WarThunderers, today I suggest a vehicle I have wanted to see for a while now, the forgotten hero of the Vietnam war, made by the uncommon military manufacturer Cessna, the A-37B Dragonfly, or the Super Tweet.
Designation: A-37B (Military), YAT-37D (Manufacturer)
Name: “Dragonfly” (Official), “Super Tweet” (Nickname)
Role: Ground Attack Aircraft, Counter-Insurgency
Manufacturer: Cessna Aircraft Company
Total built: 577
Service Life: 1964-1975
Specs - Dimensions
Length: 28 ft 3 1⁄4 in (8.617 m)
Wingspan: 35 ft 10 1⁄2 in (10.935 m) (including wingtip tanks)
Wing area: 183.9 sq ft (17.08 m2)
Height: 8 ft 10 1⁄2 in (2.705 m)
Engine(s): 2x General Electric J85-GE-17A turbojets, 2,850 lbf (12.7 kN) of thrust each
Maximum Speed: 507 mph (816 km/h)
Cruise Speed: 489 mph (787 km/h)
Stall Speed: 113 mph (182 km/h) (maximum landing weight, wheels and flaps down)
Never Exceed Speed: 524 mph (843 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 41,765 ft (12,730 m)
Rate of Climb: 6,990 ft/min (35.5 m/s)
Max (Ferry) Range: 1,012 mi (1,629 km)
Empty Weight: 6,211 lb (2,817 kg)
Max Takeoff Weight: 14,000 lb (6,350 kg)
Specs - Armament
Specs - Armament - Primary Armament
- 1x .308 (7.62 mm) GAU-2B/A General Electric Minigun in fuselage nose (1200 rounds)
Specs - Armament - Suspended Armament
Total Hardpoints: 8
- 4x under each wing
Inner Four: 860 lb (390 kg)
Intermediate Two: 600 lb (270 kg)
Outer Two: 500 lb (230 kg)
- AIM-9 Sidewinder Air-to-Air Guided Missile
- LAU-3/A 70mm rocket pods
250 lb (110 kg) Mark 81 General-Purpose Bomb
500 lb (230 kg) Mark 82 General-Purpose Bomb
750 lb (340 kg) M117 General-Purpose Bomb
500 lb (230 kg) BLU-32B Napalm Bomb
750 lb (340 kg) BLU-1C/B Napalm Bomb
CBU-12 Cluster Bomb
CBU-22 Cluster Bomb
CBU-24 Cluster Bomb
- SUU-11/A Gun Pod (.308 (7.62 mm) GAU-2B/A General Electric Minigun)
Fuel capacity: 507 US gal (422 imp gal; 1,920 L) (including tip tanks)
Usage in Battles
The A-37B would a good, but rather small and slow attack aircraft, having a small payload but being nimble and capable. Its small calibre guns making the A-37 have to rely on its AIM-9s more than its guns. Overall, it would be a interesting addition, using a playstyle similar to the A-10 or Su-25, or possibly the A-6 Intruder.
During the early 1960s, American military involvement in the Vietnam War was growing, leading to a strong interest from military officials for the development of counter-insurgency, or COIN aircraft. Already existing platforms such as the Douglas A-1 Skyraider, while still a worth aircraft, was becoming obsolete, and thus was less than satisfactory, as younger pilots, being trained to fly jet aircraft, struggled to adapt to the A-1’s radial engine and reverse tricycle or “Tail-Dragger”, landing gear arrangement. At the time, the Cessna T-37 Tweet was in widespread use by the military as a basic trainer aircraft, thus, for its already well known controls and reliability, in late 1962, the United States Air Force’s Special Air Warfare Center evaluated two T-37Cs as potential aircraft for attack missions.
The USAF determined the T-37 to be a promising COIN aircraft and expressed its interest in a improved version that would be able to carry a significantly larger payload along with greater endurance and better short-field performance. These requirements meant the aircraft would have to be significantly heavier and thus would need the use of more powerful engines. To account for the drastic increase in airframe weight and payload capacity, Cessna decided to double the aircraft’s engine power by replacing its twin Continental J-69 engines with General Electric J85-J2/5 turbojet engines. In 1963, the USAF awarded a contract to Cessna to create two prototype aircraft, designated as YAT-37Ds, essentially heavily modified T-37s. Alterations for the YAT-37D included the strengthened wings, larger wingtip fuel tanks, additional avionics/communication, navigation, and targeting equipment, toughened landing gear, and the fitting of a GAU-2B/A Minigun installed in the right side of the aircraft’s nose.
