The movement in the AGF that was to
result in establishing a new Army air arm began around 1940. Joseph McCord
Watson, Jr., a young artillery officer, had been experimenting with the
concept of artillery fire adjustment from small aircraft.
In 1940, he requested that the Piper
Aircraft Corporation furnish two Piper Cubs to experiment with fire
adjustment during Army maneuvers. These experiments, conducted at Camp
Beauregard, LA, in August 1940, proved successful notwithstanding the
absence of radios in the aircraft.
In the fall of 1940, Major General
(MG) Robert M. Danford, the chief of Field Artillery, and other artillery
officers became interested in further testing the organic spotter-plane
They were motivated by two major
factors. First, Air Corps planes were not always available to provide
artillery spotter support when needed. Secondly, some artillerymen were
coming to believe that lightweight aircraft, piloted by artillery officers
and dependent on ground commanders, could do a better job. Interest in the
concept of using small organic aircraft for fire adjustment became more
widespread as a result of an article by Major (MAJ) William W. Ford,
"Wings for Santa Barbara." The article was published in the Field
Artillery Journal in April 1941.
Army General Headquarters conducted
maneuvers in Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and the Carolinas in 1941. Three
light aircraft manufacturers, Piper, Taylorcraft, and Aeronca, placed 11
planes at the disposal of the Army during the maneuvers.
These cub-type planes, mostly Piper
J-3s, flown by civilian pilots were tested for artillery spotting as well as
for courier service and other liaison roles.
During the maneuvers, these 11
"Grasshoppers," as they were named by MG Innis P. Swift,
commanding general, 1st Cavalry Division, flew about 400,000
miles in some 3,000 missions.
In comparison to the larger air forces
planes, the Grasshoppers cost much less, could take off and land on almost
any level surface, and could maintain much more effective contact with the
ground units that they supported.
Furthermore, according to General Danford, the "only uniformly satisfactory report of air observation
during the maneuvers… [came] from those artillery units where… light
commercial planes operated by civilian pilots were used."
After the 1941 maneuvers, General
Danford renewed his efforts to obtain War Department permission to conduct
formal tests of light aircraft organic to Field Artillery units. On 8
December 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a War
Department memorandum authorized Field Artillery to proceed with the
proposed tests and directed the AAF to make 28 YO-59 (Piper J-3 or Piper
Cub) aircraft available to Field Artillery as soon as practicable.
With the new liaison "L"
classification introduced on 2 April 1942, the YO-59 became the L-4, the
aircraft most widely used by organic Army Aviation during WWII. The AGF also
used a few L-2 Taylorcraft and L-3 Aeroncas, but they were far less