Italian Pilot Honors Viet Nam Veteran

Photo by Luca Marin
Photo by Luca Marin
Photo by Luca Marin

Article by Luigino Caliaro, photos by Luca Marin

On February 4th, following a thorough rebuild by owner Andrea Rossetto, a former Italian Army Cessna O-1E Bird Dog took off on her first post-restoration flight into the crisp winter skies over Montagnana airfield near Padova, in northeastern Italy. Save for a minor radio problem, the initial sortie was a complete success. Vintage military aircraft are rare on the Italian civil registry, but this effort is proof that with enough dedication, passion and perseverance, warbirds can indeed fly … even in a country where obsessive bureaucracy, absurd airport taxes, and high operating costs abound.

This Bird Dog rolled off Cessna’s production line with the US military serial 61-2987. She became E.I.-20 after joining the Aviazione Leggera Esercito (Italian Army Aviation) in 1963 as part of a batch of 44 examples supplied under the US Government’s MDAP (Mutual Defense Assistance Program). E.I.-20 served the army until 1992. The civilian market then came calling, with the Aeroclub d’Italia purchasing E.I.-20, along with several other ex-Italian Army Bird Dogs, for use as glider tugs. Following rework by OMA in Foligno, E.I.-20 effectively became a Cessna Model 305C and took on the civil registration I-EIAI. The Aeroclub d’Italia flew her at the Foligno Aero Club until a ground loop ended her career there in 2001. Her dusty remains lay at the airfield, seemingly forgotten until Andrea Rossetto rediscovered them in 2009. After a short talk with the Aero Club’s president, the Bird Dog changed ownership and suddenly had a much brighter future ahead of her. Rossetto overhauled every part of the aircraft, zero-timed the engine, and retrofitted her military features.

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A photo of the Bird Dog showing how Andrea Rossetto found her in the Aeroclub d’Italia hangar operated at the Foligno Aero Club.

photo Caliaro Luigino (1)He chose to represent his Bird Dog as O-1G 51-11952 “Mekong Mauler”. This was the personal mount of Warrant Officer Rick Shoup when he flew with the 199th Reconnaissance Aviation Company “Swamp Foxes” from Vinh Long, South Viet Nam during 1967 and 1968. His Bird Dog was notorious for becoming the first to wear shark mouth warpaint in the Viet Nam theatre. Rick Shoup is still with us, and traveled to Montagnana in 2015 to see “his” aircraft again, writing a dedication inside her cockpit. The aircraft, now appropriately re-registered I-BDOG, will now undergo a ten-hour flight test regime before receiving her final permit to fly, and is expected to take part in the 2016 air show season. Andrea Rossetto is proud of his aircraft and what she represents. He recently told the author, “May this plane serve as a special tribute to those brave pilots who served as Forward Air Controllers in Viet Nam, because their story has been for too much time untold”.

About Andrea Rossetto:

Andrea Rossetto has a long association with military aviation, having graduated from the Aeronautical Institute in Forli, followed by an enlistment in the Italian Army with the paratrooper brigade “FOLGORE,” and later as an officer in the Italian Air Force. In 1997 he became an air traffic controller and served for about two years with 51° Stormo at Treviso-Istrana Air Base. At the end of 1999, he transferred to the Padova Area Control Center where he worked as Radar Air Traffic Controller and On Job Training Instructor. Since he was a child Andrea has had a passion for  history, that led him to appreciate historic taildraggers and aircraft. In his spare time, he tows gliders from a Stinson L-5 or a Cessna O-1. In 2009 he finished the restoration of his Aermacchi MB-308, registered as I-NCOM. In 2013 he went with the same plane to the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget as a guest of Italian defense manufacturer Finmeccanica. Rossetto lives in Torreglia near Padova and is the president of the Historical Aircraft Group.

Article by Luigino Caliaro, photos by Luca Marin

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 WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Lugino Caliaro for the article and Luca Marin for the photos.

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