Our L-Bird Review


Prior to World War II, the US Army, Navy and Marines utilized various light aircraft to act as observation craft for spotting long-range cannon fire, photography and general communications duties. These aircraft were usually identified with the letter “O-”  for “Observation”. During the war, the O changed to “L-“, for “Liaison”, but their prior duties remained and were expanded into fledgling forward air control (FAC) duties as well… armed with radios and light weapons. 

After World War II ended, the “L-birds” continued to be useful; their duties were more of a tactical recon platform (photographic, communications relay and intercept, and light attack/Forward Air Control) as well as small transports. The fabric-covered light aircraft of World War II were replaced with more modern metal-covered airframes, and engine size increased too, into the Vietnam War era. Observation aircraft like the O-1 Bird Dog, OV-1 Mohawk and O-2 Skymaster utilized the “O-” suffix in their types, and the new “U-” for Utility aircraft were recoded… especially after 1962 when a uniform ID system was adopted throughout the US military branches.

Throughout the history of this class of aircraft, many were militarized versions of a civilian light aircraft. For instance, the L-5 Sentinel was a militarized Stinson Voyager, and the LC-126 was a militarized Cessna 195 executive transport.  The Piper L-4 was a copy of the J-3 Cub too.

Here are a series of photos of L-birds (and O- birds and U- birds too). You can hover over a photo for a quick ID of the maker and type.

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