Cessna 305C/O-1E Bird Dog
Single-engine two-tandem-seat high-wing observation monoplane, U.S.A.

Archive Photos 1

[Cessna 305C (O-1E) "Bird Dog" (N62534, s/n 23656) at the 2006 Cable Air Show, Upland, CA (Photos by John Shupek)]

Cessna 305A/L-19/OE-1 Bird Dog Series Overview 2

  • Cessna 305C/O-1E Bird Dog
  • Role: Observation aircraft
  • National origin: United States
  • Manufacturer: Cessna
  • First flight: 14 December 1949
  • Introduction: 1950
  • Retired: 1974
  • Primary users: United States Army; United States Air Force; United States Marine Corps; Royal Thai Air Force
  • Number built: 3,431
  • Developed from: Cessna 170
  • Variants: Cessna 308

The Cessna 305/L-19/O-1 Bird Dog was a liaison and observation aircraft. It was the first all-metal fixed-wing aircraft ordered for and by the United States Army since the U.S. Army Air Forces separated from the Army in 1947, becoming its own branch of service, the United States Air Force. The Bird Dog had a lengthy career in the U.S. military, as well as in other countries.

Design and Development 2

The U.S. Army was searching for an aircraft that could adjust artillery fire, as well as perform liaison duties, and preferably be constructed of all metal, as the fabric-covered liaison aircraft used during World War II (primarily Stinson and Piper products) had short service lives. The U.S. Army issued the specification for a two-seat liaison and observation monoplane, and the Cessna Aircraft Company submitted the Cessna Model 305A, a development of the Cessna 170. The Cessna 305A was a single-engined, lightweight, strut-braced, high-wing monoplane with a tailwheel landing gear. The greatest difference from the Cessna 170 was that the Cessna 305A had only two seats, in tandem configuration (the largest tandem-seat aircraft Cessna ever produced), with angled side windows to improve ground observation. Other differences included a redesigned rear fuselage, providing a view directly to the rear (a feature later dubbed "Omni-View", carried over to Cessna single-engined aircraft after 1964), and transparent panels in the wings' center-section over the cockpit (similar to those found on the Cessna 140 and the later Cessna 150 Aerobat model), which allowed the pilot to look directly overhead. A wider door was fitted to allow a stretcher to be loaded.

The U.S. Army awarded a contract to Cessna for 418 of the aircraft, which was designated the Cessna L-19A Bird Dog. The prototype Cessna 305 (registration N41694) first flew on 14 December 1949. Deliveries began in December 1950, and the aircraft were soon in use fighting their first war in Korea from 1950 through 1953. An instrument trainer variant was developed in 1953, later versions had constant speed propellers, and the final version, the Cessna L-19E, had a larger gross weight. Cessna produced 3,431 aircraft; it was also built under license by Fuji in Japan.

The Cessna L-19 received the name Bird Dog as a result of a contest held with Cessna employees to name the aircraft. The winning entry, submitted by Jack A. Swayze, an industrial photographer, was selected by a U.S. Army board. The name was chosen because the role of the army's new aircraft was to find the enemy and orbit overhead until artillery (or attack aircraft) could be brought to bear on the enemy. While flying low and close to the battlefield, the pilot would observe the exploding shells and adjust the fire via his radios, in the manner of a bird dog (gun dog) used by game hunters.

Military Operational Service 2

The United States Department of Defense (DOD) ordered 3,200 Cessna L-19s that were built between 1950 and 1959, entering both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps inventories, initially designated as Cessna OE-1s in the Marine Corps until all U.S. military aircraft designations were standardized in 1962. The aircraft were used in various utility roles such as artillery spotting, front line communications, medevac and training.

In 1962, the Army Cessna L-19 and Marine Corps Cessna OE-1 was redesignated the Cessna O-1 (Observation) Bird Dog and entered the war in Vietnam. During the early 1960s, the Bird Dog was flown by South Vietnamese (ARVN-Army Republic Vietnam/SVAF South Vietnamese Air Force), U.S. Army, and U.S. Marines in South Vietnam and later by clandestine forward air controllers (e.g., Ravens) in Laos and Cambodia. Because of its short takeoff and landing (STOL) and low altitude/low Airspeed capabilities, the Cessna O-1 also later found its way into U.S. Air Force service as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) aircraft for vectoring faster fighter and attack aircraft and supporting combat search-and-rescue operations recovering downed aircrews.

During the Vietnam War the Bird Dog was used primarily for reconnaissance, target acquisition, artillery adjustment, radio relay, convoy escort and the forward air control of tactical aircraft, to include bombers operating in a tactical role.

