004, says this:

"In early February 1943 during the battles around Wau in northern Papua, No 4 Squadron RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) carried out what is essentially the first recorded Forward Air Control (FAC) mission in the history of military aviation."

Two (RAAF) Wirraway aircraft stand on the grass shortly after landing close together at Popondetta airstrip, December 12, 1942. Photo donated by A. Watson. Presented by Digger History.

American air historian,
Richard P. Hallion, in his 1989 book, Strike from the Sky: The History of Battlefield Air Attack, 1911-1945, agrees that the Aussies were the first in the FAC business. He says this because he believes that the Australians were the first to develop strike coordinators and controllers, as opposed to simply browsing around looking for enemy, landing, and telling people what they saw.

This is why we said the following earlier:

"Simply said, the FAC's job was to find enemy targets and arrange for their destruction by other aircraft or artillery --- iron on the target!"

Let's introduce you to the airplane, the O-1 Bird Dog, the Dawg, the Bug Smasher, Warbug and a host of other nicknames, we suspect, that we have not yet seen. WE will also introduce you to a bunch of pilots and their units.

An aircraft "walk-around"