In 1952 the United States Air Force (USAF) announced a program “Trainer Experimental”. The requirement was for a lightweight, two-seat, jet. Cessna’s Model 318 won the contract.[i] The Cessna T-37 first flew on October 12, 1954. It is a small twin engine jet with side-by-side seating. The T-37 was the primary jet trainer for the USAF from 1957 until 2009. The USAF began taking delivery of the T-37 in June 1956. The USAF retired the last of its T-37s in July 2009. Columbia, Ecuador, and Pakistan still have T-37s in service. Cessna built 1,269 T-37s.[ii] An attack version, the A-37 Dragonfly, was built for Counter Insurgency (COIN) missions. Cessna built 577 A-37s.[iii] The joke about the T-37 was it was the smallest jet with the loudest engine. The T-37’s annoying engine noise gave the unofficial nickname “Tweety Bird” or “Tweet”.
[i] Military Factory, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=341, last accessed 7/14/2020.
[ii] Military Factory, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=341, last accessed 7/14/2020.
[iii] Military Factory, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=341, last accessed 7/14/2020.
The U.S. Army evaluated the T-37 as an attack aircraft from 1956-58. The USAF later prepared two AT-37Ds for evaluation. The demonstration T-37s were given J85 engines to replace the J69 engines. An AT-37D made its first flight on October 22, 1963. The Air Force carried out evaluations from 1964-66. In 1967 the Department of Defense (DoD) contracted Cessna to convert 39 T-37s to A-37s.[i]
The first 25 A-37As arrived in South Vietnam in 1967 and began operations in August. They flew close air support, night interdiction, and forward air control missions over South Vietnam and southern Laos. For the first 3,000 A-37A sorties there were no losses attributed to enemy fire. By the end of 1967 A-37As carried out 19,000 ordnance deliveries.[ii] The Air Force soon ordered A-37Bs. The A-37Bs had J85 engines, more armor, an air-to-air refueling capability, and other improvements.[iii]
Enemy ground assaults destroyed two A-37s. The first Dragonfly loss in Vietnam to a ground assault was on the night of the 1968 Tet Offensive. A Viet Cong attack on Bien Hoa destroyed an A-37A and an F-100D. The attack damaged 17 other aircraft.[iv] A Viet Cong attack on Ben Hoa on August 30, 1972 destroyed an A-37B. This was the last USAF A-37 lost during the war. [v]
The U.S. equipped the South Vietnamese Air Force with A-37s to replace their A-1 Skyraiders. This was not a universally popular decision. Then South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyên Cao Ky, who was also a combat pilot, pointed to the A-37 as an example of the U.S. supplying South Vietnam with less capable aircraft. USAF A-37 pilots flew 68,471 missions, over 160,000 sorties, during the Vietnam War. [vi] A total of 22 USAF Dragonflies were lost from all causes during the war. None were lost to accidents. The first 2 were shot down in 1967. In 1972 enemy fire shot down 6 Dragonflies. That was the highest yearly loss.[vii] For a time, unknown to everyone, A-37B pilot 1st Lt. Joseph Blassie was the Vietnam War Unknown Soldier. He was shot down on May 11, 1972. His remains were exhumed on May 14, 1998 after they were positively identified.[viii]
On April 29, 1975, with the collapse of South Vietnam imminent, Lieutenant Nguyen Thanh Trung, a South Vietnamese Air Force pilot, led a formation of A-37s, flown by North Vietnamese pilots, against South Vietnam held Tan Son Nhut. Lieutenant Trung had previously attached the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace with an F-5 Freedom Fighter.[ix]
The fall of Saigon did not mean the end of combat in Southeast Asia for the A-37. In December 1978, after some border clashes, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The Vietnam People’s Air Force (VPAF) flew the A-37 and other former South Vietnamese Air Force aircraft to support the operation. A-37s also flew sorties in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict.
[i] Defense Media Network, The A-37 Dragonfly in Vietnam by Robert F. Dorr, September 5, 2013, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-a-37-dragonfly-in-vietnam/, last accessed 7/15/2020.
[ii] Air & Space Magazine, Legends of Vietnam: Super Tweet by Stephen Joiner, January 2010, https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/legends-of-vietnam-super-tweet-8974282/, last accessed 7/15/2020.
[iii] Defense Media Network, The A-37 Dragonfly in Vietnam by Robert F. Dorr, September 5, 2013, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-a-37-dragonfly-in-vietnam/, last accessed 7/15/2020.
[iv] Vietnam Air Losses, https://www.vietnamairlosses.com/index.php/statistics/ground-losses, last accessed 7/16/2020.
[v] Vietnam Air Losses, https://www.vietnamairlosses.com/index.php/statistics/ground-losses, last accessed 7/16/2020.
[vi] Air & Space Magazine, Legends of Vietnam: Super Tweet by Stephen Joiner, January 2010, https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/legends-of-vietnam-super-tweet-8974282/, last accessed 7/15/2020.
[vii] Vietnam Air Losses, https://www.vietnamairlosses.com/index.php/statistics/ground-losses, last accessed 7/16/2020.
[viii] Air Force, Together We Served, https://airforce.togetherweserved.com/usaf/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=79626, last accessed 6/20/2020.
[ix] Air Force Magazine, https://www.airforcemag.com/article/0400saigon/, last accessed 7/16/2020.
Outside Southeast Asia
On December 19, 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama. U.S. Army attack helicopters and AC-130s provided almost all of the air support for the operation. Howard Air Force Base, in the Panama Canal Zone, had OA-37s on hand. The OA-37s and A-7s at Howard flew sorties in case their support was needed.
