Cessna A-37 Dragonfly
|An OA-37B Dragonfly aircraft from the Illinois Air National Guard during Exercise GRANADERO I, 14 May 1984|
|Role||Light ground-attack aircraft|
|National origin||United States|
|First flight||October 1964|
|Status||Limited service in Central American and South American air forces|
|Primary users||United States Air Force (historical)|
Republic of Vietnam Air Force (historical)
Chilean Air Force (historical)
Peruvian Air Force
|Developed from||Cessna T-37 Tweet|
The Cessna A-37 Dragonfly, or Super Tweet, is an American light attack aircraft developed from the T-37 Tweet basic trainer in the 1960s and 1970s by Cessna of Wichita, Kansas. The A-37 was introduced during the Vietnam War and remained in peacetime service afterward.
Design and development
The growing American military involvement in Vietnam in the early 1960s led to strong interest in counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft. In late 1962, the U.S. Air Force's Special Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base's Hurlburt Field in Florida evaluated two T-37Cs for the role.
The Air Force found the T-37 promising, but wanted an improved version of the aircraft that could carry a much larger payload, and had much greater endurance and better short-field performance. This meant a heavier aircraft with more powerful engines. In 1963, the Air Force awarded a contract to Cessna for two prototype YAT-37D aircraft: T-37s with modifications that included:
- Stronger wings.
- Three stores pylons on each wing.
- Larger wingtip fuel tanks of 360 litres (95 US gal) capacity.
- A General Electric GAU-2B/A 7.62 mm (0.300 in) "Minigun" Gatling-style machine gun, with a rate of fire of 3,000 rounds/minute and 1,500 rounds of ammunition. The weapon was fitted in the right side of the aircraft's nose behind a large, convenient access panel. A gunsight and gun camera were also fitted.
- Better avionics for battlefield communications, navigation, and targeting.
- Tougher landing gear for rough-field operation.
These changes meant a drastic increase in aircraft weight and the aircraft now had to carry a significant payload as well. Cessna, therefore, doubled the engine power by replacing the two Continental J-69 engines with General Electric J85-J2/5 turbojet engines with 2,400 lbf (11 kN) thrust each.
The first YAT-37D flew in October 1964, followed a year later by the second prototype. The second prototype had four stores pylons under each wing, rather than three, and the first prototype was upgraded to this configuration as well.
Test results were good, but USAF interest in counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft had faded for the moment. The program went into limbo for a time, with the second prototype "put out to pasture" at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
The war in Southeast Asia, however, continued to escalate. Losses of Douglas A-1 Skyraider close-support aircraft in USAF, United States Navy, and Republic of Vietnam Air Force service proved greater than anticipated and USAF interest in COIN aircraft was revived. The YAT-37D seemed like a promising candidate for the job, but the Air Force felt that the only way to be sure was to evaluate the aircraft in combat.
As a result, the USAF issued a contract to Cessna for a pre-production batch of 39 YAT-37Ds, with a few minor changes relative to the prototypes, to be rebuilt from existing T-37Bs. These aircraft were initially designated AT-37D, but the designation was quickly changed to A-37A. The second prototype YAT-37D was pulled out of the Air Force Museum and upgraded to A-37A standards as part of the test program.
The A-37A had a gross takeoff weight of 12,000 lb (5,400 kg), of which 2,700 lb (1,200 kg) was ordnance. The A-37A retained the dual controls of its T-37B ancestor, allowing it to be used as an operational trainer.
In combat "forward air control (FAC)" operations, the second seat was occupied by an observer. Only one crewman normally flew in the aircraft for close support missions, permitting a slight increase in ordnance.
In August 1967, 25 A-37As were sent to Vietnam under the "Combat Dragon" evaluation program, and flew from Bien Hoa Air Base on USAF "air commando" missions, including close air support, helicopter escort, FAC, and night interdiction. Combat loads included high-explosive bombs, cluster munition dispensers, unguided rocket packs, napalm tanks, and the SUU-11/A Minigun pod. For most missions, the aircraft also carried two additional external fuel tanks on the inner stores pylons.
During this period, the A-37As flew thousands of sorties. None were lost to enemy fire, although two were wrecked in landing accidents. The A-37A was formally named the "Dragonfly", but most pilots called it the "Super Tweet". The Combat Dragon program was successful, but unsurprisingly the combat evaluation revealed some of the deficiencies of the A-37A. The most noticeable problem was that the aircraft lacked range and endurance. Other concerns were heavy control response during attack runs (the flight controls were not power-boosted) and the vulnerability of the aircraft's non-redundant flight control system.
