In the late 1940s the US Army saw the need for a new observation and liaison aircraft which would be free of the shortcomings of earlier aircraft. As a result, a specification for an all-metal two-seat observation and liaison monoplane was circulated to US light aircraft manufacturers. Cessna's submission, the Model 305A, was declared the winner and an initial contract for 418 aircraft was awarded on 29 May 1950.
The outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950 saw production of the Bird Dog increase dramatically and on 16 February 1951 it was pressed into service in the conflict.
The war in Vietnam saw the Bird Dog assigned a new mission, that of Forward Air Control (FAC). The US Air Force modified Bird Dogs for the FAC role with the addition of a VHF radio and under-wing hardpoints for marker rockets. FAC missions in Vietnam usually involved having attack aircraft circling at high altitude while a FAC Bird Dog would fly low and slow over a specific area as the crew looked for enemy activity. If ground targets were spotted they would mark them, and call in the waiting fighter-bombers. Following the attack, the Bird Dog remained on the scene to report the results and, if necessary (or possible), call in another strike.
Jan 7, 2013 8:07:04 amby CoyoteSeven Homepage »
The crew of this aircraft would often sit on their flak vests rather than wear them to provide a little (and I do mean little) extra protection against enemy ground fire during the low and slow.
Being a FAC or an FAO (forward area observer, ground based version of FAC) is definitely not a job for the faint of heart.