Supplementing the Cessna O-1, then gradually replacing it, the USAF switched to the Cessna O-2 Skymaster and North American OV-10 Bronco, while the U.S. Marine Corps took delivery of the North American OV-10 to replace their aging Cessna O-1s. Both were faster twin-engined aircraft, but the U.S. Army retained the Bird Dog throughout the war with up to 11 Reconnaissance Airplane Companies (RACs) deployed to cover all of South Vietnam, the DMZ and the southern edge of North Vietnam. Its quieter noise footprint, lower speed, tighter maneuverability, short runway ability and better visibility (even to the rear) kept it highly valued by the ground units it supported and highly feared by enemy units it flew over. The last U.S. Army Cessna O-1 Bird Dog was officially retired in 1974.

During the course of the Vietnam War, 469 Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs were lost to all causes. The USAF lost 178, the USMC lost seven, and 284 were lost from the U.S. Army, South Vietnamese Forces, and clandestine operators. Three Bird Dogs were lost to enemy hand-held surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

Two Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs were loaned to the Australian Army's 161 Reconnaissance Flight operating out of Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy province. One was lost to ground fire in May 1968, killing 161's commanding officer. Another Bird Dog was built by this unit's maintenance crew, using aircraft sections salvaged from dumps around Vietnam. It was test-flown and later smuggled back to Australia in pieces, contained in crates marked as "aircraft spares". This aircraft now resides in the Museum of Army Flying at the Army Aviation Center at Oakey, Queensland.

As the USAF phased out the Cessna O-1 in favor of the Cessna O-2 and North American OV-10, many Cessna O-1s in the United States were sold as surplus. During the 1970s and 1980s, Ector Aircraft remanufactured many as the Ector Mountaineer with their original powerplants, and as the Ector Super Mountaineer with the Lycoming O-540-A4B5.

Civil Air Patrol Service 2

In the 1970s, as the Cessna O-2 Skymaster and North American OV-10 Bronco replaced the Cessna O-1 in frontline USAF service, several former USAF Cessna O-1s were turned over to the USAF's civilian auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), for duties such as aerial search in support of domestic search and rescue (SAR) operations. However, since very few CAP pilots had prior training and experience as professional military aviators, or significant experience with tailwheel aircraft, many of the CAP Cessna O-1 aircraft were damaged in groundloops and other takeoff, landing or taxiing mishaps. In an effort to reduce both risk and repair costs, the USAF directed CAP that all Cessna O-1 aircraft in CAP service be eventually replaced for safety reasons by single-engined tricycle-gear civilian Cessnas common to general aviation, primarily Cessna 172 and Cessna 182 aircraft. The only Cessna O-1 remaining in the CAP inventory is a permanent static display aircraft on a pylon in front of CAP Headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Civilian Use 2

Many of former USAF and former USAF-cum-CAP Cessna O-1 and Cessna L-19 aircraft were eventually sold to private owners as recreational aircraft, while others went to museums where they are usually displayed in their military combat markings. Still others found their way to glider clubs in the U.S. as a reliable and powerful vehicle to tow gliders into the air. As with most aircraft used for glider towing, the aircraft has also been outfitted with mirrors mounted to the struts.

In Canada, the Royal Canadian Air Cadets use former CAF Cessna L-19 aircraft equipped with a towing rig to tow their Schweizer 2-33A gliders for the Air Cadet gliding program. These particular Cessna L-19 variants are used in the Atlantic, Eastern, and Pacific regions. They have been modified for noise reduction by the use of a smaller-diameter, four-blade Hoffman composite propeller in all regions except the Pacific Region, and exhaust modification. The fuel delivery system has also been modified from the original design, placing the fuel selector valve closer to the pilot. The Cessna L-19/O-1 is a popular ex-military "Warbird" with private pilots. The Franconia Soaring Association in Franconia, N.H. uses an old Cessna O-1, tail number N4796G, to tow its gliders, including Schweizer SGS 1-26 gliders and Grob G103 Twin Astir and Pilatus B4-PC11 sailplanes, as of July 2012. As of June 2009, more than 330 were registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. Others are owned and operated outside the U.S. by individuals and flying organizations.

Notable Flights 2

On 29 April 1975, the day before the fall of Saigon, South Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang-Ly loaded his wife and five children into a two-seat Cessna O-1 Bird Dog and took off from Con Son Island. After evading enemy ground fire, Major Buang-Ly headed out to sea and spotted the aircraft carrier Midway. With only an hour of fuel remaining, he dropped a note asking that the deck be cleared so he could land. Knowing there was no room for this to happen, Midway's commanding officer, Captain (later Rear Admiral) Lawrence Chambers ordered US $10 million worth of Vietnamese Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters to be pushed overboard into the South China Sea. The Bird Dog that Major Buang-Ly landed aboard Midway is now on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.

American television personality/actor Ed McMahon was a Marine Corps aviator who piloted a Cessna O-1E in Korea, flying 85 combat missions and earning six air medals during 1953.

