Until 1941 the US Army Air Force had operated heavy. Purpose built observation aircraft for reconnaissance, gun-laying and army liaison duties, typified by the Douglas O-43/O-46 series and the North American O-47. During that year, a new concept emerged which utilized standard civilian light planes, such as those made by Piper, Aeroanca, and Taylorcraft, for much the same operations.
Evaluation tests were so successful that large production orders were given to all three companies to produce military versions modified with large window areas and with radio equipment. Probably the most well known of the trio was the Piper J-3 Cub, which originally carried the observation designation O-49 before being categorized into the liaison role as the L-4 Grasshopper.
The allied landings in North Africa served as the operational debut for the little aircraft in 1943, followed by the invasion of Italy and the D-Day landings of the liberation of France where the communications work became invaluable for all troop movements.
Complete wartime production of all military derivatives, including ambulance versions and gliders, amounted to nearly 6,000 aircraft. Orders continued for the design after WWII and another 2000 were built (L-18 and L-21) until production ceased in 1955.
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Kit: Piper L-4 Grasshopper
Make: Rareplanes vacforms
The kit of the L-4 Grasshopper is one of Rareplanes early kits when no other L-4 kit in any form was being produced. It is
vac-form molded, the two fuselage halves in clear acetate and the rest of kit as wings prop and other details were formed on a white plastic sheet. The kit has 4 main plane parts, two tail planes that are shaped to an airfoil section indicated on the instructions,. The engine mounting, the wing support struts, wheels and propeller and the rest of parts need to be cut from the sheet of plastic. There are no decals with the kit and the instructions suggest a single color scheme of an L-4 that was used as an interim control tower on Omaha Beach airstrip and the aircraft was in olive drab and neutral gray with black and white Normandy invasion stripes.
Being a vac form kit it is first cut deeply around each molded part and is snapped off excess plastic with small players. Edges are smoothened on wet sheet of wet and dry sand paper, until a good centreline joint is obtained. The interior details as radio instruments, two cockpit seats, control column and control panel were prepared and shaped with a sharp blade and smooth file. The wing struts were however shaped and cut out of Contrail struts. Cyanoacrylate glue was used for the clear acetate fuselage.
Wing and tail assembly were sanded to ensure correct airfoil section. Heavier sanding was carried out at wing tips and the trailing edges to obtain a sharp edge. As for the butt joint of wings to fuselage I found it more convenient to add metal pins that insert in predrilled holes in the fuselage roof section. Tail wheel leg was shaped out of metal wire and the wheel stuck to it. The forward main gear was shaped with shock absorbers made out of plastic that was inserted in metal wire legs.