Learning–About Flying—Can Be Fun

Eagle’s Nest Projects of North Texas Alights with STEM

In addition to studies, normal high school days are filled with spirited youth, sports, mingling and flirtations. In McKinney, Texas there’s yet another option, one of building an airplane. Liveried as learning, stowed under STEM curriculum, students in their final years of high school in the north Texas suburb can participate in the construction of an airplane—one that will fly with two persons on board. Under the auspices of Eagle’s Nest Projects, an independent nonprofit, the program espouses a scholastic attitude while adding entertainment and career objectives to the mix.

McKinney Independent School District (MISD) is in the sprawling metroplex of Dallas–Fort Worth, comprising three large high schools approaching 10,000 student enrollments. At MISD over 200 students participate in Eagle’s Nest where the program has clearly taken off with blue skies in the forecast.

In the current school year, number seven for the Eagle’s Nest / MISD partnership, the selected aircraft project is a freshly minted Legend Cub. It’s a distinctive aircraft which, purchased as a kit, conforms to a factory completed offering that has been flying since 2005. Among the pluses of this choice of project is its nearby manufacturer, American Legend Aircraft Company, who for their first time has stepped up to champion the Eagle’s Nest approach to inspiring young aviators.

Regarding youth in aviation, build-a-plane projects have shown to have the greatest of impact over other aviation experiences. Examples might include participation in an airshow, taking a first flight (i.e. the EAA Young Eagles program), or endeavoring into model aviation. While all are impressionable, the long term effect of building an airplane stands out with its hands-on, all-consuming, and perhaps hypnotic appeal.

Eagle’s Nest and McKinney ISD selected a Legend Cub for their most recent STEM studies build-a-plane project.

For students in many such build programs, building an airplane is an immersive, daily activity. Plus, there’s a hook, according to Eagle’s Nest Projects of North Texas director Phil Campbell, in that the students are committed to the program once enrolled. With an itinerary and a goal in sight, the end product is resolute. That the typical builder puts their heart and soul into such projects is a universally known tenet.

Uniting build-a-plane projects with STEM is not a wholly new concept. However, in the two decades or more that the two schemes have existed, many forms have evolved.

Eagle’s Nest Fledglings

The true beginnings of modern exploratory aircraft construction lie to a measured degree with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Formed in 1953, the organization serves to broaden knowledge of flight and its scientific discovery. EAA’s succinctly named aeroeducate.org program strives to inspire, steer, and open doors to youth wishing to explore careers in aviation. While EAA has its roots in building, getting youth involved is a contemporary crusade, and one with vigorous initiative.

Not alone in affirming youth as the future of aviation, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has forged the You Can Fly program to bring exposure of aviation careers to high school students. Success is burgeoning as AOPA is setting the standards in course curriculum. Examples include Career Technical Education (CTE) pathways at the high school level. Courses such as Introduction to Aerospace, Principles of Flight, and Advanced Flight are provided free of charge and set up with the help of AOPA. Presently, the curriculum is being used at more than 280 high schools and growing. Field tested in Ada, Oklahoma, AOPA inspired many students to take flight lessons, while several attained their pilot’s license prior to graduating high school. Now in its sixth year, the program has both captured the interest of future aviators and taught students to become adept problem-solvers.

Opportunity and curriculum in place, the next step for youth is involvement, and Eagle’s Nest Projects is one such initiative. Success stories abound, and numerous aircraft are flying as a result. “Eagle’s Nest provides a hands-on approach, and this leads to retention,” according to Campbell.

Inspiration and Teaching

A variety of examples of aviation in the classroom have popped up all across the U.S. Their reach has expanded to even younger students, encouraging continuation into their teens. One is Wings Aerospace Pathways, affiliated with the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, which involves students in grades 6–12 with one-day-per-week “Hangar Days.”

The Tehachapi Society of Pilots Build-a-Plane Program offers a hangar plus retired mechanics and engineers to mentor youth. In Fall 2021, the group completed a Zenith CH 750 aircraft build. Likened to a vocational program, which are no longer as common as they once were, the program teaches about construction techniques while students do the work building an airplane, a proven method to ensuring success later. With college engineering studies but one example, the hands-on experience helps in better understanding the concepts being taught.

STEM students in Project Pegasus at Gnoss Field Community Association, also in California, benefit from mentors from several nearby airports. The project focuses on students developing a work ethic and acknowledges that the future of aviation will come from them. Once the first airplane is financed and completed, the program is financially self-sustaining—a system followed by others. The team works closely with EAA Chapter 1232 providing expertise within the community to develop technical, logistical, organizational and interpersonal skills.

TeenFlight is a program based in Puyallup, Washington, and associated with EAA Chapter 326. Building airplanes since 2012, and offering classroom instruction since 2009, the program involves Van’s Aircraft founder Richard VanGrunsven, accounting for numerous RV-series aircraft projects being completed. Personal involvement by the founder led to the well-developed RV-12 model addition to his successful line of (sequentially numbered) kits.

Returning to McKinney, there’s a similar, yet outside the classroom group that calls themselves Tango Thirty One Aero Clube (sic). Eccentric spelling aside, the mission is simple… Clube members participate in aircraft restorations, maintenance and repairs on aircraft they can fly. The organization comprises both youth and experienced aviators.

Eagle’s Nest Projects

At Eagle’s Nest Projects of North Texas, Phil Campbell is leading the charge. His role is multifaceted and, importantly, includes working directly with students. He is director by day, while in other parts he steps up to serve, like inestimable others, as a volunteer. Campbell must be an educator and mentor to all participants, be they student, teacher or volunteer. Admittedly, however, his primary function is one of inspiring youth. He concurs that the learning, STEM and aviation aspects follow accordingly.

Speaking of the current build project that began in 2020, Campbell acknowledges, “The Cub is taking longer than the familiar RV projects that we’ve completed in the past. I thought it would be faster, after all it is a historically simple airplane.” Among the most time consuming areas of this type of construction is the fabric covering process. It can also be one of the most satisfying, as, with each layer, the airplane’s form evolves. Campbell envisions that with additional mentor team experience, future fabric work can proceed as quickly as applying sheet metal and the thousands of requisite rivets involved in a monocoque design such as the Van’s RV. He’s a believer, and, as said, it’s his role to inspire.

Eagle’s Nest mentors get a lesson in aircraft covering at American Legend Aircraft Company.

In early 2022, Campbell had confirmed that all the fabrication, i.e. assembly work of the Legend Cub build, was done. With the major components subsequently painted, wings were mounted that Summer. He initially had hopes of displaying the team’s work at EAA’s mid-summer AirVenture gathering, however, reality set in and progress on the instrument panel took precedence.

While Campbell has maintained reliance on the Legend factory, aircraft instrument panels decidedly oscillate towards a customized process. “So we ventured on our own,” he noted. “Legend did cut the panel on their CNC machine, and avionics were ordered through the company. They helped load test the circuits to determine breaker sizes.”

“The panel was laid out and built with almost all Dynon [Avionics] products. Dynon provided pre-built harnesses, but students, and mentors, still looked at each connection in detail,” Campbell continued. “A intercom from PS Engineering was used since there’s no PTT (push-to-talk) on the Dynon radio.” According to Campbell, at present Legend customers are building primarily Garmin equipped panels, “This was another reason we needed to rely on manufacturer’s support from Dynon and PS Engineering, which was excellent. All we’ve done at Eagle’s Nest previously is Dynon, so the foundation was familiar.”

State and Local Support

MISD is unique, operating one of the larger STEM programs in the country. Classes get some funding through Texas’ CTE programs. One drawback of the state aid is that help in the form of teachers is not always aviation specific. Presently at MISD, as Campbell noted, the other STEM teacher has a robotics focus. Aviation being split among many career clusters within CTE, the available resources must be divided. Programs of study are continuously being realigned to match Texas’ ever-changing economic landscape.

The career aspect of Eagle’s Nest / MISD / STEM is manifest with local businesses in McKinney, including iFly GPS, a developer of digital planning and navigation products for pilots, and Cirrus Aircraft, a aircraft manufacturer service center, at the airport. So local support is present and much heralded. Cirrus has provided appreciable funding for the next RV-12 slated for construction through Eagle’s Nest, according to Campbell. Both companies offer internships to students and have gone on to hire MISD graduates.

Student Interest

On the student side, Campbell routinely welcomes those who are interested in flying and the A&P profession (Airframe and/or Powerplant licensed mechanic). He adds that other students tend to latch onto the learning environment, whether for entertainment or other aspects of the class. Many just like being around airplanes and this can open minds to a future in the field. Careers in aviation are broad and the shared knowledge of the industry offers a unique camaraderie.

A team of students and mentors stand beneath the freshly assembled fuselage and wing structures. Photo by Jim Wilson Photography.

The MISD program starts with students at the junior level. While many return their senior year, it really depends on their career path, according to Campbell. Some will drop the aviation elective because it’s not needed; some elect to only do a half-day program.

Initial perceptions are varied. One student remarked early on in the project, “I’m not flying an airplane built by high schoolers.” He wants to be an engineer, Campbell elucidated. Such sentiment is understandable, as the problem solving instinct has an inherent disbelief that needs to be resolved, or processed, by “scientific” means in the thinker’s mind. Being involved in analysis, even fabrication, helps to remove perceptions of risk. An understanding of the process—in this case the complexities of building an airplane, be it large or small—can change one’s notion. As each project unfolds, apprehension is replaced with enthusiasm and conviction.