The USAF signed a contract with Cessna in early 1967 for an improved Super Tweet, designated the "A-37B". The initial order was for 57 aircraft, but this was quickly increased to 127. The A-37Bs were primarily intended to be supplied to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF) as replacements for their A-1 Skyraiders. The A-37B prototype was rolled out in September 1967, with deliveries to the South Vietnamese beginning in 1968.
The A-37Bs were all newly built airframes. These were stronger than those of the A-37A, capable of pulling 6 g instead of 5, and were built to have a longer fatigue life of 4,000 hours. Field experience would demonstrate that 7,000 hours between overhauls could be tolerated.
The A-37B weighed almost twice as much as the T-37C. A remarkable fraction of the loaded weight, 5,800 lb (2,600 kg), could be external stores. In practice, the A-37B usually operated with at least two and sometimes four underwing fuel tanks to improve combat endurance.
In order to accommodate the increased weight, the A-37B was fitted with General Electric J85-GE-17A engines, providing 2,850 lbf (12.7 kN) thrust each. These engines were canted slightly outward and downward to improve single-engine handling. Air commando pilots in Vietnam operating the A-37A had found single-engine cruise an effective means of improving their flight endurance.
Modifications were made to control surfaces to improve handling. To improve aircraft and crew survivability, the A-37B was fitted with redundant elevator control runs that were placed as far apart as possible. The ejection seats were armored, the cockpit was lined with nylon flak curtains, and foam-filled self-sealing fuel tanks were installed.
The A-37 excelled at close air support. It could engage targets at speeds 100 miles per hour slower than swept-wing fighters. The slower speed improved bombing accuracy, enabling pilots to achieve an average accuracy of 45 feet (14 m).
The A-37B added a refueling probe to the nose, leading to pipes wrapped around the lower lip of the canopy, for probe-and-drogue aerial refueling. This was an unusual fit for USAF aircraft, which traditionally are configured for boom refueling. Other improvements included updated avionics, a redesigned instrument panel to make the aircraft easier to fly from either seat, an automatic engine inlet de-icing system, and revised landing gear. Like its predecessors, the A-37B was not pressurized.
The A-37 required a relatively low amount of maintenance compared to contemporary fighters—only two hours of maintenance for each hour of flight time. This was partially due to multiple access panels in strategic locations.
The 20 mm (0.787 in) GPU-2/A and AMD 30 mm (1.18 in) cannon pods were tested with favorable results on the A-37B, but reports indicate that such pods were either seldom or never used in operation.
A total of 577 A-37Bs were built, with 254 delivered to the RVNAF. At war's end, the A-37 had flown over 160,000 combat sorties with only 22 USAF losses.
When North Vietnamese forces captured Da Nang Air Base, at the end of March 1975, they captured large amounts of stores and equipment, including 33 intact A-37s. On 28 April 1975, several captured A-37s were used by the North Vietnamese to attack Tan Son Nhut Air Base, still held by the South Vietnamese. Approximately 187 A-37Bs were in RVNAF service at the Fall of Saigon in April 1975. Ninety-two were recovered by the US, while the other 95 were later used by the Vietnam People's Air Force in missions over Cambodia and during the China conflict in 1979. These "renegade" aircraft were phased out of service in the late 1970s or early 1980s, likely due to the lack of spares. Some of the aircraft were shipped to Vietnam's then-Communist allies such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Soviet Union and East Germany. Others were sold to private foreign owners. Six examples of the A-37B became property of American warbird fans, while four A-37Bs are now privately owned in Australia and New Zealand.
After the war, the USAF passed their A-37Bs from the USAF Tactical Air Command (TAC) to TAC-gained units in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. In the early 1980s these aircraft were assigned to the FAC (Forward Air Control) role and given the designation OA-37B. The OA-37Bs were eventually phased out in the 1980s and 1990s and replaced in the FAC mission by the much more formidable Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II in Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve service.
