Cessna A-37 Dragonfly

The first A-37B at Edwards AFB in 1968. Of the 577 A-37Bs built, 134 were delivered to the USAF and served in frontline units until 1975. The final examples were retired from USAFRES and ANG service in 1992.

The Dragonfly served the USAF until the early 1990s, including use in the Forward Air Control role as the OA-37B.This OA-37B from the Illinois ANG was taking part in Exercise Granadero I in May 1984 when photographed

The last image of the A 37 belongs to the Uruguayan Air Force not to the Peruvian Air Force.

The US Air Force’s decision to evaluate the suitability of an armed version of the T-37 Tweet jet trainer for light attack/counter insurgency work was a fruitful one, as the resulting A-37 saw widespread active service in Vietnam where it was well suited to the type of conflict fought there.

In 1962 the USAF’s Special Air Warfare centre began evaluating two T-37Bs to test the type’s suitability for the counter insurgency (COIN) role. After initial testing the two T-37Bs were modified to YAT-37D standard (first flight October 22 1963) and fitted with two 10.7kN (2400lb) General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojets. Testing proved positive but initially nothing came of the concept until the Vietnam War intensified. In 1966 the USAF contracted Cessna to convert 39 T-37Bs to light attack A-37A Dragonfly standard. Apart from the GE turbojets, the A-37As introduced eight underwing hardpoints, extra fuel capacity in wingtip tanks, armour protection, attack avionics, larger wheels and tyres and an internal 7.62mm minigun.

Twenty-five A-37As were successfully evaluated in operational conditions in Vietnam from mid-1967, these aircraft were later transferred to full operational service, and were passed to the South Vietnamese AF in 1970.

The success of the A-37A led to the definitive A-37B, with uprated engines, an inflight refuelling probe and increased internal fuel capacity, while the airframe was stressed for 6g rather than 5g. In all 577 A-37Bs were delivered to the USAF and export customers between May 1968 and 1975. A-37Bs saw widespread service with the US and South Vietnamese air forces during the Vietnam War, and captured examples even saw brief service with the North Vietnamese air force during the closing stages of that conflict.

During the Vietnam War the Dragonfly had the distinction of serving on both sides. Over 250 A-37Bs were supplied to the VNAF, but despite some desperate rearguard battles during the withdrawal to Saigon in 1975, many aircraft were abandoned at their bases with some being used in missions against the South. By the end of hostilities the North Vietnamese had seized 95 A-37Bs and spares. These were pressed into regular service and again saw action in the conflicts between Vietnam and Cambodia in the mid-to late 1970s.

The USAF fitted 130 A-37Bs as OA-37Bs with avionics for forward air control work, although the last of these was retired in 1992. Ex USAF A-37 and OA-37s serve widely in South America.

In July 1967 new A-37As began entering service with the 604th Air Commando Squadron at England AFB in Louisiana and a month later, under a program known as “Combat Dragon,” deployed to Bein Hoa AB in South Vietnam where they began 90 days of combat evaluations. When the program drew to a close, the A-37As had completed over 4,000 combat sorties without a single loss due to enemy action. The A-37B made it debut with the 4410th Combat Crew Training Wing during early 1968 to initiate training of Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) personnel and later joined regular USAF Tactical Air Command units.

The 604th Air Commando Squadron formed at England AFB and took delivery of its new aircraft. Once training was complete, two dozen airframes were airlifted to Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam, for trials known as `Combat Dragon’. From August 1967 thousands of sorties, day and night, were flown with the aircraft carrying iron bombs, snake-eye bombs, cluster bomb units, unguided rockets and napalm, usually with two extra fuel tanks under each wing. The airframe was praised for its size, speed, manoeuvrability and stability, which enabled accurate weapons delivery. A high level of sorties (10,000) was flown in nine months, aided by an impressive serviceability rate of over 85%. On the downside, despite the ability to be flown `on-station’ with one engine shut down, fuel load and endurance were criticised, together with high control forces during the attack phase.

Remarkably no A-37’s were recorded as lost due to enemy fire during the Vietnam conflict however two were lost due to complications on landing.

In 1967 the USAF ordered an improved A-37B variant with a contract for 57 aircraft quickly increasing to 127, primarily for the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) where it would replace the Skyraider. The prototype was ready by September 1967 and deliveries commenced the following May. By September 1969 the order had increased to 366 aircraft. The A-37B aircraft were all new-builds with additional structural strengthening which helped increase the aircraft limits to +6G/-2G. Other significant improvements included additional armour, seal-sealing fuel tanks, new de-icing system, cockpit and avionics upgrade, external refuelling probe and an onboard engine start system. A number of changes were also made to the controls: experience had shown that the rudder and elevator control runs – grouped together due to its trainer heritage – were particularly vulnerable to enemy fire. These were separated and the elevator runs replicated to provide some measure of redundancy. As gross weight had increased to 14,000lbs, double that of the original T-37, uprated GE J85 engines were installed with 2,850lbs/thrust each. The undercarriage was also upgraded to support the airframe.

A total of 254 A-37Bs were subsequently transferred to the VNAF, 95 of which fell into Communist hands when South Vietnam fell in early 1975. In 1975, all USAF A-37Bs were assigned to one USAF Reserve unit, the 434th Tactical Fight Wing at Grissom AFB, Indiana, and two Air National Guard units, the 174th Tactical Fighter Group in New York and the 175th TFG in Maryland. In USAFRES and ANG service, the aircraft were used in the forward air control role and re-designated OA- 37Bs, the final examples being retired in 1992 when they were replaced by Fairchild OA-10As. Under MAP, A-37Bs were given to Peru (36), Chile (34), Columbia (26), Ecuador (12), Uruguay(8), Honduras (15), Guatemala (13), and El Salvador (18), and some of these reportedly remain in service today.

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