A team of students prepare a landing gear leg with the assistance of experienced personnel from Legend Aircraft. Photo by Jim Wilson Photography.

Mentors and Leaders

Proximity to important aviation and space operations results in numerous professional pilots and engineers living in a community, along with others who enjoy flying, i.e. those “interested in all things airplanes.” These like-minded people enjoy sharing their passion through involvement with build-a-plane projects.

While currently serving as the only the project lead with Eagle’s Nest Projects of North Texas, Phil Campbell collaborates with an assigned teacher. The effort to command the attention of teenage students in a workshop environment is a tall task. This is where other instructors, in particular, mentors and volunteer participants, work to steer the interests of students. Exposure alone to the unique workplace is, at times, enough to captivate most. “Though some flee, what has been learned is that it’s best to point them in the direction they are drawn,” says Campbell.

Eagle’s Nest is a nationwide organization with four Texas locations in McKinney, Conroe, Granbury and Clear Lake / League City. With twenty RV-12 projects having been completed, the strength of the program is self-evident. According to Campbell, all of those projects were made possible by the organization’s now retiring (for a second time!) president, Ernie Butcher. “Ernie is an amazing man and none of this would be possible without his generosity throughout the years he spent with Eagle’s Nest,” he lauded.

Technique, Talent and Experience

With the current Legend Cub project being a departure from previous kit aircraft builds, Campbell cheers the support and guidance received from Legend Aircraft (located in Sulphur Springs, Texas). “Their response has been an outpouring of answers to questions all along the way. They make an awesome product,” he indicated. “Together we’ve discussed the difficulties in building such a project.” Laying, stitching and taping the fabric skin, as an example, can be consuming, requiring both technique and talent. There’s a learning curve that is a challenge to teach and master, particularly in one school semester.

A team of 15-20 students worked on the wings, a framework of aluminum webs and other hardware. During the fabric covering process, Campbell recognized, “Within the student team, one girl and one guy were phenomenal. They got knots down and led the other classmates in the exercise.” Covering requires dexterity, and even promotes artistry in the finished product. Coming in twos, wings consume a lot of time.

Having built multiple RV-12 kits prior, Campbell and several Eagle’s Nest mentors were want of learning something new. Hence, the “tube-and-fabric” Legend Cub was suggested. On this first of its kind, mentors were also students—equals but for the passage of time. While Campbell wished more experienced mentors had been available at the onset, the overall class lesson presented a catch-22 lesson. The monocoque construction to which they were accustomed (with the RV-12 builds) introduced a dilemma in the form of the new tube-and-fabric process.

Students at Eagle’s Nest / MISD begin the covering process on a Legend Cub elevator surface.

Though the educator is there to impart knowledge and skills, the variety of qualifications rendered are often limited by availability. Legend Aircraft, as does any factory with a talented workforce, experiences as much in their hiring and retaining. To increase retention employees are often trained at new tasks. It’s a phenomenon in the manufacturing trade worldwide. A visit to the factory (a field trip) and the lending of an employee to work with the Eagle’s Nest team offered great inspiration to the students of all ages and competency.

Students and mentors work to ensure each step of the build is performed to specification.

Free Flight

With semesters marking the end of each academic session for most youth, some do participate in the “off” months to continue the work. The drive to finish is ever present. Eagle’s Nest sets a goal of finishing and selling the airplane, thus enabling the start of another. Essentially, the funding cycle must continue in this manner.

While the project aircraft, on completion, is essentially the same as one built at the factory, it is expected to have a life of flying ahead. Perhaps it will be flown by a single pilot/owner for a generation or more. There’s also the possibility that hundreds of pilots will sit behind its controls and experience its joys. This particular aircraft is slated to go to Bruce Bohannon, a renown world record holding pilot and current owner of the highest time factory-built Legend Cub. Bohannon operates a flight school in the Houston area where he’s introduced many student pilots to flying.

In addition to its Dynon-centric instrument panel, with a SkyView HDX touch screen display, the completed Eagle’s Nest Project aircraft will feature an O200-D engine from Continental Motors, a staple of aviation for more than 80 years, and a composite propeller manufactured by Catto Propeller of Jackson, California.

Building Bumps-in-the-road

An extensive project, such as this one, is not without the common gotchas that beleaguer most aircraft builders. Setbacks can and do happen, such as supply delays, even price increases. Campbell noted that Legend Aircraft was highly supportive in buffering many of these issues for the Eagle’s Nest team. For instance, “The engine was procured before a 30-percent price increase went into effect,” said Campbell. Furthermore, normally stocked factory items were at the disposal of the build crew as needed.

The paint scheme was somewhat an easy call, “To get people’s attention, we need a bright yellow Legend Cub,” Campbell articulated. He sees the project as a tool for keeping the Eagle’s Nest and STEM partnership visible in the minds of all. Further, it was decided that the painting step would take place at the Legend factory, without student involvement, short of a possible field trip. This is among the many things Campbell has learned over his years of building in order to avoid bumps.

When complete, the Eagle’s Nest / MISD program will have built a Legend Cub in classic yellow livery, one that will serve to instruct new pilots and bring enjoyment to many who browse and fly beneath its wings. Photo by Jim Wilson Photography.

Kitting and Curriculum

For its part, Eagle’s Nest handles the logistics to include funding and materials all the way through to FAA inspection and first flight. Where knowledge can be imparted under the STEM curriculum, many opportunities are warranted.

Kit building an aircraft comes with high expectations. Regardless that the kit is a known entity with numerous examples already built, the depth of the curriculum is significant. Adjusting the curriculum is an ongoing endeavor. Making new friends, learning organizational skills, seeing the big picture, learning that no matter how much you know there’s always a new lesson ahead.

While the concept of “kit” airplanes might alarm some. Within the regulatory framework of the FAA such practices are well established. Not only do they meet the safety standards of commercial air transport they often exceed them. The experimental foundation of aircraft construction provides ever-expanding knowledge. It is a two-way street for aircraft large and small.

Getting started with building a kit airplane introduces design methodology, tools, and workspace parameters to those involved. Parts, construction, materials, and processes all contribute to safety and to the study. Kits generally comprise a fuselage section (the safety cage), upon which the tail, wing and powerplant sections are mounted. Each element has a practical, i.e. scientific, element to its manufacture. Variety is evident in the many construction methods that have been used, and refined, since the early days of aviation.

Traditional construction methods include monocoque airframes of welded steel and riveted aluminum. Newer methods include reinforced composites. The outer surfaces, called skins, are of aluminum, sometimes composite materials, or reinforced and coated fabrics. Many of these methods can also be found in the automotive, nautical and sport manufacturing industries. The scientific studies are therefore applicable across of wide range of applications.

The McKinney Aviation Academy (MAA) is a preparatory program for studies in aviation, from model flying to careers. The academy was selected as the latest Eagle’s Nest project in the Fall of 2020. That’s when students in the third year course of MAA began learning how a Legend Cub is built.

Alongside academy instructors is a team of mentors who volunteer their time and expertise. They instruct students in the construction of amateur-built airplanes. Moreover, the learning extends to life skills and experiences. Connecting with an educator can impact the outlook of a student, making a long lasting, positive influence on the lives of the young men and women participating. Through the encouragement of the instructors, mentors and Eagle’s Nest leaders, students gain an experience they will remember for a lifetime. facebook.com/mckinneyaviationacademy

More Local Involvement

One key to the success of such programs is the aforementioned two-way flow it facilitates. Youth are introduced to both studies and to their real world application. When local businesses get involved they benefit from apprising and cultivating local talent for future employment. Students gain valuable exposure to workplaces and opportunities within industry relevant to their interests.

Namely, American Airlines’ representatives serve on the CTE Aviation Advisory Council at MISD. This partnership leads to pilot recruiting and a career path for talented individuals. The company participates in aviation days at the airport and works with students at the campus level. They host special field trips to American Airlines’ facilities. Providing information to high school counselors to aid students serves to educate them about professional opportunities at all levels within the company.

Additional partnerships have been formed with Southwest Airlines. One with Monarch Air, for example, provided on-airport space for a project and classroom. In the past, LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, coordinated with streamlining pilot, engineering, and aeronautical science studies. Such degree path programs confirm that aviation is more than flying.

History on Repeat

The build-a-plane idea has been around since the 1960s, and today it involves much more than the reading, writing and arithmetic mantra of that era. Years ago, at Steen Aero Lab, a prototype aircraft designed by Lamar Steen was built by the high school shop class he taught. It was a conceptual airplane of original design and completed in just a year at Denver’s Manual High School. The project served to teach wood, tube and fabric construction skills. Over 400 of the award winning, popular, aerobatic, sporting, one and two-place biplane aircraft variations have been built since the prototype first flew in 1970.

Aviation Full Circle

“The task of introducing teenagers to aviation is not nearly as difficult or expensive as you might imagine. It is work, admittedly. It requires effort and planning and at least a handful of willing volunteers who can share the load,” noted Jamie Beckett, the always poignant aviation wordsmith. He added, “To hold the interest of the students and keep them motivated, I’ve found it best to procure an actual airplane to center the activities around… a project that would one day fly.”

