Bird Dogs on the Silver Screen
by Mark Cardwell
Ever spent a night channel surfing and happened up on an old war movie that’s good enough to make you put the remote control down for just a minute?
Better yet, have you ever been watching that movie and recognized the familiar shape of a Bird Dog on the screen? It’s rare but it does happen.
Here are a few you can keep an eye out for:
The Amazing Colossal Man
In this “B” quality science fiction movie, the hero is exposed to the effects of an atomic blast. Unfortunately, it causes him to grow, and grow. Everything grows except his sense of humor. He finally wanders away from the Army compound that he calls home in a very bad mood. Understandably, the Army wants him back and dispatches various search parties into the Nevada desert to find him. They are assisted by, you guessed it, an L-19 Bird Dog!
You wouldn’t think that it wouldn’t be that hard to find a 50 foot man, dressed only in a loin cloth, trekking through the desert but I guess it is. Come to think of it, the Bird Dog would be a pretty good choice for that mission.
This is the true story of Dean Hess. As a flier in World War II, he had the tragic experience of accidentally dropping a bomb on a German orphanage. After the war, he becomes a minister and settles into a peaceful life. Peaceful, that is, until he is recalled to active duty during the Korean conflict. He is put in charge of training South Korean pilots to fly attack missions in P-51s. In an incident that parallels his own unfortunate past, one of the other instructors rolls in on what he believes to be an enemy convoy. Sadly, it is a truck full of children. Guess who called in the strike? That’s right, an L-19 Bird Dog. The part of Dean Hess is played by Rock Hudson…..who would have thought?
Battle of the Bulge
This is the story of the bloody battle in the winter 1944 between the Americans and the Germans in the Ardennes. In this movie, Henry Fonda portrays an American general (I forget his name), who takes wing in the back seat of an L-19 to try to see what the enemy is up to. I know, wrong war, but you do get a good view of the Bird Dog in both live action and model shots. I suppose no one could find an L-4 or an L-5 but I’m not complaining, it’s still fun to watch. Obscured by clouds, the General is unable to see the enemy but eventually hears them after telling his pilot to “switch off the engine”. Pretty gutsy in my book!
This was a fairly popular telling of the exploits of the CIA owned “airline” that operated clandestine missions in South East Asia during the Vietnam War. The Bird Dog gets a little camera time but not nearly as much as the Pilatus Porter (and I bet they don’t even have a web site!). In any case, you get to see it at least long enough to know what it is.
I’m sure there are others. I heard a rumor that Dave Pierson once had his L-19 filmed for a movie that was directed by Leonard Nimoy.
Okay, so we don’t have any Academy Award material here but who knows? Maybe Steven Spielberg will make a screen version of The Ravens starring Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep, it could happen. Until then, if you think of a movie that I left out that features the lovable Bird Dog, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add it to the list.
Mitch Adds: If you’re talking about pictures from a book, how about Jimmie Butler’s, A Certain Brotherhood! That’s made for the screen and besides, the hero is named “Mitch”!