Variants 2

  • Cessna L-19A (Cessna 305A): Initial production version for United States Army, redesignated O-1A in 1962, 2,486 built.
  • Cessna TL-19A: Cessna L-19As converted to dual control trainers, redesignated Cessna TO-1A in 1962.
  • Cessna XL-19B: Cessna L-19A with a Boeing XT-50-BO-1 210 shp turboprop engine, one built.
  • Cessna XL-19C: Cessna L-19A with a Continental CAE XT51-T-1 210 shp turboprop engine, two built.
  • Cessna TL-19D (Cessna 305B): Instrument trainer version of the Cessna L-19A with dual controls, redesignated Cessna TO-1D in 1962, 310 built.
  • Cessna L-19E (Cessna 305C): Improved version of the Cessna L-19A with equipment changes and higher gross weight, became Cessna O-1E in 1962, 469 built.
  • Cessna OE-1: 60 Cessna L-19As delivered to the United States Marine Corps, redesignated Cessna O-1B in 1962.
  • Cessna OE-2 (Cessna 321): Redesigned version of the Cessna OE-1 with Cessna 180 wings and remodified fuselage, became Cessna O-1C in 1962, 27 built.
  • Cessna O-1A: Cessna L-19A redesignated in 1962.
  • Cessna TO-1A: Cessna O-1As converted as trainers.
  • Cessna O-1B: Cessna OE-1 redesignated in 1962.
  • Cessna O-1C: Cessna OE-2 redesignated in 1962.
  • Cessna O-1D: A number of Cessna TO-1Ds converted for forward air controller duties with the USAF.
  • Cessna TO-1D: Cessna TL-19D redesignated in 1962.
  • Cessna O-1E: Cessna L-19E redesignated in 1962.
  • Cessna O-1F (Cessna 305E): Forward Air Controller conversions of the Cessna O-1D for the USAF.
  • Cessna O-1G (Cessna 305D): Forward Air Controller conversions of the Cessna O-1A for the USAF.
  • Cessna CO-119: SIAI-Marchetti SM.1019 Turboprop variant for the Italian Army.
  • Cessna 325: Agricultural variant of the Cessna Model 305 with spraybars and a hopper in an enclosed rear cockpit, four built.

Operators 2

  • Australia: Australian Army - 161 Recce Flight Operated two examples during the Vietnam conflict. One was shot down on May 23, 1968 killing the Flights OC, Major George Constable. The aircraft was replaced and continued in service until 161 withdrew from Vietnam. Another example Bunny 2, was assembled from pieces scrounged by unit members, flown then disassembled and smuggled back to Australia as "spare parts" where it was assembled and flown.
  • Austria: Austrian Air Force
  • Brazil: Brazilian Air Force
  • Cambodia: Khmer Air Force
  • Canada: Royal Canadian Air Force, Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Cadets
  • Chile: Chilean Air Force
  • France: French Army
  • Indonesia: Indonesian Army
  • Italy: Italian Army
  • Japan: Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force
  • Royal Lao Air Force
  • Malta: Armed Forces of Malta Air Wing received five Cessna O-1Es from Italy in 1992.
  • Norway: Royal Norwegian Air Force
  • Pakistan: Pakistan Army
  • Philippines: Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, Philippine Army
  • South Korea: Republic of Korea Air Force
  • South Vietnam: Vietnam Air Force
  • Spain: Spanish Air Force, Spanish Army
  • Saudi Arabia: Saudi Air Force
  • Taiwan: Republic of China Army, Republic of China Marine Corps
  • Thailand: Royal Thai Air Force, Royal Thai Army, Royal Thai Navy
  • United States: United States Air Force, United States Army, United States Marine Corps, Civil Air Patrol
  • Vietnam: Vietnam People's Air Force (captured South Vietnamese aircraft)

Specifications (O-1E) 2

General Characteristics

  • Crew: one/two
  • Length: 25 ft 10 in (7.88 m)
  • Wingspan:
  • Height: 7 ft 4 in (2.23 m)
  • Wing area: 174 ft2 (16.16 m2)
  • Empty weight: 1,614 lb (734 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 2,430 lb (1105 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Continental O-470-11 flat six piston, 213 hp (159 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 115 mph (100 knots, 185 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 104 mph (87 knots, 167 km/h)
  • Stall speed: 54 mph (47 knots, 87 km/h)
  • Range: 530 miles (460 nmi, 853 km)
  • Service ceiling: 18,500 ft (5,640 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,150 ft/min (5.8 m/s)
  • Take-off distance to 50 ft (15 m): 560 ft (170 m)
  • Landing distance from 50 ft (15 m): 600 ft (180 m)


  1. Shupek, John. Photos, copyright © 2006 Skytamer Images ( All Rights Reserved
  2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Cessna O-1 Bird Dog

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