Beckett is involved with the Aspiring Aviators Aero Club in central Florida. Working from an open hangar, he adds, “They see Cubs, Stearmans, Swifts and Champs taxi through their field of view.” He describes one student participant as filled with “youthful exuberance.” Those two words deftly summarize the build-a-plane concept. It’s an excellent way to satisfy the charge that learning should be fun.

The classic yellow Cub manufactured by American Legend Aircraft Company. Photo by Jim Wilson Photography.

From the Cockpit, Behind the Glass, Unravelling the Electronics Mystery

For now 27 years and counting, veteran repair station owner Ronny Salamon has been helping customers enhance the value of owning and operating their airplanes, all directly from the cockpit. In part, his efforts have involved addressing the seemingly complex mysteries of avionics, resolving issues with finicky electronics, and verifying and certifying required instruments and related equipment.

Today, Salamon is consumed with assisting operators in retrofitting new instrument panels into their aircraft, thereby making new the capabilities and functionality of airframes with time to spare. Avionics services are a win-win for the pilot and aircraft operator, putting more tools in the places they need them the most.

With today’s frenzied focus on the electronic cockpit, nearly every pilot-owner has some amount of wanderlust for a glinting new glass cockpit. Digital instrumentation for pilots has progressed lightyears since the pre-silicon era of analog gauging and assessment.

Salamon transitioned into his latest business venture in San Antonio, Texas, somewhat by chance, if not by good fortune (though not without recognizing his achievements to back it up). It all started in Laredo, Texas, in 1980, largely due to his twin brother getting married there, he concedes. Originally from Israel, Salamon built an extensive resume prior in his Eastern Mediterranean homeland.

Texas was a good choice, admittedly, as the state is a major market for aircraft ownership. In fact, it’s among the top three states for private aviation. These include California, Texas, and Florida, all home to more private aircraft and the accompanying support businesses than any other U.S. state. For what it’s worth, California and Texas are at a near tie for first in the ranking.

Graduating from university as an electronics engineer, Salamon would go on to serve in the Israeli Air Force. His assignments in aircraft maintenance included work on F-4s and F-15s, the world renown tactical fighters and pursuit aircraft of military celebrity, among others. Following military service Salamon was employed with commercial airlines in Israel and later in bench tech services where he solved a broad range of electronics related issues.

Salamon established Avionics Services International in 1988 whereupon he obtained a FAA Part 145 Repair Station certificate, No. S78R151N, for his firm Platinum Aviation LLC. He relocated from Laredo to Kerrville (both in South Texas) in 1996, then to San Antonio in 2018, in part due to opportunities of the larger market there, but also related to his growing role as an authorized Garmin dealer. Avionics Services International (ASI), under the aegis of Platinum Aviation, serves as the sole Garmin aviation dealer for the greater San Antonio area. As a service center dedicated to avionics, ASI performs work on aircraft of all sizes and equipped with avionics from a variety of manufacturers.

Ronny Salamon discusses product delivery with Garmin’s Kelly Keller.

Electronics Technology

If of the mindset that all technology sprouts from silicon valley, or perhaps up and down the U.S. West Coast, say Seattle (Boeing) or Los Angeles (Lockheed, Northrup, etc.), maybe even Kansas (Textron) or Cape Canaveral (NASA), well think again. Aerospace world leadership, in terms of innovative technology, specifically the majority of satellite, defense and electronics technology development worldwide, springs by and large from Israel.

Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry boasts that Israeli technologies integrate the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 and F-16, Boeing F-15 and F/A-18, Eurofighter Typhoon, and more. The country also leads in UAV production and space-launch capability. Israel Aerospace Industries, a manufacturing concern established 70 years ago, delivered the country’s first tactical aircraft, and today produces aerial and astronautic systems for both military and civilian use.

Going Digital

Whether supplementing, or replacing entirely, primary flight instruments, from portable electronics to panel-embedded touch screen displays, the go-to standard today is digital. In truth, the wide range of options available to pilots can be disorienting. It takes know-how, in addition to experience, to sort through what’s best for any given combination of pilot, airplane and, importantly, mission.

Being an authorized Garmin dealer for over 20 years, ASI has both the knowledge and proficiency to tackle the often complex issues of cockpit maintenance. Salamon and his crew are specifically dedicated to the avionics arena and, moreover, their professionalism shines. Providing innovative solutions for all of general aviation including business aviation and rotorcraft, advanced air mobility, government and defense implementations and, indeed, commercial air carrier customers, their list of satisfied customers is extensive.

Without a doubt Garmin’s current aviation product line has revolutionized flight and its systems are now quintessential to pilots, aircraft owners and operators worldwide. ASI knows well Garmin’s aviation lineup, and that’s where a healthy part of the company’s focus remains. As an example, ASI recently completed legacy Beechcraft, turboprop Piper, and classic Mooney panels with all new touch screen flight displays. The new installations completely transformed the cockpits of these early model, revered airframes.

Mooney panel upgraded with Garmin GTN 750Xi GPS/Nav/Comm/MFD and 650Xi touchscreens.

Veterans in Avionics

Being well established in the avionics services industry, Salamon’s team at ASI is able to inspect, repair, overhaul and replace instruments, radios and related airframe components. The company is supported by knowledgable avionics veterans, including Roel Rogerio, a U.S. Army veteran and former employee of San Antonio-based firms Ahr Aviation and Hawker-Beechcraft (both now defunct). Another is Ryan Busby, previously associated with Salamon in the Rio Grande Valley (Laredo-McAllen) where he worked at McCreery Aviation in McAllen. In the interim Busby refined his avionics knowledge at Bombardier in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, before returning to Texas.

Ryan Busby looking on as equipment is prepped for installation.

ASI’s services run the gamut of cockpit electronics, and in summary include…

  • Panel design and installation
  • IFR / RVSM certification (including altimeter and transponder validation)
  • Integration of new and legacy avionics
  • In general, equipment testing and diagnostics, transponder, radio, etc.

According to ASI, “Bench level repairs are made when appropriate, as well as needed equipment changeovers.” Additionally, equipment can be sent out to OEM or specialized technicians, with which ASI is long familiar, to ensure manufacturer’s compliance and implied guarantees.

The Big Move

In their most recent relocation, ASI chose San Antonio as it is a prominent hub for aviation. The city has, in fact, a long aviation history. It is the birthplace of military aviation, notable for the army’s first airplane, and only at the time, that flew on March 2, 1910, at Ft. Sam Houston there.

The rest is history, as they say, including that of San Antonio legend Dee Howard who was an innovator in converting used military aircraft into cabin class conveyances suited for corporate consumption. Many of the outstanding aviation businesses that exist in San Antonio today, including numerous smaller shops, have sprung from the city’s military and corporate roots. One such shop was Ahr Aviation (a.k.a. Ahr Avionics) that operated out of San Antonio International Airport (KSAT), beginning in 1984, until its namesake retired.

While ASI serves San Antonio, exclusively, as a Garmin authorized dealer, the company’s reach extends beyond the central U.S. The company offers mobile services and facilitates owners and maintenance operations practically anywhere demand calls. Salamon follows a mobile service mantra, “We will come to you. We work with many local maintenance shops in San Antonio, also in Laredo, Georgetown, and Corpus Christi, for example. However, if a project takes us out of state we are able to do that, as we have done in the past.”

Roel Rogerio, an avionics veteran, lays out an instrument panel at ASI.

Skyplace FBO at KSAT

Every new project presents a challenge to ASI, and every day its unraveling is exactly what you see in their bustling offices at KSAT. Skyplace is the name on the hangar, and it shows prominently on the ramp side which is in fact San Antonio’s newest FBO (skyplacefbo.com). The facility is quite expansive, and was formerly the headquarters of Sino-Swearingen Aircraft Company. At present it’s filled with aircraft both transitioning through or based there.

A discernible vibe is present amidst the activity in and out of the two large hangar doors. From a visit to the Platinum/ASI offices, to taking delivery of freshly updated or overhauled cockpit, collectively it’s energizing. If full service and complete satisfaction are what you expect, at ASI that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Legacy in Concert with Modern

The glass panel avionics boom emerged from the airlines in the 1990s. “Glass,” perhaps more aptly touchscreen, has become pervasive in the general aviation cockpit ever since. Through the years Salamon worked extensively with legacy avionics manufacturers, including Collins. From this period he maintains a wealth of knowledge on integration, coupling that with new generations of products.

Ronny Salamon, president of Avionics Services International at KSAT in San Antonio, Texas.

Part 145 Approved

To be in the avionics business, one must be a repair station. This is a maxim that applies worldwide. “Avionics is what we do, it’s not a sideline to maintenance and repair. And for us, this is the most important thing to getting the job done right,” says Salamon.

A directive of Part 145 approval is maintaining a quality management system with specific capability to perform the “maintenance” task. What this means is that an organization is both certificated to perform the work, while being capable and qualified to do so. Namely in the area of avionics, ASI is focused on this as its core business.

The Cockpit of the Future

Tomorrow is going to be about more than the digital cockpit, ADS-B, or moving maps for that matter. Meanwhile, though, the emphasis is on the technology that we have at our fingertips. Tools in the cockpit have become paramount to the owner/operator/pilot, and perhaps in ways not yet imagined.

