Air Force Times article

"Vietnam era's Dragonfly a ground-support warrior"

by

Robert F. Dorr

    The following article was first published by the Air Force Times in the January 13, 2003 issue.  It is published here with permission.


History in Blue
Vietnam era’s Dragonfly a ground-support warrior

By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times

 

During the Vietnam War, intrepid Air Force pilots flew an air-to-ground attack plane that looked very much like the service’s familiar primary training plane.

The surest way to get a reaction from an A-37 Dragonfly pilot is to confuse his aircraft with the T-37 “Tweet” trainer. The T-37 is only a distant relative of the attack plane, even though it taught thousands of pilots how to fly [“Tweet’s time has come and gone,” History in Blue, Air Force Times, Jan. 15, 2001].

“The A-37 was bigger, bulkier and heavier than the trainer it was derived from,” said Cort Durocher, who flew the A-37 with the 602nd Fighter Squadron at Bien Hoa, Vietnam, in 1969.

“Yes,” Durocher said, “it certainly was developed from the familiar trainer. But our attack plane was something very different.

“It had a bigger engine. What they always forget is, this was a sturdy combat aircraft, not a lightweight aircraft designed to teach students.”

When Durocher’s A-37 arrived in Vietnam, it was the latest effort to transform the trainer into a warplane.

The Army, getting into an area that many viewed as the sole province of the Air Force, evaluated the T-37 for a potential combat role in 1958.

For a brief period, three T-37s borrowed from the Air Force were tested in mock air-to-ground combat missions at Fort Ord, Calif. The project went nowhere, partly because the Air Force objected to the Army flying fast jets.

The borrowed T-37s apparently lacked wing pylons for ordnance and conducted the tests without dropping bombs or firing rockets.

In 1962, the Air Force altered two T-37B trainers to become YAT-37D service-test ships. They were modified with 2,400-pound thrust J85-GE-5 turbojet engines, considerably heftier than the Continental engines used by the training fleet.

The first YAT-37D took to the air on Oct. 22, 1963. During tests, it repeatedly was shown to the public with wing pylons and various loads of bombs, rockets and gun pods.

Late in its service life, the YAT-37D was renamed as the YA-37A, the “Y” prefix continuing to connote a service- test function.

A few A-37A models were deployed to Vietnam in 1967, in part to assess their suitability for operation by both U.S. and South Vietnamese squadrons.

Meanwhile, the manufacturer, Cessna Aircraft Co., of Wichita, Kan., began testing the definitive A-37B, which had provision for in-flight refueling, a strengthened airframe and improved J85-GE-17A engines.

Cessna built 557 A-37Bs between 1967 and 1970.

The A-37 series was given the popular name Dragonfly, though pilots and maintainers rarely used it.

Air Force pilots flew air-to-ground missions, and some helped train the South Vietnamese to fly the aircraft. The A-37B received few headlines, but it was frequently on the scene for close-air support when friendly troops were under attack.

Fredric Neumann, a maintainer who served with the 602nd Fighter Squadron in Vietnam, said, “The A-37 followed the KISS [Keep it simple, stupid] principle. It was well-equipped for operations from primitive airfields and required little of the fancy, high-tech maintenance needed by more sophisticated warplanes like the F-4 Phantom.”

With a wing span of 33 feet, 9 inches and a maximum speed of around 420 mph, the Dragonfly was a modestly sized warplane but it could carry up to 8,000 pounds of bombs, rockets and guns.

In 1970, during a process called “Vietnamization,” where the South Vietnamese were being primed to provide the bulk of their own defense, many former Air Force A-37Bs went to the South Vietnamese air arm.

In later years, A-37Bs also became a familiar sight in Latin America, where they equipped about a dozen air forces.

Though it left active duty beginning in 1970, the A-37B became a familiar sight in Air National Guard units, beginning with Maryland’s 175th Wing at Glenn L. Martin Airport in Baltimore.

Late in its career, the Dragonfly acquired a forward air control mission and was renamed the OA-37B, the “O” for observation. The last of these aircraft served with the 24th Composite Group in Panama until 1990.

Today, numerous A-37s are on display in museums and one or two are flying in private hands and make regular appearances at air shows.

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. His e-mail address is robertdorr@aol.com.


     We thank the author, Robert F. Dorr, for his permission to publish this article on the A-37 Association web site.   Mr. Dorr is the author  of over 60 books and numerous articles.  His latest book is "Air Force One."  During my correspondence with Mr. Dorr, he told me about the book.  His comments are summarized below:

     I'm the author of AIR FORCE ONE, a new book about the airmen and aircraft that carry President Bush, and about the history of presidential air travel.  It is a mix of post-September 11, headlines and history that dates back more than half a century.

     AIR FORCE ONE is in bookstores and is available directly from me, or from the distributor at (800) 826-6600. It's a big, beautiful, hardbound book with about 80,000 words and 120 photos, most in color. It covers presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush, and reveals much that has never been disclosed before.

If you would like to order the book from Mr. Dorr, you can write him at robertdorr@aol.com

The book publisher's comments about the book follow:

    Air Force One is the aircraft that carries President George W. Bush. AIR FORCE ONE, published by MBI in September 2002, pushes aside the secrecy surrounding the president's plane, presidential travel, and its meaning to a nation now at war.

     Before September 11, 2001, the blue and white Boeing 747-200, or VC-25A, was celebrated for its beauty as it whisked the chief executive to fundraisers and ribbon cuttings. An Air Force officer called the plane a "cruise ship," comparing it to a luxurious seafaring vessel.

     The terror attacks changed everything. We learned that Air Force One is a military aircraft. The book covers the plane's zigzag path during hectic moments of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Why did officials believe that Air Force One itself was an intended target? Why did they dust off a hush-hush plan for continuity of government, designed for nuclear war?

     AIR FORCE ONE is also a history of presidential air travel. We learn of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Flying White House," a C-54 Skymaster modified with a special hoist to accommodate FDR's wheelchair. We see Harry S. Truman signing national security legislation aboard his C-118, the Independence. We follow the travels of presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan, including November 1963 when Air Force One brought the slain John F. Kennedy home from Dallas.

     The book is also available on-line from http://Amazon.com

     The Managing Editor of the Air Force Times, Mr. Lance M. Bacon, graciously permitted us to run the article on our site.  His comments follow:

Lt. Col. Selvig,
I have received your letter,and am pleased to know that you enjoyed Bob's article on the Dragonfly. Bob certainly knows airmen, the Air Force and its history -- and he is a great asset to our paper, as your letter indicates.
Please consider this as permission to run the article on your Web site. Because it is copyrighted material, we require that you identify as being first published in Air Force Times, the date it was published and that it is printed with permission.
And Bob asks that you please include his middle initial.
Many thanks for your letter, and your service to our country. If there is anything else that I can do for you, please feel free to contact me at this e-mail address or any of the numbers listed on the card below.
R,
Lance

   
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