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Utility / Liaison / Observation Aircraft

Currently Utility/Liaison aircraft are used to carry small amounts of cargo, supplies, documents, or personnel from base to base. Observation aircraft are low-flying, slow aircraft designed to work closely with ground forces.

The critical problem affecting the quality of air support in the First World War was, interestingly, one that has appeared continuously since that time as well: communication between the air forces and the land forces. During these early operations, communication was virtually one-way. Infantry would fire flares or smoke signals indicating their position, or lay out panel messages to liaison aircraft requesting artillery support or reporting advances or delays. For their part, pilots and observers would scribble messages and send them overboard (on larger aircraft, crews carried messenger pigeons for the same purpose).

Though by 1918 radio communication was beginning to make an appearance in front-line air operations - as evidenced by its employment on German ground-attack aircraft such as the Junker J1 and on Col. William Mitchell's Spad XVI command airplane - it was still of such an uncertain nature that, by and large, once an airplane had taken off it was out of communication with the ground until it had landed.

During the 1930s, many Army Air Corps leaders became preoccupied with strategic air operations. Like Billy Mitchell before them, they advocated using air power independently of the Army ground forces to destroy enemy targets behind the lines of combat. This Air Corps emphasis on strategic operations disturbed some ground forces leaders, who believed their aerial support needs were being neglected.

Aerial support was particularly vital for artillery fire adjustment. Partly because Air Corps fire support aircraft were not always available, the chief of field artillery and other artillery officers became interested in using light aircraft organic to the artillery units.

The Army experimented with using small organic aircraft for artillery fire adjustment and other functions in maneuvers at Camp Beauregard, La., in August 1940. The tests were repeated on a larger scale in the Army maneuvers in Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and the Carolinas in 1941. The Army's "Grasshoppers," as these light planes came to be called, proved to be much more effective than the larger Air Corps planes used for the same purposes. Organic aircraft (L-4's) were assigned to most field artillery headquarters. An infantry division was authorized 2 for each of its field arty bns. Additionally, Army Air Force squadrons of L-5 aircraft were attached to field armies.

Following a final series of experiments with organic Army spotter aircraft conducted in 1942, the secretary of War ordered the establishment of organic air observation for field artillery- -hence the birth of modern Army Aviation--on 6 June 1942. It was this new World War II-era phenomenon with its few small single- engine spotter planes, organic Army Aviation, that eventually evolved into today's Army Aviation Branch. On the other hand, the organization that had been the Army Air Service and the Army Air Corps continued through World War II as the Army Air Forces and finally became the U.S. Air Force in 1947.

Organic Army Aviation first entered into combat in November 1942 on the coast of North Africa. During World War II, L-4 Grasshoppers and a few larger L-5 Sentinels were used to adjust artillery fire, gather intelligence, support naval bombardment, direct bombing missions, and perform other functions. Most training of both pilots and mechanics was conducted by the Department of Air Training within the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla., although the Army Air Forces conducted some primary training of organic Army Aviation personnel.

The Grasshoppers became the scourge of the German army. "Grasshopper" was a nickname given to the plane in the summer of 1941. A major general coined the name, basing it on the aircraft's ability to hop from field to field - and to just about anywhere else - shuttling people and documents in its dual role as a liaison aircraft.

With the exception of the atomic-bomb-carrying B-29 Superfortress, it could bring greater destructive power to bear on a selected target than any other single aircraft in the Second World War. That's because one little Cub, flying just out of rifle range, could call in the artillery barrage of an entire army corps, sending the enemy scrambling within minutes.

The Korean conflict provided new challenges and opportunities for Army Aviation. Iin 1947 the U.S. Air Force became independent of the Army. In Korea, the Army employed the 0-1 Bird Dog and other improved fixed wing planes, but also helicopters.

Nation assistance operations are conducted in support of a host nation's efforts to promote self-development. Aviation's participation in nation assistance will normally be limited to the use of individual soldiers and teams to train and educate local officials. The use of liaison aircraft to assist in overcoming terrain obstacles and limited road nets will extend and enhance a nation state's LOC.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:38:53 ZULU