Aircraft electronics is a burgeoning industry and it will continue to address many of the problems with aviation today, not the least of which are fuels, traffic flows in increasingly diverse airspace, artificial intelligence, and access. Whatever the cockpit of the future brings, ASI is prepared to help its customers realize them.

One final thought offered by Salamon, that is decidedly traditional in a business sense, “It is important for us to see the work through to the end, that is until the customer is satisfied with their new panel, its functionality and beneficial operation.” Prepared to unravel the electronics mystery, Ronny Salamon with his team at Avionics Services International are putting new capabilities and added functionality into the cockpit for today’s aviators.

Avionics Services International Modernizes GA Cockpits

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, DECEMBER 20, 2022 – Avionics Services International (ASI) announced today the completion of instrument panel upgrades on Beech and Piper cabin-class aircraft. The updated panels are intended to better optimize capabilities of the aircraft, reduce pilot workload and minimize maintenance costs.

Legacy Beechcraft Upgrade

Early model aircraft see major benefits with a touchscreen panel upgrade. An ASI customer’s Beech Debonair 35-C33 received dual Garmin G3X Touch Certified Displays (10.6” Landscape and 7″ Portrait) including 4-Cylinder EIS. A GFC500 Autopilot, GTN 750Xi GPS/NAV/COMM/MFD, GNX 375 Navigator with ADS-B, and G5 Attitude Indicator completed the layout.

Beech Debonair 35-C33 updated panel.

Turboprop Glass Panel 

In the last decade integrated panel design has revolutionized the cockpit. ASI upgraded a customer’s turboprop Piper Malibu Meridian PA46-500TP to feature a quad-display Garmin G600 TXi Flight Deck complemented with a GI 275 MFD.

Piper Malibu Meridian PA46-500TP panel upgrade.

“One of the top reasons for a flight deck upgrade is weight savings,” stated Ryan Busby of ASI. “We are able to remove outdated instruments and install solid state digital systems. These also offer better reliability. Pilots and owners see an increase in operational efficiencies.”

ASI was established in 1988 by Ronny Salamon, an industry veteran of 40+ years. Salamon and his highly experienced team are based at San Antonio International Airport (KSAT). ASI is the only one-stop avionics shop based in San Antonio. The firm is experienced with aircraft of all sizes, from light piston to business jets. Capabilities include equipment installation, repair, replacement and diagnostics. ASI works with MROs, fleet operators, and individual aircraft owners.

Among ASI’s strengths are its knowledge and experience with leading avionics manufacturers. As an authorized Garmin dealer, ASI provides sales, service and installation. ASI is well versed in modern display technology, RVSM, and IFR Certification, all essential component for aircraft owners and operators worldwide. ASI helps its customers achieve optimum integration for both their aircraft and mission. Mobile service is available.

ASI, a division of Platinum Aviation LLC, is a FAA Certified Repair Station no. S78R151N and is Part 145 approved for airframe, instrument and radio.

For more information on Avionics Services International, visit www.avionicsservices.net, or contact ASI at info@avionicsservices.net or 956-285-0373. Avionics Services International is located at 1770 Skyplace Blvd., San Antonio, TX 78216.

– avionicsservices.net –

The Versatile, Enduring and Ever-evolving L-bird

In rural South Texas one can expect to see wild fowl abuzz and limber legged sorts browsing afield. Vigilant of the San Antonio skyline in the near distance, on a certain nonwooded 30 aker plot, one is just as likely to encounter giant grasshoppers aloft.

The place is real, enchanted too, where its turf is storied with impressions. Tales of crosswind landings are accentuated in skidmarks. Other daring adventures of a benign sort scar its surface. The name of the plot is Cannon Field; it is home to Alamo Liaison Squadron.

Built on a mission the squadron, called “group” at conception, pronounced its purpose as twofold: Locate, purchase, restore and maintain in original flying condition a complete set of military liaison aircraft flown during World War II. Second, provide a facility for the permanent protection, display and operation of these storied aircraft. For now over 40 years the mission has stood.

What began in 1981, was Hardy Cannon and a team of collaborators formed the Alamo Liaison Group (ALG), expressly to begin collecting and restoring a particular type of warbird. The aircraft in quest were those constructed primarily of a tubular metal frame with wood supports and webbing, a selective use of aluminum, and an exterior cover of taught sealed fabric.

Whilst true warbirds, these aircraft were conceived as non-combatants, of civilian origins. Later when they saw service on the lines of battle they remained unarmed. Built purposely light in weight, the Army effectively deemed them disposable. They operated at low speeds and low altitudes, often directly over enemy lines. Expectations were that few would ever return.

Despite their fateful reckoning, many did survive. By 1982, ALG had completed the restoration of six such warbirds: a 1941 Stinson L-1, a 1941 Taylorcraft L-2, a 1942 Aeronca L-3B, a 1939 Piper L-4, a 1942 Stinson L-5, and a 1942 Interstate S-1B (L-6). These aircraft comprise the series of WWII liaison airplanes assigned military “L” designations and referred to collectively as L-birds.

A flight of L-birds in the Alamo Liaison Group, circa 1982.

Operating today under the name Alamo Liaison Squadron (ALS), a like-minded group of pilots, mechanics and nostalgists continues to fly and maintain L-birds. Comprising area residents, many of whom have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, squadron members through the years have followed their passion for “old airplanes.” ALS presently oversees a collection of aircraft including: L-2, L-3, L-4, L-5, and L-6 models, striving to keep them flying and serving Cannon’s original purpose.

At least one each of the series is owned by ALS, while others of varying make and model are owned by squadron members who base their aircraft at Cannon Field (53T), or nearby. All are flown by experienced veteran and volunteer pilots as the squadron performs flyovers and attends fly-ins to showcase their history. Cannon Field is the former residence and workshop of master mechanic and ALG mastermind Hardy Cannon who passed away in 1991.

Pilots and Grasshoppers

It was during the Second World War in 1942 that the U.S. Army Air Forces applied the term “liaison” to aircraft, so designating those intended for use chiefly in support of ground forces. The separate U.S. Air Force branch was still five years away from inception. Liaison aircraft were by definition small and lightweight, and carried a crew of two, perhaps three, including pilot. Initially, some were sorted under the army’s “observation” category (though later re-labeled liaison).

As early as 1941 liaison aircraft saw their first enlistments as the War Department sought contracts from “off-the-shelf” aircraft manufacturers including Taylor, Aeronca, Piper, Interstate, Rearwin and Stinson. By decree, liaison aircraft would operate from grass fields and improvised landing strips. Characteristic of this sort of flying, liaison aircraft became known as “puddle jumpers” and, more commonly, “grasshoppers.”

What did liaison aircraft and their pilots do? They served multiplicitous roles from the start, including: artillery observation, reconnaissance, aerial photography, medical evacuation, search and rescue, primary flight training, pilot proficiency, and transport of supplies, personnel and mail. Their pilots were regarded as daring and heroic, often asked to fly well within range of enemy guns. Further, it is told that the liaison pilot of WWII, while performing their official roles, additionally fulfilled many others that “just needed done.”

Despite the utilitarian profile of the L-bird mission, the liaison pilot under Army Ground Forces command was mostly overshadowed, often disparaged, by pilots under the presumed higher-value Army Air Forces command flying transport, fighter and bomber aircraft. It was the infantry and artillery units under which liaison pilots served who understood their real worth. WWII liaison pilots supplied troops with food, goods and ammunition. They located stranded soldiers and evacuated the wounded.

Liaison pilots held the ranks of enlisted men, and sometimes commissioned officers—these being pilots of the Army Air Force who happened to fly liaison aircraft and missions. Remarkably, the majority of liaison pilots were ordinary soldiers simply trained to operate their unassuming small airplanes. Though often exposed to dangers, and performing invaluable feats to assist advancing ground forces, liaison pilots did not enjoy the same benefits of rank awarded most pilots. Army Air Force pilots slept in beds in relative safety, while liaison pilots slept on the front line in tents with their troops.

That the feats of lesser decorated, albeit brave pilots not be forgotten, ALS rounds out its mission with a third directive: to preserve the stories, and their telling, of the liaison pilots.

Fleet and Maintenance

From the start ALS has been a self-supportive, privately financed, all volunteer organization. Members are dedicated to building, restoring, maintaining, demonstrating and flying liaison aircraft. Individual memberships support and promote the continued operations of the L-bird flying museum, so recognized by the Texas Historic Commission.

As ALS members play play an active role in flying the L-bird collection, they also perform the necessary work to keep them flying. Over the years, numerous aircraft have been brought back to life at the hands of ALS members. Though liaison aircraft were selected and built for simplicity, their method of construction is distinctly a learned skill. Artisans of experience and talent, such as Hardy Cannon, were a vanishing breed postwar as “all-metal” airplanes were being built in earnest. ALG in its founding was one of the progenitors of a popular rebirth of “tube-and-fabric” aircraft that persists today. Liaison-type aircraft, old and new, are now highly sought after as reconstruction projects and nostalgic flivvers. They are desired by aviators of all ages and in particular by backcountry adventure seekers.

Click here to see representatives, past and present, of the ALS fleet.

