The Mattel Marauder proved that a beefed up T-37 could become a superb COIN aircraft.
On May 2nd 1967 the first A-37 Dragonfly or Super Tweet went into service with the United States Air Force (USAF). A development of Cessna’s T-37 primary jet trainer, the A-37 was a counter-insurgency (COIN) specialist of the first order. Cessna took a stock T-37 Tweet two side-by-side seated trainer, added stronger wings and wingtip fuel tanks, strengthened the landing gear, added mission-specific avionics and a 7.62 millimeter rotary cannon and a refueling probe in the nose and presto- instant Dragonfly. It was a little bit more complicated than that…
Where Ideas Go to Formulate
Things started in 1962 at the USAF Special Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida. Vietnam was already sucking America in. Hurlburt Field was and still is the epicenter for development of Air Force spec ops aircraft, so when two all-white T-37C Tweets showed up among all the camouflaged aircraft in late 1962 something had to be percolating. While the Air Force liked what they saw it was immediately apparent that some changes would need to be made in order to adapt a T-37 airframe to the COIN mission.
Where’s the Beef?
Those changes started with more powerful engines. General Electric J85 turbojets replaced the Tweet’s standard Continental J-69 engines, more than doubling the thrust available, although this didn’t quite translate that way due to added weight in the A-37 airframe. Still, it was a considerable improvement. The other changes to the basic Tweet outlined above were also incorporated into the two YAT-37D prototypes contracted by the Air Force in 1963.
Back-Burnered But Back In Business
During October of 1964 the first YAT-37D flew and a little less than a year later the second prototype, with hard points for a total of eight underwing pylons made its maiden flight as well. But about that time the project was back-burnered by the Air Force. Ironically a significant factor in the resurgence of interest in the A-37 was the losses suffered by the Douglas A-1 Skyraiders in Vietnam. The Air Force didn’t jump in with both feet though. Not right away.
Starting Out Slow
They issued a contract for 39 airframes modified from existing T-37s so they could conduct an evaluation. The original AT-37D designation was changed to A-37A. The evaluation would be conducted by what would become the 604th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) under the most trying of conditions- combat.
Passing the Test
The Combat Dragon evaluation was conducted in Vietnam beginning in August of 1967 using 25 of the A-37A “Mattel Marauders.” The aircraft flew thousands of sorties out of Bien Hoa air base over III and IV Corps without a single loss due to enemy fire. The Super Tweets didn’t fly milk runs either; typical missions were helicopter escort, close air support, night interdiction, and Forward Air Controller (FAC) sorties- but they were primarily in-country sorties. The 2 to 1 maintenance hours to flying hours ratio was the stuff of which FAC dreams were made. It helped that the Super Tweet retained the ease of maintenance and simplicity of the Tweet.
Back to the Drawing Board For a Better Jet
Once Combat Dragon concluded the Air Force had identified a few things that required attention. Range was one. Unboosted controls were another. Cessna was soon the recipient of a contract to build 127 A-37B Dragonflies, many of which would be used by the South Vietnamese Air Force to replace their A-1 Skyraiders lost in combat and operational accidents. When the first A-37B emerged from the Cessna factory in September of 1967 it was a new-build aircraft that weighed nearly twice what the T-37C weighed but incorporated scores of improvements and refinements to the Dragonfly.