by Elroy "Buck" Hilbert

In the Korean war, Buck Hilbert was a 2nd Lieutenant and Artillery Liaison Pilot, or Army Aviator as they were then called. He had flown B-17's in WWII, and did dirt field flying around the Midwest until recalled for Korea. His stint as an Army Aviator lasted just under two years. About this he says, "I wouldn't trade that experience for a million dollars, nor would I go through it again for a million." It did prove the versatility of fixed-wing aircraft, which of course have since been overshadowed by the development of helicopters. After Korea, he was the first Army Aviator hired by United Airlines to get through the program and spent 32 years with them.

Buck met Al Mooney in 1951 when Al was on a trip to Fort Sill, Oklahoma trying to sell the "Cub Buster" to the Army Brass. They discussed the airplane -- off the record. At that time, Fort Sill was the home of the Advanced Tactics Flying School. It was there that the AA pilots were taught how to get maximum performance out of their aircraft -- fire direction, evacuation, communications -- and how to be the eyes of the Armored and whoever else needed aerial observation. The Bell H-13 and the Hiller helicopters were just getting started, and the fixed wing was still the king.

Before we get to Buck's description of his flight in the M-19, here are his general comments about Artillery Liaison:

Liaison Aircraft enjoyed a status reminiscent of the State Highway Patrol Car on the freeway. The minute they were spotted, everyone began to obey the rules. Our guys would say, "Here's the 'L' Plane! Knock off the fire so he can see what's going on!" All the shooting would stop and everyone would lay low. The enemy did so as well, knowing that the "L" plane could call up artillery support quickly with his radio microphone. And our guys did so, hoping the enemy would give away his position.

"The "L" plane could do "S" turns across the lines all day, and unless the enemy thought he could knock him down from cover, they would never fire a shot, fearing they'd give away their position. That was because artillery fire could be devastating. When an observer took over his assigned sector, whether it was early morning or whatever, he took his grid chart and ordered his batteries to fire at various focal points to test their accuracy. Once trued-up, he could call fire to those points, or corrected ones, with great accuracy. He would patrol his sector looking for targets of opportunity until his fuel ran low, and nothing would happen.

Buck describes his flight experience in the M-19 as follows:

A quick cockpit checkout, and a slap on the back and away I went. It was just like your M-18, about as tight, same Mexican gear handle, short run down the road and off I went. I took a few minutes to play and then after charging the guns made a run on the targets in the punch bowl (burned out tanks & trucks and whatever).

The concussion of the guns gave me thoughts about whether or not the structure would handle it for a length of time, and after exhausting my allotted 50 rounds, I came back, made a low pass and landed again on the road I took off from.

Here is his evaluation of the aircraft:

The Brass never consulted me or asked my opinion, but if they had, I'd have said I didn't like the idea of making my patrol car an instant target. This was definitely not a Close Support Aggressive Vehicle, and if it displayed aggressive behavior, it would instantly draw fire from every available source. It would also have been necessary to have complete air superiority because the airplane could not survive an enemy fighter attack.

There were several reasons why the Army treated the M-19 with disdain. The "Old Time Army Aviators" were afraid of the tricycle gear, for one. Also, it had no armor plate or defensive equipment and did present a somewhat frail appearance next to the massive L-5 which they were accustomed to. The armament consisted of two .30 caliber machine guns located in the wing roots and firing just outside the arc of the propeller. They were manually charged (cocked) by two D handles attached to cables at each side of the cockpit floor. There was precious little space for extra ammo. I think about fifty rounds was all they could handle.

There were no hard points for rockets that I know of. The initial velocity for rocket launch stability at that time was about 180 knots. Some real problems came to the fore when some of our frustrated, would-be, close-support pilots purloined rockets from the other services and attempted to use them from the Cessna L-19s.

The Brass as individuals may have liked the concept but, all in all, the fun part of the flying machine in no way made it suitable for its military concept. Being a single place aircraft was a disadvantage. To accurately direct artillery fire really called for an Observer. No room for one.

The tail draggers routinely operated from unimproved airstrips of decidedly short length, over fences and under wires. We were known as Army Fliers. We landed on beaches, curved roads, up hill, over obstacles on take-off and landing, and we banged up airplanes doing it.

In the eyes of the Brass, after looking at the L-5 and then the new L-19, the Mooney looked very fragile and small. Those little wheels demanded improved landing surfaces. The nose gear could easily drop into a rut or drop off and get the prop.

The real crux, as I said, was that the airplane couldn't live in a combat environment if it showed aggression. It would become an instant target. and again, it would have had to have complete air superiority in order to survive.

After the Chinese drove the UN troops from the Yalu River all the way down to Pusan, they captured a whole slug of armament in the form of Fifty calibers, Twenties and Forties mounted on half tracks and other armored vehicles left behind in the rout. It took them a couple weeks to get the arms and the ammo together, but then they effectively neutralized the Liaison aircraft. The Fifties drove them to 2500 ft., the Twenties and Forties to ten thousand feet. Prior to that, missions were flown at 500 feet or so, where targets and results were plainly visible.

From your reports (elsewhere in the Mite Site), Mooney obviously tried very hard to sell the military on the concept. He sure got the run-around according to the reports.

It was my only encounter with Al and the airplane. I never did know what happened to it.

Buck presently lives on a small farm at Union, Illinois where he has a 2000 ft. strip in the back yard and keeps a Fleet 10F, a Champ, and a Helton Lark 95, a fixed tri-gear version of the Culver Cadet derived from the PQ-8, about which he says, "It's a fun machine, but again, an airport lover because of its itty bitty wheels."

See also The M-19 Story

December, 2002