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Remembering the Sound of a T-37 Engine Start (And Watching the Sad End of a Tweet As It Meets Its Maker)


It was a plane that ‘converted jet fuel to noise’.  Some nicknamed it the ‘quarter-million dollar dog whistle.’  If you ask any Air Force pilot who flew the Tweet to describe why they loved the jet trainer, their first response to your question will probably be, “huh? Say again?”  But if you ask a little louder and/or tell them to turn up their hearing aid, you’ll inevitably get a heartfelt reply describing how special the plane was to them.  They’ll talk about how the airplane flew formation like a dream, was built like a tank, and how it turned them into a real pilot.

The Tweet was loved but it was far from perfect. The plane was so loud that just listening to a Tweet video on YouTube still requires two forms of hearing protection.  Most jets were bent from years of abuse and needed a little (or alot of) trim to attempt to center the aircraft.  Engines were notoriously frustrating to start. I once needed a 300lb crew chief named Hector to bounce on the wing while I jiggled in my seat just to get the left engine started.  The plane also had a spin recovery procedure so complicated that most student pilots could barely remember the boldface verbatim while sitting at the briefing table–let alone in an actual jet while you were hurtling towards your death in a spin with an instructor screaming at you just one foot from your face.

Even with all its faults, the Tweet was still a magnificent airplane though.  It was a real airplane: no fly by wire, no auto-throttles, no autopilot either.  I’m pretty sure the calculator in my flight suit pocket had more computing power than the Tweet. And that was why most people loved the airplane, myself included. It was the first and only jet airplane I ever soloed.  I remember taking to the skies on one crystal-clear fall morning for a pattern solo flight where every landing I made for a solid hour was like a gentle good morning kiss to the runway.  It was followed by repeated ‘double-clicks’ on the radio from the RSU as applause for not killing myself.  I’m pretty sure that runway 13R at Laughlin AFB was made of butter that morning.  It was a feat of professional flying that I haven’t replicated since.

So when I stumbled upon a Tweet video the other day, I knew I had to post it on Avgeekery.  The video was shot way back in 1992. The particular Tweet in the video was probably flown by a MAC pilot who was part of the ACE program.  It was a program that allowed ‘banked’ pilots to continue to fly something (a Tweet) while the Air Force absorbed excess pilots during the cutbacks after the Gulf War ended. Even 24 years later, the tweet sound from the video clip is so distinctive, so loud, but somehow soothing.  The sound is as special to a Tweet pilot’s ears as it would be to anyone if they heard a beloved relative’s voice on an old VHS home video.

Riding high from that nostalgia, the next freakin’ clip that loaded on my screen absolutely broke my heart. Damn you, YouTube and your video suggestions! Now I’m not naive, I knew that T-37s died long ago.  The last class flew them out of Sheppard AFB’s ENJJPT program in 2009.  But there was a part of me that wanted to remember the good ‘ole days and not think about the sad fate that would unfortunately face most of the retired Tweets at Davis Monthan Air Base.  Bad news doesn’t get better with time… Watch the clip yourself:

In reflection, the end is tragic but the journey was fantastic. Great memories and permanent hearing loss are all that remains.  Cheers to you T-37!  May you rest in peace.

Written by Jeff Gilmore

Jeff Gilmore

Jeff is a former active duty Air Force pilot who founded Avgeekery.com and now works in Silicon Valley. A longtime #avgeek, Jeff loves technology, aviation, model airplanes, and his family.