OA-37s from the 24th Composite Wing's (later 24th Wing's) 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron (24 TASS) also saw service during Operation Just Cause
Salvadoran Civil War
A-37Bs were used extensively by the Salvadoran Air Force during the Salvadoran Civil War, supplied by the United States in 1983 as a replacement for the Salvadoran Air Force's Dassault Ouragans, several of which had been destroyed on the ground by the FMLN. A-37Bs were used to bomb rebel bases, columns, towns, provided close air support, and flew interdiction missions. A total of 21 A-37Bs and 9 OA-37Bs were supplied during the war, one of which was lost on November 18, 1989 when fire from a Dragunov sniper rifle killed the co-pilot, causing the pilot to eject, and another that was shot down by an SA-7 missile on November 23, 1990.
Nine A-37s remained in operational condition by the end of the war.
Other Latin American countries
The A-37B was also exported to Latin America, mostly during the 1970s. It was well suited to their needs because of its simplicity, low cost, and effectiveness for insurgent warfare. Most of the A-37Bs exported south had the refueling probe shortened to act as a single-point ground refueling probe, or deleted completely.
The Guatemalan Air Force flew the A-37 in extensive counter-insurgency operations throughout the 1970s-1990s, losing one aircraft in action in 1985. It has also been widely used for counter-narcotics operations.
On 20 April 2001, a Peruvian Air Force A-37B Dragonfly shot down a civilian Cessna A185E floatplane with a minigun under surveillance by CIA controllers who advised against engaging. The Peruvian controller had the final authority in this situation, and he believed that the flight was carrying drugs out of the country, and so ordered the A-37 pilot to open fire. As a result a US missionary and her daughter were killed. The Cessna A185E crash landed in a river where locals in their boats helped the passengers.
- Two former T-37C trainer prototypes converted for counter-insurgency operations with two J-85-GE engines and six underwing pylons as prototypes for the A-37 series, redesignated YA-37A.
- Two YAT-37D prototypes redesignated.
- (Cessna Model 318D) T-37B rebuilt with two J-85-GE-5 engines, a 7.62 mm Minigun in nose and eight underwing stores pylons, 39 conversions.
- (Cessna Model 318E) Production version with two J-85-GE-17A engines, provision for inflight refuelling, increased fuel capacity and strengthened airframe, 577 built.
- The OA-37B Dragonfly was an armed observation aircraft developed during the Vietnam War.
- Colombian Air Force 7 remain in service as of December 2016. They have been modified to carry GBU-12 Paveway II LGBs.
- El Salvador Air Force - 15 in service as of December 2016.
- Guatemalan Air Force 1 remains in service as of December 2018.
- Honduran Air Force 9 operational as of December 2016.
- Peruvian Air Force 24 operational as of December 2016. Peru has recently acquired 8 A-37Bs donated by South Korea.
- Uruguayan Air Force 12 in service as of December 2016.
- Chilean Air Force received 44 aircraft – Retired by the end of 2009, the last two planes in flight were flown back to Santiago-El Bosque AFB on May 27, 2010.
- Ecuadorian Air Force received 28 aircraft. Replaced by the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano.
- South Korean Air Force – First introduced in October 1976, the A-37 was replaced by the T-50 Golden Eagle. It also served with the ROKAF Black Eagles aerobatic team, until retired after the Seoul Air Show in 2007.
- Royal Thai Air Force - 16 received in the 1970s, with two more received in the 1980s.
- Republic of Vietnam Air Force - 254 received.
- Vietnam Air Force - 95 captured
Aircraft on display
- A-37B Dragonfly
- 68-10779 - Temora Aviation Museum, civil registered as VH-XVA. Ownership was transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force in July 2019 and it is operated by the Air Force Heritage Squadron (Temora Historic Flight).
- 68-10805 - Temora Aviation Museum, civil registered as VH-DLO.
- A-37B Dragonfly
- FACh 629 - Museo Nacional Aeronáutico y del Espacio in Santiago.
- A-37B Dragonfly
- A-37B Dragonfly
- Classic Flyers Museum in Mount Maunganui; one of the two has been restored to flying condition 
- A-37B Dragonfly
- Polish Aviation Museum in Kraków donated by Vietnam People's Air Force in 1978 with 2 F-5 (1 F-5A and 1 F-5E) for aeronautical re-engineering projects.
- A-37B Dragonfly
- Royal Thai Air Force Museum in Don Mueang, Bangkok.
- YA-37A Dragonfly
- 62-5951 - National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft, one of two YAT-37Ds, was retired to the museum in December 1964. In August 1966 it was recalled to active service for final testing of the A-37 design. The aircraft was retired to the museum for a second time in July 1970 as the YA-37A.