Events and Flyovers

The aircraft of Alamo Liaison Squadron are operated by veteran pilots practiced in the art of tailwheel flying. During the year, squadron pilots perform flyovers at area events such as the Poteet Strawberry Festival and various Veterans Day celebrations. An annual Cannon field fly-in takes place and typically includes both flying and static aircraft displays, a Candy Bomber Drop (reenactment of the exploits of famed USAF pilot Gail Halvorsen a.k.a. “Uncle Wiggly Wings”), flour bombing contest, missing man formation flyby/tribute, and medevac demonstration.

While U.S. airbases once welcomed the public, today the amount of preparation and pre-clearance makes flying into these events scarce. However, in the past ALS participated often in military exhibitions in San Antonio, a.k.a. Military City USA. “Most of the collection joined Armed Forces Week aircraft displays at Randolph Air Force Base recently,” said an excerpt from local newspaper Express-News in 1982. ALG members flew the planes there at their own expense. A similar sortie took place as recently as 2009.

The L-5 aft deck opened for visitors to see the stretcher configuration and appreciate the rugged simplicity. Randolph AFB Airshow 2009.
The ALS L-birds on the ramp at Randolph AFB. A foggy morning is reminiscent of the days when duty called.

On November 14, 2014, ALS performed a fly-by routine during the “Salute to Veterans” celebration taking place at Fort Sam Houston’s MacArthur Parade Field. The flight of four L-birds included vintage Piper L-4 and Taylorcraft L-2 aircraft along with two contemporary Legend Cub liaison replicas. The event was hosted by U.S. Army North–Fifth Army. A similar flyover took place on July 5, 2017, in celebration of Independence Day.

A flight of four L-birds from ALS approach Ft. Sam parade field in diamond formation. Photo taken from the trailing L-bird.
Aircraft of Flight B pass in review with elements of the 2d Division at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, April 1942. Photo from Eyes of the Artillery. Under a newly proposed air-observation-post concept, the aircraft were based at Ft. Sam during service tests and performed at nearby Leon Springs Military Reservation (presently Camp Stanley and Camp Bullis). Successful testing led to their observation and reconnaissance roles in WWII.

Box Seat Over Hell

Following his WWII service, and later the founding of ALG, Hardy D. Cannon wrote and published Box Seat Over Hell: The True Story of America’s Liaison Pilots and Their Light Planes in World War Two. Written for and about those who flew, Cannon recounted stories of courage and man’s romance with the sky. With the author’s artistry and imagination in restoration similarly put to work in writing, Box Seat Over Hell portrays the toll inflicted on the souls of those who flew the inexorable liaison aircraft.


The first liaison group formed was the 25th Liaison Squadron, comprised of thirty-two airplanes, enough sergeants to fly them, fifteen officers, one hundred enlisted men to maintain the planes, and assorted necessary pieces of equipment. The only thing the 25th lacked was a description of its mission. They were not [yet] artillery spotters and they were not supposed to be aerial ambulances… they were simply “liaison,” a catch-all word in the Army that can mean anything.

Grasshopper pilots not only handled some of the most difficult missions of the war, they also handled some of the most treacherous and hair raising. They flew in every theatre: from the desert when, in the super heated air, it was a real struggle to get airborne; in the arctic, where they fought to stay on course through williwaws and boreal storms, and where if they got lost they were almost guaranteed a frigid death. They flew over jungles with aircraft so overloaded they barely maintained altitude, with engines screaming, to clear the tree tops. These pilots were not the “glory boys” of the Air Corps. They were never given the recognition or the medals of the bomber pilots.

Regards to Mrs. Sarah Cannon (deceased in 1993) for granting ALS the rights to Box Seat Over Hell.

Hardy Cannon was a gunner on a B-17 then, following an injury sustained on a combat mission, served in maintenance on numerous types of airplanes. Afterwards he came to San Antonio, married, taught school, and at one time was part owner of the largest postwar civilian flight school. A dedication plaque on a tall observation platform at Cannon Field records it was erected from 1991–1992 in his memory.

It took, “Canvas and wood and courage,” said ALS lifetime member, Bob Salter. “Small light and slow as they are, these planes are still a roaring connection with our greatest generation. Their almost insurmountable challenges. Their selfless sacrifices.” He continued, “The book’s title says it all. There is no small amount of awe imagining those days in riding tandem with the past.”

L-Bird, The Little Plane That Did

Further chronicling stories of L-birds and the roles they played in WWII is a movie short available on DVD titled L-Bird: The Little Plane That Did. Narrated by Cliff Robertson and produced by Emmy award winning director Brian Shipman, the compilation includes rare footage of the Brodie landing system by which L-birds landed at sea aboard carrier ships.

L-Bird, The Little Plane That Did by Brian Shipman, available only on DVD.

It’s hard to believe such a small airplane could cause so much chaos, death and destruction. But it did. It’s even harder to understand how such a remarkable story could go untold for half a century. At the start of WWII, many officers thought the little planes were a joke. But before the war was half over, field officers wouldn’t go anywhere without them. Using L-birds as spotters, the U.S. Army was able to place its artillery with pinpoint accuracy. Anything that moved under the watchful eye of an L-bird pilot was immediately blown away.

History on the Wing in San Antonio

A longtime duo of San Antonio TV news personalities revealed the little known group’s activities in recent years. Excerpts from their interviews follow with the story initiated by the forenamed Bob Salter, a reporter, air medical helicopter pilot, and former TV anchorman.

“This is history on the wing,” Salter began. “It looks like it’s barely moving. Isn’t that incredible,” queried an onlooker. “These airplanes are designed to fly very slowly, to land at very slow speed, and to take off at very slow speed,” responded Gene Jensen, ALS squadron leader.

“So it did not require a runway?” queried Salter. “No, just any patch of road, no matter how rough. Or an open field, a section of beach close to the water,” Jensen followed. “These airplanes were used for virtually anything you’d use a Jeep for. Their first military assignment was to direct artillery fire. With an eye in the sky and a radio, they could direct fire on the ground. For the first time, artillery became really effective.

“This is a true Piper Cub, a 1939 model. It was so universally safe to fly, almost anybody could fly it with the simplest of introductions. Many of them were delivered in a crate to the military with an instruction book to put them together, usually by a couple of young soldiers with some experience in motorcycle maintenance. And of course it usually meant he was a little bit daring,” Jensen invoked. “It’s very simple, as far as airplanes go. Very easy to repair. Being made of fabric over a frame, if they got damaged whether it was battle damage or just mistakes, one could repair it very very simply.

“Over 10,000 of them were built during World War II. They didn’t even send a 100-hour inspection list with them, because they never expected them to last a 100 flying hours.” Salter bantered, “But here it is nearly 80 years later still flying. This is in no small part due to the dedication of volunteers, whose passion it is to wrench time backwards.”

“So how is it these L-birds are not combat planes, but combat so often found them?” asked Salter. “The ambulance version, whereon the whole side folds down and the back door opens, allows for a stretcher behind the pilot. It was the very first air extraction ambulance. This allowed them to quickly get an injured, a seriously injured soldier, back to the M.A.S.H. hospital,” Jensen answered.

Bob Salter visits Cannon Field (segment begins at 5:03).

Months after Salter’s visit in 2015, he passed away in his sleep at the age of 61. In September 2016, Katrina Webber, a reporter for San Antonio’s KSAT 12 where Salter spent most of his career, visited Cannon Field for more. Her interview was titled Life Along the Loop: Group’s pastime involves flying high, elevating history – Alamo Liaison Squadron shares history of WWII combat planes.

“When it comes to firsthand memories of WWII, Gene Jensen can muster only fuzzy images. He was still a young child when the United States and its allies declared victory,” led Webber. Jensen replied, “My first and only memories are the soldiers coming home at the end of the war.”

Despite the generation shift, Jensen has made it his mission to ensure others know all about that era, as well as some of the aircraft that made significant contributions toward that victory. A Korean War veteran and former B-52 bombardier Jensen, and other ALS members share their knowledge of WWII with the use of restored L-birds.

“What we’re trying to do is preserve the story. This is the story about the little bitty guy that really never got told,” Jensen said. “These planes did the simple tasks, looking over the hills, directing artillery fire, dropping supplies.” Restorations at ALS come as close to the original as possible. Patchworks of paint, stars and bars, and other markings that dressed them years ago are visible today. Even a simulated bullet hole decal gives reference to the L-bird’s past.

“The sacrifices service members made in the past can be used as a guide in the present and future. If one understands the history here and how diligently these people served, in rather really simple ways,” Jensen advocated, “then service, even sacrifice, is a positive human experience.”

DeRidder Louisiana Vintage Flight

In November 2016, a reporter for KPLC TV in Louisiana, Maranda Whittington, met with Jensen representing ALS. Sharply defiant in his best recollection and silvered age, Jensen assured, “I don’t remember not wanting to fly.” The story, titled WWII plane flies into DeRidder Saturday, alludes to the five hours Jensen spent flying from San Antonio to DeRidder, for a special reason. “This is the historical starting point for these airplanes,” he professed. “Such planes were used during the Louisiana Maneuvers here in the 1940s. It was their proving ground before being shipped overseas by the thousands. Flying this plane reminds me that some qualities are best never forgotten.”

