The Taylorcraft O-57/ L-2 Grasshopper was one of three models of commercial light aircraft that served as liaison and artillery spotter aircraft for the USAAF, filling a gap left by the slow development of the Stinson O-49/L-1 Vigilant
During the 1930s the speed of all types of military aircraft increased, leading to a debate over the type of aircraft needed for the observation role. Some believed that only high speed light bomber types could survive over enemy territory, while others thought that slow flying light aircraft with short take off and landing abilities would be needed. Early in 1939 the USAAC issued a specification for a ‘short range liaison observation’ aircraft, and selected the Stinson O-49 as the winner. However this aircraft proved to be unusually slow to develop. It was still under development when the Fieseler Storch proved its worth during the campaign in the Low Countries and France in 1940, and unsurprising the Army Ground Forces decided that they needed that sort of aircraft for the 1941 manoeuvres. The O-49 was still not available, so they decided to rent commercial aircraft. At first only Piper was involved, but they invited Aeronca and Taylor to take part, and each company ended up providing four aircraft. These aircraft performed well in the trials, and despite some misgivings on the part of the Air Force the only option was to order large numbers of these commercial types.
Taylorcraft provided four of their Model DC-65. Like all of the contenders, this was a high wing monoplane, with a fully glazed cockpit, including a small glazed section in the centre section of the wing. The rear view wasn’t as good as on the O-49, as the cockpit was faired back into the rear fuselage. It had a metal tube structure with a fabric covering. It was powered by a 65hp Continental YO-170-3 flat four air cooled engine, which gave it a top speed of 93 mph (all three of the Grasshoppers used the same engine).
In November 1941 the General Staff suggesting ordering 617 light aircraft, a mix of 342 Taylorcraft O-57s, Aeronca O-58s and Piper O-59s and 275 of the somewhat larger Stinson model 76, which became the O-62. In January 1942 the Ground Forces held a conference at which they worked out that they needed some 4,000 liaison aircraft! The Air Corps ordered another 1,000, followed by 1,960 more six months later.
By the end of December 1943 the USAAF and the Army Ground forces were operating 1,496 L-2s. However in an attempt to reduce the number of aircraft being produced, they were then classified as limited standard, and it was expected that no more would be ordered. A total of 306 L-2s and L-3s were produced during 1944, all from earlier contracts. The Piper L-4 Grasshopper and Stinson L-5 Sentinel provided most of the front line liaison aircraft.
This was the designation for the four civil aircraft provided for the 1941 army manoeuvres.
The O-57 was the first production version of the aircraft. It was similar to the YO-57, but with a military standard 65hp Continental O-170-3. Two batches were ordered, the first for 20 aircraft and the second for 50. They were ordered as the O-57 but entered service as the L-2.
The O-57A was the first true mass production version, with 336 ordered as the O-57A and 150 as the L-2A. This version was modified to make it a better observation aircraft. The rear fuselage between the back of the wing and the tail was cut down, and the cockpit given a glazed rear. The observer was given a seat that could rotate through 180 degrees, and a SCR-585 radio.
The L-2B was a dedicated artillery spotter aircraft, with 490 built for the US Army Field Artillery. It carried range finders and other artillery spotting equipment.
This was the designation given to thirteen civilian Model DC65s that were impressed into military service.
This was the designation given to one civilian Model DL65 that was impressed into military service.
This was the designation given to ten civilian Model DP65s that were impressed into military service.
This was the designation given to seven civilian Model BL65s that were impressed into military service.
This was the designation given to two civilian Model BFT65s that were impressed into military service.
This was the designation given to nine civilian Model BC12-65s that were impressed into military service.
This was the designation given to five civilian Model BL12-65s that were impressed into military service.
This was the designation given to four civilian Model BF12-65s that were impressed into military service.
This was the designation given to one civilian Model BF50 that was impressed into military service.
The L-2M was the last, and most numerous version of the aircraft, with 900 built, making up exactly half of the 1,800 L-2s built by 1943. It had a fully enclosed close fitting engine cowling (on earlier versions the cylinder heads were exposed), and wing spoilers, which improved its short take off and landing abilities. It was also given more standard USAAF instruments and improved radios.
The TG-6 was a training glider based on the Model D civilian trainer version of the aircraft. The engine and fuel system were removed, leaving space for an enlarged nose that could carry one instructor and two pupils under a rather bulbous looking canopy. It was 2ft 5in longer than the L-2, and had an enlarged vertical stabilizer and shorter main landing gear struts. Their L-2 wings had spoilers added above and below the wings to make its rate of descent match that of the CG-4. The TG-6 was normally towed by the Stinson L-1D. Taylorcraft built 250 in 1942, and they were used to train the pilots of the Waco CG-4 gliders.
Stats L-2/ O-57
Engine: Continental O-170-3 flat four cylinder air cooled
Span: 35ft 5in
Length: 22ft 9in
Height: 6ft 8in
Empty weight: 680lb
Maximum take-off weight: 1,200lb
Max speed: 93mph
Cruising speed: 83mph
Service ceiling: 10,400ft
Range: 230 miles