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A-37 Dragonfly

The A-37 Dragonfly was developed in 1963 by modifying the Cessna-built T-37 trainer. Although the A-37 resembled the T-37, in fact there were few interchangeable parts with that trainer. Prefix letters may also be added to the designation, as with the OA-37 Dragonfly, where the letter O prefix means that this attack aircraft has an additional role of observation. The aircraft was perfect for FAC (Forward Air Control) and a number of examples were modified into OA-37Bs, which consisted mostly in the addition of radios.

Hardpoints were added to the wings, as were wing tip fuel tanks. The cockpit got upgraded avionics as well as ejection seats. In flight refueling capabilities were also added to the aircraft. In addition there were retractable FOD screens to prevent debris from entering the engines and a 20mm gatling cannon was added. The modifications increased the weight of the aircraft so larger engines and stronger landing gear were required. It sported two General Electric J85-GE-17A turbojet engines, which developed 2,850 pounds of thrust. The wingspan of this plane was 35 feet, 10 inches. Its length was 29 feet, 3 inches and the plane's height was 8 feet, 10 inches. The aircraft weight 14,000 pounds fully loaded. Its maximum speed was 507 mph at 16,000 feet with a range of 460 miles. The ceiling for the Dragonfly was 41,765 feet. The armament of the A-37 consisted of a 7.62mm minigun mounted in the nose capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. The aircraft had also been modified by mounting eight hardpoints on the wing, which could carry up to 4,800 pounds of ordnance. Different configuration consisted of two machine gun pods, two 2.75-inch rockets and four bombs; or in place of the gun pods, two 250-pound bombs or four Sidewinder missiles. The aircraft had a crew of two.

Cessna built 577 A-37s over 10 years. Production ended in 1977. Its ease of maintenance and pleasant flying abilities make it well liked. They saw extensive service in Vietnam from the late 1960s onward. Many were turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force and after that country was overrun by North Vietnam, many were left and operated by the victors.

As communist-sponsored insurgency grew in the 1960s, the Air Force delved into creating a low cost, efficient aircraft to counter this threat. The increase in guerrilla type activity around the world necessitated a response by free society. Using a more expensive plane to deal with two or three dissident wasn't economically feasible, hence the Dragonfly. Vietnam became the proving ground for the A-37. The plane was refitted with a refueling probe in the nose; reticulated foam was added to the self-sealing fuel tanks to protect against fire or explosions if hit by incendiary anti-aircraft rounds. The cockpit was armor-plated and the undercarriage was strengthened to carry greater weight and to enable the aircraft to operate off rough remote airstrips.

The 604th Air Commando Squadron, in Operation Combat Dragon, moved from England Air Force Base, La., to Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, and was tasked to test it's a-37s in combat over three months. The pilots knew this plane well, having "cut their teeth" on the T-37 trainer. The squadron initiated its test Aug. 15, 1967, flying 12 combat sorties a day in support of ground troops and against enemy supplies being shipped into South Vietnam. The daily sortie reached 60 by the end of September. In October, some of the planes were shipped to Pleiku where pilots began flying armed and visual reconnaissance missions and night interdiction flights in Tiger Hound. Tiger Hound was an area roughly 90 miles long in Laos bordering on South Vietnam territory used by the North Vietnamese to infiltrate troops and supplies. It was also the code name of a special Air Force, Navy, Marine and Army task force that began interdicting southeastern Laos. When the testing period drew to a close, the Dragonflies had logged more than 4,000 sorties without a single combat loss. One plane went down as a result of an unfortunate maneuver after the aircraft returned to its home base. The squadron was then attached to the 14th Air Commando Wing at Nha Trang. The unit however, continued to fly out of Bien Hoa.

The test proved to be a huge success. The pilots were pleased with the planes' maneuverability. It accelerated and decelerated rapidly and its combat delivery system was highly accurate. The maintainers also heaped their praise on the aircraft. It was easy to fix. Turn around times often averaged just over 90 minutes between missions. Although the Air Force sought to purchase more A-37s than originally planned, the plane was subsonic and didn't fit into Tactical Air Command's long-range plans to develop an attack aircraft capable of meeting contingencies throughout potential world combat theaters. This wasn't the first time special operators were flying "low and slow," so to speak.

The A-37 made its debut in the special operations arsenal in 1967 when the 4410th Combat Crew Training Wing began training U.S. and Vietnamese Air Force in the A-37B. The first A-37B arrived at Hurlburt Field in December 1969 for the 603rd Special Operations Squadron. In July 1970 the 427th Special Operations Training Squadron assumed transition training in the A-37. When the 427th SOTS inactivated July 15, 1972, the mission of training Dragonfly pilots fell on the 6th Special Operations Squadron, which was redesignated the 6th SOTS. The mission now included all A-37B training for the Air Force military assistance program. Eventually the 6th SOTS became a part of the 1st Special Operations Wing.

The A-37 was operated by many ANG and Reserve units. The last OA-37 operated by US Forces was retired in 1992. However, many of these airframes have been given/sold to friendly countries in Latin America including Guatemala, Colombia, Dominica, Uruguay, and others.



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