Reflecting on Four Decades

San Antonio Express-News printed in 1982, “Checking the gas is simple on this spotter plane. The gauge is a wire attached to a cork.” The floating wire is clearly visible from both inside or outside the cockpit. Liaison is conceivably a misleading term to describe what the what the light two-place airplanes actually did in their wartime service. Their contribution was in their versatility. “Low and slow, that’s how they flew in directing artillery fire or spotting enemy troops and tanks. They could land on any road, in any field. One landed on a fishing pier in Manila and took off again later from the same pier,” the newspaper article exclaimed.

Photo from San Antonio Express-News, Friday, May 28, 1982. Piper J3 in the foreground, Taylorcraft L-2 behind.

The first specialized liaison airplane, the Stinson L-5, is represented at ALG. Before helicopters revolutionized battlefield casualty removal, a medevac configured L-5 allowing a litter onboard served in this capacity. The newspaper article further recorded, “The group’s rarest acquisition was a tangle of tubing, wires and rotted canvas, the L-1 [also manufactured by Stinson]. The largest of the liaisons used, it was one of four known to exist, found in the Alaskan wilderness.”

Opening the hatch of the L-5 reveals ample space for the transport of a wounded soldier.

A newsletter of the San Antonio Real Estate Association noted two years later as ALG acquired additional property at Cannon Field for a runway expansion, “The group of area businessmen, bankers and retired military personnel… maintains the only complete set of flying WWII liaison aircrafts which were built between 1939 and 1945.” In 1984, this included the rare and then flying L-1 Vigilant. ALG at the time had formed a more complete set of L-birds than that maintained by the Army Aviation and Air Force Museums. The organization was 50 strong, and the non-pilot members (half or so in number) were flight training in the 40-year-old planes they restored.

The first restored L-1 at Cannon Field, circa 1984.

Little Airplane, Big Job

AOPA Pilot writer Barry Schiff, along with photographer Mike Fizer, paid a visit and flew the squadron’s aircraft during the ALS annual picnic in April 2015. The upshot was an article, “Little airplane, big job – The Poor Man’s Warbird” published in the July 2015 edition of the magazine. Schiff wrote: “A group of pilots dedicated to honoring and keeping alive the memory of the L-birds and their pilots… is unabashedly patriotic.” Emphasizing further, “A claim that small tube-and-fabric liaison airplanes were the most feared American aircraft of WWII seems incredulous, almost laughable. But those aware of the facts argue persuasively that the claim is true.”

American Innovation

The introduction of a new category of aircraft prompted challenges for the military. Through innovation, American liaison squadrons were able to overcome their challenges. Liaison aircraft were comparatively slow and short range aircraft. Flying them across the English Channel, for example, required advance planning and for some supplemental fuel. Operations in the Pacific required considerably more preparedness. Hence, the the aforementioned Brodie landing system was conceived. Born of the Landing Ship, Tank (LST) naval vessel first developed during WWII to facilitate direct-to-shore tank landing operations, a converted LST was used with L-birds.

These ships were in size (length ≈300 ft x beam 50 ft) large enough for an L-bird to land and takeoff from, however impractical given the entire deck would be required. A launch platform was constructed easily enough in the available deck space, but landing would be difficult at best. The experimental, and appreciably successful, Brodie landing system was developed to “retrieve” a slow flying plane by wire on cranes hung laterally abreast the ship then lower them onto the LST deck.

The Brodie landing system on a converted Navy LST.
The deck of a converted Navy LST served as a departure runway for L-birds.

Other liaison centric innovations, the stuff of legend, also emerged from WWII. Charles Carpenter, brazenly dubbed “Bazooka Charlie,” was an Army Major assigned to the 1st Bombardment Division in France. He created an ad hoc gunship of his L-4 by mounting M1 Bazookas under its wings. According to postwar lore, he used them successfully to take out a tank.

Charlie Carpenter with his grasshopper turned gunship.

In today’s backcountry-centric flying world, the hanging of gun cases, fishing poles, and even bicycles under the wings can been seen giving nod to the creativity and innovation of Bazooka Charlie.

Flight test with a gun carrier under the wings of a Legend Cub, 2016.
A practical application for the modern flyer, a wing mounted gun carrier leaves more room for storage in the cargo hold.

Like the larger cabined L-5, an ambulance configuration of the Piper Cub was also built. It was able to accommodate a stretcher with a convertible “turtledeck” aft fuselage. Designated HE-1, then later AE-1, 100 examples were delivered to both the Navy and Marines for use at remote air stations beginning in 1942.

Navy AE-1 Air Ambulance, based on the Piper J-5C.

The AE-1 was derived from the Piper J-5C, a rare Cub built with a wider two-passenger rear seat and pilot in front. This slightly bigger passenger compartment, with seat removed, gave the AE-1 the ability to carry, theoretically, two stretchers (see photo). The AE-1 had a 75-hp engine, compared the 65-hp in the kindred J-3 and L-4 models.

Cut-away drawing of a U.S. Navy Piper HE-1 showing utilization of the space behind the pilot seat accommodating two litter patients.

A vital medevac service employed by all L-birds involved the dropping of supplies, medical or otherwise, via parachute as illustrated in a period Piper Cub ad. Delivery of supplies via parachute was common in military aviation and the L-birds were no exception.

Piper Cub print ad, Flying magazine – Medical Mission!

Conversely, the light and low flying L-birds could retrieve terrestrial items in a decidedly low-tech but effective manner. Another Piper Cub ad illustrates the airplane swooping down with a fish hook to retrieve a message and “speed it to headquarters.”

Piper Cub print ad – Message on the Fly!

STOL is What It’s All About

A pair of L-bird replicas, 2006 and 2008 Legend Cubs, that have flown with ALS are but a sampling of what liaison-type aircraft look like today. Some copies are known as Carbon, Savage and Patrol, some as Bush, Boss and Bear, others as Super, Patriot and even the Mother-of-all-Cubs. Each is still a Cub of the liaison-type in its unique form. Such imitations of the low, slow flying L-birds are ubiquitous and laudatory, and a testament to the Cub’s merit. When the military desired a short take off and landing aircraft, they got one that proved its worth.

Among the things changed with contemporary copies… tires got fatter, HP made ’em go faster. Digital avionics facilitated navigation, communications and systems monitoring. The list of betterments is long. However, the essence is the same. Flying into a makeshift landing zone. Experiencing the unknown. All it takes is a heroic pilot and a field-wise mechanic. The rest is history in the making, where anything is possible owing to the enduring L-bird.

Still Flying Here, 80+ Years

Summarizing the golden anniversary of L-birds, H.G. Frautschy, long time editor of Vintage Airplane magazine, penned in the June 1992 edition of Sport Aviation magazine, “The idea had not come to Bill Piper in a sudden inspiration… [army officers, mid 1940] had been experimenting with a civilian Piper Cub they had rented from Stinson Municipal Airport in San Antonio, TX.” Over 80 years later, the liaisons, the grasshoppers, the Cubs and Flying Jeeps are still doing just that—flying at Cannon Field, a certain nonwooded 30 aker plot within viewing distance of downtown San Antonio.

The group seeks to perpetuate, in the memory and hearts of the American people, the spirit in which the liaison pilots, their crews and the airplanes served in the defense of a nation. – Alamo Liaison Squadron

Bearhawk Model 5 First Flight of First Kit-built and STOL Competition Winner

AUSTIN, TEXAS, NOVEMBER 10, 2022 – Bearhawk Aircraft announced today the first flight of the first kit-built Bearhawk Model 5 aircraft. The new Bearhawk 5 is a 6-Place design that performs exceptionally well on unimproved runways and in backcountry settings. Built originally for heavy hauling and bulky loads Bearhawk aircraft are known for their performance and strength.

A powerful and responsive new model, the aircraft performed as expected according to Rollie Van Dorn who flew the required first 25 hours in the first kit-built Bearhawk 5. Van Dorn is a commercial airline pilot and has previously flown numerous other Bearhawk aircraft including the Model 5 prototype. He commented on the required flight regiment, “When maneuvering, the larger Model 5 feels the same as the Patrol [2-Place tandem model]. Ailerons actually feel lighter. I expected this build to perform exactly the same as the prototype, and it did without exception.”

Van Dorn said he flew 8.7 hours one day, making over 20 landings in the new aircraft. To busy himself during the required 25 hours of local flying, he monitored speed and power. At 8,500 feet, the aircraft indicated 142 knots TAS at 24-square. He also noted altitude was easily maintained with reduced power and fuel consumption was between 11.0–15.7 gallons-per-hour. In pitching up the aircraft exhibited gentle manners, also when maneuvering in steep turns. Van Dorn added, “The Model 5 lands nicely and goes really fast.” With the intake oriented forward, ram airflow helps improve fuel servo performance. “I was able to skywrite and view BEARHAWK on my G3X and ADS-B displays. This made the time go by faster but also heightened my appreciation for the Model 5’s agile flying qualities.”

The Bearhawk Model 5 was designed to use Lycoming engines from 250–315 horsepower. While the prototype used a 315-hp IO-580, this first kit completion used a 300-hp angle-valve IO-540. It swings a Hartzell 3-blade propeller (82” diameter, carbon fiber). Both engines give a power-to-weight ratio equivalent to the most powerful competition acrobatic planes; this makes for spectacular takeoff and climb. Van Dorn noted that the Model 5 really pushes you back in your seat and blasts off the ground in a short distance.