- A-37A Dragonfly
- 67-14525 - Museum of Aviation, Robins AFB, Warner Robins, Georgia.
- A-37B Dragonfly
- 67-14790 - Lackland Static Airplane Display at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas
- 69-6439 - Stonehenge Air Museum, Fortine, Montana.
- 71-0790 - March Field Air Museum, Riverside, California.
- OA-37B Dragonfly
- 70-1293 - Memorial Air Park at Hurlburt Field in Florida.
- A-37B Dragonfly
- 67-14529 - Vietnam People's Air Force Museum, Hanoi
- A-37B Dragonfly
- 69-6429 - Colonel Jaime Meregalli Aeronautical Museum, Canelones.
Specifications (A-37B Dragonfly)
Data from Jane's Civil and Military Aircraft Upgrades
- Crew: 2
- Length: 28 ft 3+1⁄4 in (8.617 m)
- Wingspan: 35 ft 10+1⁄2 in (10.935 m) (over tip tanks)
- Height: 8 ft 10+1⁄2 in (2.705 m)
- Wing area: 183.9 sq ft (17.08 m2)
- Aspect ratio: 6.2:1
- Airfoil: NACA 2418 (modified) at root, NACA 2412 (modified) at tip
- Empty weight: 6,211 lb (2,817 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 14,000 lb (6,350 kg)
- Fuel capacity: 507 US gal (422 imp gal; 1,920 L) usable internal fuel (including tip tanks)
- Powerplant: 2 × General Electric J85-GE-17A turbojet, 2,850 lbf (12.7 kN) thrust each
- Maximum speed: 507 mph (816 km/h, 441 kn)
- Cruise speed: 489 mph (787 km/h, 425 kn) (max. cruise)
- Stall speed: 113 mph (182 km/h, 98 kn) at maximum landing weight, wheels and flaps down
- Never exceed speed: 524 mph (843 km/h, 455 kn)
- Combat range: 460 mi (740 km, 400 nmi) (with maximum payload)
- Ferry range: 1,012 mi (1,629 km, 879 nmi) (with 4× 100 US gal (83 imp gal; 380 L) drop tanks
- Service ceiling: 41,765 ft (12,730 m)
- Rate of climb: 6,990 ft/min (35.5 m/s)
- 1 × 7.62 mm (0.300 in) GAU-2B/A minigun in nose
- Provision for SUU-11/A gun pods under wings
- Hardpoints: 8 with a capacity of inner four: 860 lb (390 kg), two intermediate: 600 lb (270 kg), two outer: 500 lb (230 kg)
- Rockets: LAU-3/A rocket pods
ARM-657 Mamboreta (Latin American service_
- Missiles: AIM-9 Sidewinder
- 250 lb (110 kg) Mark 81, 500 lb (230 kg) Mark 82 or 750 lb (340 kg) M117 bombs
- BLU-32B or BLU-1C/B fire bombs
- CBU-12, CBU-22 or CBU-24 cluster bombs
- SUU-14 bomb dispenser
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
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- ^ "Building 3: Aircraft used in anti-Communism campaign." Archived 2011-06-06 at the Wayback Machine Royal Thai Air Force Museum. Retrieved: 17 January 2011.
- ^ "Cessna A-37 Dragonfly/62-5961" National Museum of the US Air Force. Retrieved: 10 July 2017.
- ^ "Cessna A-37 Dragonfly/67-14525." Museum of Aviation. Retrieved: 9 December 2019.
- ^ "Cessna A-37 Dragonfly/67-14790." aerialvisuals.ca Retrieved: 9 December 2019.
- ^ "Cessna A-37 Dragonfly/69-6439." Stonehenge Air Museum Retrieved: 9 June 2019
- ^ "Cessna A-37 Dragonfly/71-0790." March Field Air Museum. Retrieved: 28 September 2019
- ^ "Cessna A-37 Dragonfly/70-1293." Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park. Retrieved: 9 December 2019.
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- ^ "FAU284 | Cessna A-37B Dragonfly | Uruguay - Air Force | Sebastin Laguna". JetPhotos. Retrieved 3 April 2022.
- ^ Michell 1994, p. 295.
- ^ "Cessna A-37 Dragonfly Light Attack Aircraft". Military Machine. 1 January 2020. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
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The initial version of this article was based on a public domain article from Greg Goebel's Vectorsite.