By: Norm Goyer
When I was sprung from the Navy I headed for my local airport in Northampton, Massachusetts and joined the local CAP Squadron. At the time I owned an SNJ-6 and a Cub, both good search aircraft. I informed the Commanding officer that I was interested in only one aspect of the CAP operations, flying. I would not wear their uniform, attend meetings, do parades or get involved with the cadets, not interested. The CO was a bit peeved that I thought the dog and pony show the CAP performed was worthless to me and he refused my offer. That winter there was a rash of missing airplanes in Western New England and the Northampton Squadron was on high alert for search missions. The CAP boss decided that maybe I could be of help after all, mostly due to my experience, ratings and aircraft. I wore my Navy flight coveralls and a hard helmet I used when flying my SNJ to keep my head from getting banged on the canopy.
The Air Force had given the squadron an L-4, L-5, L-16 and a rare Stinson L-1. For the next two years I flew many missions with an observer in the rear seat and did find two missing aircraft. I got to love the Grasshopper fleet and had a real fun time when they were wearing winter skis. At this time, immediate post war years, small airports did not plow their runways. They packed them and pilots flew either on wheels or skis.
Of course the CAP’s fleet of liaison aircraft were quite different and we all had our favorites. Mine was the Stinson L-5 Sentinel. It had a larger engine, great flaps and the heater worked. For local flights into the Berkshire Mountain range I took the L-16 Aeronca with its 85-hp engine. If the Stinson L-1 happened to be at our field I would grab that one. One winter the Air Force loaned us a Stinson V-77 (military gullwing) It was super slow but had a huge interior but visibility was limited and it was a little too truck like down low in the mountains. The L-5 or Cub was best in these conditions.
During this same time period Piper bought Stinson. Before that Stinson was gobbled up by Vultee with Consolidated somewhere in there as well. So a Stinson could be a Stinson, Piper, Vultee or Consolidated. Very confusing. We had to check the ID plate to see which airplane we were were flying. The second most used liaison after the Piper L-4 was the Stinson L-5. The Sentinel saw service in all theatres with lot of flight hours in the Pacific Theatre. The L-5 was an adaption of the Stinson Voyager. Six examples of the Model 105 Voyager were equipped with 100 horsepower Franklin O-200 engines and provided to the military for testing under the experimental designation YO-54. Evaluated by the U.S. Army and Air Forces in 1940 for potential use as a low-cost short range observation aircraft, it failed to meet performance requirements. The Voyager was then completely re-engineered by Stinson into a much stronger and more powerful tandem-seat airplane. The prototype, designated as the Model V-76 by Vultee / Stinson was accepted by the military after accelerated service trials and entered into service in December 1942 as the Army O-62 (‘O’ for observation).
In March 1943, with the creation of the liaison category of light observation aircraft, the designation was changed to L-5. The primary purpose as a liaison aircraft was courier and communication work, artillery spotting and casualty evacuation. The fuselage of later models was redesigned so the aircraft could also be used as an air ambulance, or for cargo work. With a wider and deeper rear fuselage section and a large rear door that folded downward, a litter patient or 250 pounds of cargo could be quickly loaded aboard.
The L-5 series was manufactured between December 1942 and September 1945, during which time 3,590 of the unarmed two-seaters were built for the United States armed forces, making it the second most widely used light observation aircraft of the war behind the Piper L-4 Cub.
The Stinson L-1 The Stinson Vigilant was used in diverse roles such as towing training gliders, artillery spotting, liaison, emergency rescue, transporting supplies and special espionage flights. Another contract was later awarded for the O-49A which had a slightly longer fuselage and other equipment changes. In April 1942 the aircraft were called the L-1 and L-1A (liaison). The RAF designated the aircraft the Vigilant Mk I and Vigilant Mk II respectively. Other L-1s were modified for a variety of roles including as an ambulance aircraft. No further production orders were placed as the aircraft was superseded by procurement of vast numbers of the L-5 Sentinel and L-4 Grasshopper “puddle-jumper” aircraft. Five examples of the Stinson O-49 Vigilant currently survive in museums in the United States.
The Stinson SR-10 Gullwing was also turned into a liaison aircraft designated the V-77. The V-77 Reliant was used by the U.S. Army in World War II as a utility aircraft, designated UC-81, and as trainer designated AT-19. They were also used by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force for light transport and communication duties. After the war they were sold on the civilian market as the Vultee V-77. The V-77 was a spartan version of the SR-10 with the 300 hp Lycoming R680-E3B, a single door on the left side and the traditional “Bump” cowl was replaced with a simpler smooth cowl. Internal structure was beefed up significantly over the commercial models and a distinctive triangle shaped counterbalance was added to the rudder.
Obviously Stinson, Piper and other small aircraft manufacturers slid into wartime production with their version of the Grasshopper, a very useful and needed aircraft during World War II.