The Aeronca L-16
The Aeronca L-16 (sixteenth in a series of Liaison aircraft orders) was built by the Aeronca Aircraft Corporation of Middletown, Ohio, for the U. S. Army in 1947 and 1948 - a militarized version of the famous Aeronca Champ, the perky, potbellied, popular civilian aircraft that flew faster and more comfortably than its celebrated cousin, the Piper Cub. Aeronca built 609 L-16s; some saw front-line service in Korea, fewer than two dozen are flying today. When we last checked, an L-16 was still based at the Seoul Flying Club in Korea.
Wingman T. J. Lilliman’s Aeronca L-16A, 47-1042, served with the Ohio Army National Guard, 135th Field Artillery, from 1947 to 1952, then was transferred to the Civil Air Patrol in Oregon, then in Maine. 1042 was briefly but happily owned by a flying club in Maine, then exported to Canada in 1973. In 1990, T. J. found 1042 sitting unflown and forlorn, and persuaded her owner to sell. 1042 was fully restored to original condition in 2010.
Flight Leader LJ Lee’s Aeronca L-16A, 47-1272, served with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, 107th Field Artillery, from 1947 to 1951, then with Air Training Command in San Marcos Texas before transfer to CAP California Wing in June of 1952 for SAR and flight training in the mountains and Mojave desert. In 1976, 1272 was struck from the military register: her next two decades were with private owners on the Snake River in Idaho. In 1994, LJ flew 1272 across the continent to her new Canadian home, and restored her just in time for 1272’s 50th birthday celebrations in December 1997. LJ also owns a replica L-16.
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The L-Bird Legacy
Early liaison aircraft, dubbed "grasshoppers", flew low and slow over enemy territory, spotting artillery and monitoring enemy troop movements, then reporting back to attack co-ordinators to call in the heavy iron. Before the helicopter era, it was the liaison pilot who was sent to land at near-impossible sites to pick up downed aircrew, hauling wounded pilots from dirt roads and tiny jungle strips, often carrying far more weight than the frames of their tiny fabric-covered aircraft were ever designed to carry.
For example: On February 20, 1951, Captain John Olihovik of the U.S. 7th Infantry landed his L-16 in a creek bed behind enemy lines to rescue a Navy pilot from a downed Corsair. Olihovik received the Navy's highest award for valour for the rescue.
Charles Simpson, a Canadian Artillery Sergeant on exchange with the U. S. Army when hostilities erupted in Korea in 1950, flew L-16s in combat there for several months, was shot down in one late in the year, and transported back home to recuperate. We met Charlie in the 1990s, and are proud to have called him our friend.
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The Canadian Bushhawks have been a familiar sight at airshows in Canada and the northeastern US since 1991, with a tightly disciplined display of low-and-slow L-Bird flying in Korean-War-era spotter planes; from our signature preflight routine to simultaneous propstop, aircraft max performance and formation demo, dawn & dusk patrols, and coordination with re-enactors to recreate L-Bird pilots' reconnaissance, rescue, supply drop and attack roles.
As airshow performers, the Canadian Bushhawks Liaison Squadron has unique capabilities that offer top value alongside headline acts. Our low and slow platform, pre-show area overflights and family appeal show off historical aviation at its affordable best.
Our “Formation Flight Syllabus,” first published in 1994, is the first FAA- and EAA-endorsed manual for formation flight training in high-wing, light liaison aircraft, and is still in use around the world. It is one of the official formation flight training manuals of the JLFC, EAA Warbirds’ FAA-approved Liaison and light trainer Formation Flight Training/Certification organization.
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Where To Find Us
The Canadian Bushhawks Liaison Squadron counts members worldwide but is known primarily for its founders, LJ Lee and T. J. Lilliman. In 1991 this close-knit pair of aviation enthusiasts founded the Bushhawks on an appropriately tiny pea-patch airstrip in Southwestern Ontario. Flying partners for several years, they married at an airshow in 1994, complete with a flypast of five T-6 Harvards from the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association that drowned out their wedding vows.
Home base since 1996, Bushhawk Creek is a 50-acre farm on the north shore of Lake Erie, with a timber-frame hangar, a tidy 1860s Ontario cottage, and a 3,600’ x 100’ grass airstrip. Each September the Bushhawks welcome friends, colleagues and neighbours for a weekend-long barbecue, “The Autumn Gathering of Hawks,” where attendance has been as high as 219 aircraft over the two days.
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