The Bearhawk Model 5 (designating fifth in the series) retains the classic styling of previous Bearhawks. The familiar high-wing design with conventional gear performs safely and predictably, especially on unpaved surfaces. The most notable change from the original 4-Place is that the Model 5 is bigger, seating up to six. The two largest Bearhawk models might be compared to the Cessna 180, a 4-place aircraft, and the Cessna 185 six-seater. However, the Bearhawk is lighter and stronger, and can haul more with easy access through its large cargo door. A YouTube video, ‘A Walk Around the New Bearhawk Five’ with builder Collin Campbell, provides more detail… youtube.com/watch?v=k29_JrCACpY&t=1204s.

Differences between the 4-Place and Model 5 are few, including a 2-inch wider and noticeably longer fuselage supplying extra interior volume. The Model 5’s fuselage is of welded 4130 tubing with a lower part count and weight. Both models are fabric covered with all aluminum wings and spars. Skins are .025/.032 on a Riblet airfoil—which Bob Barrows had design input on with Harry Riblet—common on all Bearhawk designs and optimized for both higher speeds and low speed handling.

Northeast STOL Series Win for Bearhawk

The Northeast STOL Series is a competition held at different locations in the northeastern U.S. taking place during the summer season. According to participant Peter Brown, “While it’s smaller and draws a local crowd, it’s a great time and we enjoy the competition among friends.”

An association with Mark Goldberg, kit manufacturer of the Bearhawk lineup, led Brown to take temporary possession of the prototype Model 5 which Brown flew from AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 to his home in the Northeast. Brown demonstrated the Model 5 in the region, including at STOL events. After a few months with the Model 5, he finalized the purchase of a Bearhawk Patrol.

“The Patrol fits me and my mission perfectly. With 55 gallons of fuel I can fly long legs on cross country flights. Better yet I can fly out and back to some remote spots that don’t have fuel available. I’m able to fly from central Vermont to northern Maine non-stop, have lunch and return in one day burning less fuel than in my previous PA-18-95, which required a fuel stop, and which over the same distance required an overnight stay.”

After building time in his Patrol, Brown began competing in the Northeast STOL Series. “Like anything it takes practice to be consistent with your landings, takeoffs and learning the capabilities of your aircraft, but after a bit it started to work and I was able to move from a few 3rd place finishes up to 1st and 2nd place finishes.” Competing head-to-head with Super Cubs and Carbon Cubs, the Patrol performed well enough throughout the series this year to take the overall win on total points.

“The best part is I can fly 200–300 miles, compete in an event, and fly back the same day with the Patrol’s high cruise speed. I’ve not found a better aircraft that combines the true bush plane strength of a chromoly steel fuselage, flight characteristics, STOL capability, and cruise speed,” concluded Brown. For more information on Northeast STOL Series… facebook.com/people/Northeast-STOL-Series/100064128671316/. Visit Peter Brown’s 500AGL on YouTube at… youtube.com/c/500AGL.

Bearhawk aircraft are available in kit or plan form. Models range from 2-, 4- and 6-Place configurations. All Bearhawk aircraft excel at accessing remote airstrips and are renown for their rugged construction and carrying capacity. Avipro / Bearhawk Aircraft manufactures high quality Quick Build kits for the Bearhawk 4-Place Model B, Bearhawk Patrol, Bearhawk Companion, Bearhawk LSA, and Bearhawk Model 5.

For more information on Bearhawk Aircraft, visit www.bearhawkaircraft.com, or contact Bearhawk at info@bearhawkaircraft.com or 1-877-528-4776, or 512 -626-7886.

– Bearhawk –

Bearhawk Patrol Northeast STOL Series winner
Peter Brown in the Bearhawk Patrol on touchdown in the Northeast STOL Series competition.
6-Place Bearhawk Model 5
Bearhawk Model 5, a 6-Place aircraft that performs exceptionally well in the backcountry.

L-Birds of a Feather Mock Together

The golden age of aviation was an era of rapid and fervent development for fixed wing aircraft. Many design innovations occurred during this period from 1919–1939 essentially between the two world wars.

This was a time when classic aerodynamic lines and popular characters dominated. Air races and barnstorming displays were common. Airports were deemed a necessity for any progressive minded community, and so they built them. Regulations were few, and daring pilots achieved fatality or fame.

Commercial use of airplanes was just beginning, and manufacturing firms were numerous and thriving. Among many private industries, light aircraft production was decidedly individual and personal. The use of aircraft, like mass production at the time, served wide-ranging purposes. Farming and ranching industries benefitted, as did prospectors of land and mineral resources. The U.S. was a vast and unexplored territory. Aviation served to make it less formidable.

Meanwhile, all of aviation’s civil applications would reflect upon the armed forces and a developing need to carry out missions on foreign soil. For military use, aircraft had been previously employed in two primary roles, assault and reconnaissance. These were the delivery of bombs and fire, and surveillance on the adversary. Airplanes were a powerful tool, the extent to which had not yet been fully understood, as ground forces had dominated national defense prior. However, a medial role that proved to be equally important would emerge—that of the liaison. Referring both to pilot and aircraft, liaison forces would quite simply permit ground armies to perform with greater accuracy, intelligence and expediency.

The key players in light aviation during WWII turned out to be Piper Aircraft and Stinson Aircraft companies. Despite their dominance, other aircraft manufacturers were prevalent, and collectively they contributed to the deployment, and success, of the liaison role.

L-birds that missed the cut in WWII

Most historians agree that one aircraft in particular had the greatest influence on the adoption of light aircraft for use in the armed forces. This was the Fieseler Fi 156 Storch—an oddity of German origin noted for its excellent short field (takeoff and landing) performance and low stall speed (around 31 mph). The aircraft looked strange in that it was slender, unusually svelte and angular. At 32.5 feet long, and nearly 47 feet in wingspan, its ability to float was derisively misunderstood. In comparison to the Piper L-4 or Stinson L-5 it was significantly heavier and less agile.

Fieseler Fi 156 Storch manufactured by Gerhard Fieseler Werke of Germany and Aéroplanes Morane-Saulnier of France.

What made the greatest impression on lookers of the Storch was its unique ability to operate from short, unimproved and improvised landing fields—a daunting feat for aircraft large or small at the time. Following a public review of the Storch’s abilities, U.S. production of a similar such aircraft was commenced. The resulting Stinson L-1 Vigilant was eventually produced in a quantity of 324, of which only a handful remain today. The aircraft was notoriously complex and costly.

Stinson L-1 / O-49 Vigilant manufactured by Stinson Aircraft Company of Michigan. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Aircraft similar to the L-1 (a.k.a. O-49), and Storch, must also be credited with with the liaison class coming of age. These included the Douglas O-46, of which 90 were built from 1936–1937. The O-46 was, if anything, more curvaceous than the Storch. It utilized a radial Pratt & Whitney R-1535 Wasp engine, big and heavy like the aircraft itself.

Douglas O-46 manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Company of California. (Paul Bridgford, a.k.a. Wildr1 @ ww2aircraft.net)

Likewise noteworthy was the Ryan YO-51 Dragonfly. It too was designed for optimum short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. In 1940 three prototypes were built and testing proved highly successful. Full-span slots (gaps along the forward wing edge) and Fowler flaps (extensions beyond and downward of the aft wing edge) contributed to its STOL prowess. It again was large at 35.5 feet long and 52 feet in wingspan, and powered by a Wasp engine.

Ryan YO-51 Dragonfly manufactured by Ryan Aeronautical Company of California. (Rudy Arnold @ airhistory.net)

A third finalist in a 1938 U.S. Army Air Corps competition, with the Stinson YO-49 and Ryan YO-51, was the Bellanca YO-50. At the time all were considered observation (O) aircraft as the liaison (L) class had yet to be formed. In 1940 Bellanca built three prototypes, and with an inverted “V” Ranger V-770 engine it resembled the svelte Storch. Wingspan was a browbeating 55.5 feet.

Bellanca YO-50 manufactured by Bellanca Aircraft Company of Delaware. (Jack Fisher @ 1000aircraftphotos.com)

The slot (similar to a leading edge slat which is moveable) was purportedly discovered independently in both Germany by Gustav Victor Lachmann and England by Frederick Handley Page. Lechmann subsequently joined the Handley Page Company and the device became known throughout the world as the Handley Page Slot. Handley Page manufactured a one-off example of a biplane, the H.P.39 Gugnunc, incorporating a slotted and flapped wing.

H.P.39 Gugnunc manufactured by Handley Page Limited of Great Britain.

Future STOL

A more successful rendition of a STOL class, high-wing utility aircraft was the Helio Courier introduced in 1954. Used by the the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army Special Forces, the so-designated L-24 Courier and L-28 Super Courier were used for liaison work, light cargo and supply drops, psychological warfare, forward air control, insertion and extraction by land and sea, and reconnaissance. The L-28 was later redesignated U-10. With a length of 30 ft 8 in, wingspan of 39 ft, and accommodation for pilot plus five passengers its overall size was in-between that of the L-1 and L-5. Some 500 Helio Couriers were built of which approximately 120 were L-28 / U-10 models.