In October 1964, the original YAT-37D performed its maiden flight, followed by the second prototype a year later. The tests were deemed successful, however, the USAF’s interest in counter-insurgency aircraft had decreased over time. Thus, the program went into limbo for a time, with the second prototype being sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.
As the Vietnam War continued to escalate during the mid 1960s, Losses of Douglas A-1 Skyraider aircraft were significantly greater than anticipated, leading to a revival in the USAF’s interest in COIN aircraft. In the process, the YAT-37D seemed like a promising candidate for the role, thus the USAF issued a contract to Cessna for a pre-production batch of 39 YAT-37Ds, asking for only a few minor changes to the prototypes, to be built off existing T-37Bs. These aircraft were initially designated as AT-37Ds, but was changed to the A-37A.
In August 1967, 25 A-37As were deployed 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. During this period, the A-37As flew thousands of sorties, with none being lost to enemy fire, although two were wrecked in landing accidents. While the aircraft was formally named the “Dragonfly”, many pilots called it the “Super Tweet”. The Combat Dragon program was proven successful, but had also revealed some of the deficiencies of the A-37A. The largest problem being the aircraft lacked range and endurance. Other important concerns were heavy control response during attack runs and the vulnerability of the aircraft’s flight control system. Some pilots also criticised the minigun as ineffective and impacting the pilot’s view.
The USAF signed another contract with Cessna in early 1967 for an improved design, designated the “A-37B”. The A-37Bs were newly built airframes that were considerably stronger than the A-37As, capable of pulling six Gs instead of five, and were built to have a longer fatigue life of 4,000 hours. The A-37B added a refueling probe to the nose, updated avionics, a redesigned instrument panel, an automatic engine inlet de-icing system, and revised landing gear. However like its predecessors, the A-37B was not pressurized.
The A-37 proved to excel at close air support missions, being able to engage targets at speeds roughly 100 miles per hour slower than other fighters and by doing so improve its bombing accuracy; pilots reportedly being able to achieve an average accuracy of 45 feet (14 m). While the aircraft’s slow speed appeared to make it more vulnerable, the A-37’s small size, unusual speeds, and low altitude flying combined to make it rather hard to hit. The A-37 required little maintenance compared to comparable fighters, needing only two hours of maintenance for each hour of flight time, six times less than that of the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, a feat that was partially due to the of multiple access panels.
The A-37 did not typically attract attention from the media, unlike many other USAF combat aircraft used in the theatre; one reason for this was that the type was never flown into North Vietnam, where hostile air defenses were proved to be challenging, claiming to have downed almost 200 F-4s and 300 F-105s by the conflict’s end. Instead, A-37s operated in the south, as well as in neighboring Laos and Cambodia, where it was typically used to support US ground forces.
The A-37 did not attract much attention from the media, unlike other USAF combat aircraft used in the war, mainly due the aircraft never being flown into North Vietnam, where hostile air defenses were extremely dangerous. Instead, A-37s operated in the south, as well as in neighboring countries such as Laos and Cambodia, where it was mainly used to support US ground forces.
By the war’s end, the A-37 had flown over 160,000 combat sorties. The type remained active in the theatre until the Fall of Saigon, shortly prior to which efforts were made to retrieve as many as possible before they fell into North Vietnamese hands.
Following the conflict’s end, the USAF opted to transfer the A-37B from the USAF’s Tactical Air Command to TAC-gained units in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. During the early 1980s, the aircraft were assigned to the Forward Air Control role and given the designation OA-37B. The OA-37Bs were eventually phased over the 1980s and 1990s and replaced in by the famous Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.
OA-37s lastly saw service during Operation Just Cause, during the United States invasion of Panama in December 1989, before finally being phased out and replaced entirely.