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North American Aviation O-47

North American Aviation O-47 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review January 2022 Title North American Aviation O-47
Author Dan Hagedorn Publisher Mushroom Model Publications
Published 2021 ISBN 9788365958907
Format 268 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $52.00


With the Curtiss O-52, the North American Aviation O-47 stands at the apex of between-wars USAAC “Observation” aircraft.

Now Dan Hagedorn pens a superb study of this comely, curvaceous combatant in a heavily illustrated, eponymous account from MMP Books – available in North America from Casemate.

Hagedorn’s illuminating effort certainly conveys key O-47 development, deployment, and disposition details. But he also frames his narrative against broader USAAC and USAAF operational, economic, and political issues.

In the 1920s and ’30s, for instance, “O-Birds” supplied vital communications and intelligence links between US Army ground and aerial forces.

“Each of the few standing, Regular Army as well as National Guard, Divisions,” he explains, “had an attached, dedicated observation squadron and, because of this symbiotic relationship, their leaders and crews were thus often ‘in the middle’ when it came to the nearly endless internal [USAAC] conflict which percolated for an ‘independent air force’.”

Hagedorn lends further perspective to his account by comparing North American’s O-47 design decisions to previous USAAC “Observation” aircraft. And he employs expenditures to confirm the importance of those assets to two decades of US Army warplane purchases.

Text also comes packed with metaphorical mountains of minutiae. And some of those proved utterly fascinating.

What role, for example, did inebriated duck hunters play in the O-47’s first “hostile” action? See pages 57 through 61.

And how, after 58 years, did Hagedorn’s research bring closure to the families of three O-47A crew members, missing in Panama since 8 June 1941? See page 124.

The bulk of the book explores, unit-by-unit, USAAC and USAAF O-47 service. And concluding commentary relates the fascinating fates of postwar O-47s.

Did you know that one sold surplus for just $162.50 in 1946? That equals just $2,309.10 today.

My kingdom for a time machine!

Hundreds of rare photos augment the account. Archival images and extended, explanatory captions also accompany text. And 20 color profiles – ten O-47s and ten previous USAAC “Observation” designs – provide potent project possibilities.

The O-47 not only ended the era of US “Observation” types, it signaled the demise of obsolete operational precepts. Hagedorn’s book masterfully captures the aircraft and its roles – both interbellum and wartime – in evolving American strategy. I loved it.

A personal coda: before deploying to England during WWII, my Dad served as a base photographer at Jacksonville AAB – Imeson Field, Jacksonville FL – in early 1942. And as a kid, I recall perusing pages of B-18As and O-47s in his personal album. Those shots forged my lifelong love of both machines.

Maybe this superb study will convince an enterprising model manufacturer to produce a state-of-the-art O-47 to 1:72 or 1:48 scale!

Roundly recommended!

With thanks to Casemate for the review copy.