L-28 Super Courier manufactured by Helio Aircraft Company of Massachusetts. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives photo)

Not-to-be-forgotten STOL

Another in the utility/STOL class, however seating more than two and seeing service as a liaison aircraft, was the Bellanca 31-50 Senior Skyrocket. Stout in profile, the six- and eight-seat utility aircraft from which it derived was less gangly than the L-1 and Storch. Among 33 built only one was impressed into military service by the USAAF in 1942 in Alaska. It was identified as the L-11.

Bellanca L-11 Senior Skyrocket manufactured by Bellanca Aircraft Company of Delaware. (Library and Archives Canada, Russell Baker Collection)

The Show Goes On

Stinson was steadily busy producing four- to six-seat Voyager and Reliant models preceding, and some concurrent with, the L-1 and L-5 beginning in 1933. The military L-9, derived from the Voyager, was labeled HW-75, Model 105, Model 10, YO-54, AT-19, and UC-81 at various stages. Its commercial availability enabled orders by the military for immediate use.

Stinson L-9 Voyager (Wright State University, Walter Matthews Jefferies Collection)

Various models of the Reliant were produced using a radial engine, even a gull wing modification. Eventually the four-seat Reliant was impressed into service with the USAAF during WWII as the L-12, comprising two SR.5A models and another two SR.7B models as the L-12A.

Stinson L-12 Reliant

The Stinson L-13 was a bit more peculiar with its narrow aft fuselage. It arrived later in 1945. 28 Were converted for cold weather operations using a combination of wheels, skis and floats, and given the L-13B moniker.

Stinson L-13 manufactured by Convair, previously Consolidated Vultee of which Stinson was a subsidiary.

Various Stinson configurations included ambulance (accommodating one or two stretchers), cargo, target towing, firefighting and photography. Stinson built 1,052 examples of the L-9 Voyager lineage, 1,327 variants of the L-12 Reliant type, and 302 of the L-13 including two XL-13 prototypes.

Taking the narrow aft fuselage to the extreme was the L-15, or YL-15, Boeing Scout, a two-occupant STOL observation concept with an aft-facing observer seat. Only 12 were produced by the airframer giant in an bailed attempt to enter the light aircraft market.

Boeing L-15 Scout (johnbr @ ww2aircraft.net)

Light Flivvers

On the truly lighter side, the Cub was not alone in achieving its superstardom. Though Aeronca, Taylorcraft and Interstate made their mark in WWII, other Cub-like flivvers too were vying for a patch on the grass.

Standouts in the two-seater, high-wing class of aviation’s golden age include the Porterfield Collegiate. The series, CP-40/50/55/60/65 (Continental powered, while others were Franklin ‘FP’ or Lycoming ‘LP’ powered), is distinguishable by its parallel wing struts. Produced from 1936–1942, 476 were reportedly built, and the model is today considered light-sport per FAA rules. Many were used in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) introducing civilians to military aviation. Importantly, company founder Edward E. Porterfield is credited with promoting, alongside William T. Piper, the use of light aircraft to the AAF in the early stages of WWII. Porterfield also designed the Eaglet 31 in 1930, of which approximately 93 were built.

Porterfield Collegiate manufactured by Porterfield Aircraft Corporation of Kansas City.

Using the familiar Continental engines du jour, Rearwin Aircraft (later Commonwealth Aircraft) derived its Skyranger from earlier single-engine sport monoplanes. Produced from 1940 to 1947 (with a pause in the middle), 358 Skyrangers were built. Its construction also followed the Cub types du jour in being a fabric-covered steel tube fuselage with wooden wings. However, remarks that it was “too challenging to fly,” led to its exclusion from the CPTP training fleet.

Rearwin-Commonwealth Skyranger manufactured in Kansas City.

Lesser known was the Welch OW (models 3, 5M, 6M, 6S, 7M, 8M) with progressively larger engines from 37–45 hp. An OW-9M concept with a Lycoming O-145 @ 55 hp was never built. Controls on the Welch were mounted overhead with an adjustable control wheel that could be positioned for either pilot (akin to the single throw control yoke of a Bonanza). Its appearance can be likened to the Aeronca C-3 with a forward bloated, aft tapering fuselage.

Welch OW aircraft manufactured by Orin Welch Aircraft Company, Indiana. (1000aircraftphotos.com, Jim Brink & Ed Garber Collection)

None of these three Cub-like flivvers ever received an L-designation. However, their similarity with the style du jour is apparent. All diminutive taildraggers, their reclined perch on the tarmac, level when aloft, gave one or two occupants shoulder mounted wings afore an undulating T-tail and a spring wheel.

Though introduced post-war in 1946, the same can be said of the Fleet 80 Canuck—a Canadian side-by-side, high-wing fabric covered tourer. 225 Examples of the Canuck were built before production ended in 1958.

Fleet 80 Canuck manufactured by Fleet Aircraft of Canada.

One bereft among the early birds but carrying the L-moniker nevertheless was the L-7 Monocoupe 90 (Monocoupe aircraft would later become Universal Molded Products). Designed by Don Luscombe in 1928, the Monocoupe 90 was built into the late 1940s to a quantity of 324. A military version of the Model 90AF (sporting a Franklin engine vs. the previous radial engined versions) was bought by the USAAF. Designating 20 units as the Universal L-7, they were transferred to the Free French Forces. Equally noteworthy, Don Luscombe would later become known for his advanced sheet metal light aircraft—taking cues from larger aircraft of the time.

Monocoupe 90 (L-7) designed by Donald A. Luscombe for Monocoupe Aircraft in Iowa.

It is said that mocking is the sincerest form of flattery. Truth be known it is said of imitation. But all things being equal, and a mock-up being a prototype, to mock something means to draw attention to its perceived outstanding qualities, and that’s precisely what the L-birds and their influencers did. Though only a few received official L-bird notoriety, each made their contribution to the class. Many returned from battle with honors. The unifying characteristics they all expressed were short-range and short field superiority, availability practically anywhere and for nearly any task, and the quintessential quality of humans mocking birds for their extraordinary defeat of the boundary between surface and space.


While not a comprehensive inventory, but taking into account production notes in this article and known production of the most utilized L-2 thru L-6 aircraft of WWII, approximately 21,000-plus liaison aircraft have served the U.S. and its Allies. Considering post-WWII liaison types the total number of aircraft exceeds 28,000.

Following WWII…
The L-3 essentially became the L-16 when in 1946 Aeronca began producing the improved L-16A (7BCM Champion), of which 509 were built, and the L-16B (7CCM Champion) of which 100 were built. These served in the Korean War.

The L-4 essentially became the L-18 and L-21. From 1947–1949 the PA-11 Cub Special was produced and given the L-18 designation of which 105 were built and delivered to Turkey under the Military Assistance Program. Beginning in 1949 Piper produced the PA-18 Super Cub building:

  • 838 of the L-18C (95 hp Continental C90-8F engine) of which many were sent to other nations under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program
  • Two YL-21 (135 hp Lycoming 0-290-D2 engine) evaluation units
  • 150 of the L-21A (125 hp Lycoming 0-290-II engine)
  • 584 of the L-21B (approved YL-21). These were redesignated U-7A in 1962.

The Piper NE-1 / NE-2 derived from J-3, while the Piper AE-1 / HE-1 derived from J-5.
The Piper YL-14 derived from J-5. An order for 845 of the L-14 was cancelled after five/eight units were built.
The Piper L-4F / UC-83 derived from J-5A Cruiser (Continental A75-8 engine), four built and served in Panama, additional 39 built.
The Piper L-4G derived from J-5B Cruiser (Lycoming GO-145-C2 engine), 34 built.

Piper L-birds served in many Allied countries where many can still be found today including: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Iran, Italy, Israel, Japan, Katanga (central Africa), Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, Uruguay.

A single low-wing three-seat Ryan S-C-W with a radial engine was impressed into service in 1942 as the L-10. Though a taildragger it had little other similarity with the L-bird class. Ryan also built 246 L-17 low-wing four-seat Navion aircraft that were later designated U-18.

The O-1 / L-19 Birddog was developed in 1949 serving after WWII. Cessna built 3,431 units.

The DHC-2 / L-20 Beaver also came later in 1952. L-2 designation was changed to U-6A, de Havilland Canada built 1,657 of the type.

Built in Czechoslovakia the L-60 Brigadýr resembled the Storch. Aero Vodochody produced 273 examples from 1953–1960.


YO – Indicates an aircraft was a pre-production, or evaluation (Y), observation (O) aircraft. It was thus assigned a military designation number (Serial Number if USAF/USAAC/USAAS/USAAF or a Bureau Number [buno] if Navy/Marines) and a manufacturer’s serial number (MSN).

XO – Indicates the first test unit, or experimental (X), observation(O) aircraft
XL – Indicates experimental (X), liaison (L) aircraft

YO-57 (four built) and O-57 would become Taylorcraft L-2; Total 2,168
YO-58 (four built) and O-58B would become Aeronca L-3; Total (including L-16) 2,248
YO-59 (four built) and O-59 / J3C-65D would become Piper L-4; Total (all) 7,752
O-62 would become Stinson L-5, then later U-19; Total 3,590
XO-63 would become Interstate L-6, 251 built (one XO then 250 L-6), L-6 differs from the L-8 of which only eight were built for Bolivia; Total 259

In 1962 a new single letter designation system was implemented while the L-designation was dropped. U – Indicates a utility aircraft.