The U-3A began life as the Cessna model 310A (which had gained fame as the Songbird flown by Skyler “Sky” King of radio and TV fame) in January of 1953. The Cessna 310 gained wide acceptance for its good looks and excellent performance, so the USAF decided it would make an excellent replacement for its fleet of aging Beech C-45s in the administrative support, liaison and light cargo duties. Built as a four or five passenger fast executive transport, 546 U-3As were accepted by the United States Air Force. Originally designed as L-27As, the U-3A served as an executive transport, liaison aircraft and performed as chase planes in a number of units that operated the U-2. The average fly-away cost for these off-the-shelf commercial aircraft was $56,000. In 1962, when the Department of Defense implemented the Tri-Service Type Symbol System, the L-27A became the U-3A. The U-3A’s 2 six cylinder Continental O-470-M engines produced 240 horsepower each and the USAF later retrofitted many A-models with all weather gear.
The distinctive white-over-dark-blue paint scheme of USAF U-3s led to the unofficial, but widely recognized, nickname of “Blue Canoe.” Other services also operated U-3s, with the US Army acquiring 38 from USAF (25 As and 13 Bs) and the Navy acquiring 12 As (eight from USAF, four from the Army). Despite differing paint schemes on Army and Navy aircraft, the U-3 never lost its nickname of “Blue Canoe.”