The U.S. supplied 30 Dragonflies to El Salvador during the El Salvador Civil War. El Salvador lost at least two A-37s in accidents. On November 18, 1989 a sniper killed the co-pilot of an A-37B. The pilot, Captain Milton Andrade ejected safely and an UH-H rescued him. A SAM-7 shot down an A-37B on November 23, 1990. The pilot, Lieutenant Hernandez Duenas ejected safely. The co-pilot, Sub-Lieutenant Escobar Amaya died.[i]
Guatemala received 15 A-37Bs in the 1970s. In the 9170s the Guatemala Air Force lost 4 Dragonflies to accidents. In 1988 rebel groundfire shot down a Guatemala Air Force A-37. The war ended with a peace settlement in 1992.[ii]
On April 20, 2001 a Peruvian Air Force A-37 shot down an Association of Baptists for World Evangelism Cessna Citation float plane. Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter Charity were killed in the shootdown. The float plane pilot, Kevin Dondaldson was wounded. Jim Bowers and the Bowers son Cory survived the attack and local villagers rescued them.[iii]
[i] Chronological Listing of Salvadoran Ejections, https://web.archive.org/web/20131107081104/http://www.ejection-history.org.uk/Country-By-Country/Salvadore.htm, last accessed 7/16/2020.
[ii] Guatemala’s Protracted War—The Role of the Guatemalan Air Force by James S. Corum, https://web.archive.org/web/20170210084750/http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/apjinternational/apj-s/2004/3trimes04/corumeng.htm, last accessed 7/18/2020.
[iii] United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Report on a Review of United States Assistance to Peruvian Counter-Drug Air Interdiction Efforts and the Shootdown of a Civilian Aircraft on April 20, 2001, https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/publications/10764.pdf, last accessed 7/16/2020.
T-37 & A-37 Stats
402mph (643 kmh)
507mph (811 kmh)
850 miles (1,360 km)
460 miles (735 km)
2x250 lb. bombs & 4xAIM-9 AAM
5,680lbs (2,580 kg)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 20, 2020:
Keep in mind your assignments are all potential articles for you to write.
greg cain from Idaho, USA on July 20, 2020:
Not shameless at all. Thanks for letting me know and I will definitely check it out!
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 20, 2020:
Yes, enjoy the week and stay well. Shameless self promotion: I also did an article on Brooks AFB.
greg cain from Idaho, USA on July 20, 2020:
Robert - I do love the story about Brooks AFB needing some situational awareness updates on what airplanes look like. That's hilarious, made me laugh out loud. I was at Hondo in Oct-Nov 1984 time frame, so looks like we missed each other in that neck of the woods by a couple years. Happy Monday, and have a good week.
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 20, 2020:
Thank you both for reading and commenting:
Greg Cain - I went to Hondo at least once for a CAF airshow. I left Texas, after 5 years at Brooks AFB, in 1982. When I was attending NCOLS at Randolph AFB. They class was by the tarmac the T-37s would taxi by and show how loud they were. An instructor came up to me and said, "That's an airplane, you've got to tell the people from Brooks so they know what an airplane looks like."
FlourishAnyway - By the standards of the day the sound wouldn't of hurt it more than other aircraft. The sniper hit would have been more luck than anything else. The A-37 picture in the article was taken the same year they had a demonstration of A-37s. The announcer pointed out the problems with hitting the aircraft with machinegun fire. The A-37 represented a small target. It is necessary to lead the target and allow for how much the bullet will drop, which depends on distance. On a firing pass the A-37 will be changing altitude which makes the equation more complex. The SAM-7, a shoulder mounted surface to air missile, which was used in Vietnam in 1972 may have made the world more dangerous for the Dragonfly. Their losses during the Vietnam War were low considering the number of sorties they flew. I would like to get some solid information on how they fared when the VPAF was flying them in combat.
FlourishAnyway from USA on July 19, 2020:
Was the sound an impediment at all to the plane, such as with assisting snipers on the ground in locating it? Your article is impressively detailed as always.
greg cain from Idaho, USA on July 19, 2020:
Robert - I can confirm that the T-37 is an excellent aircraft for jet training. I flew them in UPT at Columbus AFB in the mid-80s. Not the most glorious aircraft in the inventory, but as you've rightly noted it is/was one of the loudest. It also was highly reliable, was outstanding for spin training instruction, and the perfect introduction to jet aircraft for our young pilots (myself included). Great article with some fascinating history. I knew a little about the Vietnam era stuff because my instructor in T-41s at Hondo in Texas in the mid-80s was from South Vietnam and he had been an A-37 pilot for them.
Fantastic article with great research to support it. Thanks for putting it out there.
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 19, 2020:
Thank you all for reading and commenting.
Miebakaugh Fiberesima - The A-37 was in use by many countries and in many conflicts. Hopefully someone will see this article that can fill in some of the gaps.
MG Singh - The T-37 seems an excellent aircraft for jet training. A basic and tame aircraft.
Peggy Woods - Glad you found the article interesting. I'm doing ok. I'm still on furlough though.
Pamela Oglesby - There are many low intensity combats and the A-37 is made for that. One of the articles I read claimed the A-37 was the only truly successful U.S. aircraft of its type. There have been other attempts at making inexpensive aircraft to fill the counter insurgency role but none of them have so far made the grade.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 19, 2020:
Robert, The planes sure saw a lot of combat. This is another interesting article about the planes that get us and others through ver difficult times.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 19, 2020:
Nothing could be further from this truth.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2020:
You continue to educate us about the different types of aircraft in your well-documented articles. Thanks! I hope you are doing well.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 19, 2020:
A very interesting article about T 37. The fact that the aircraft lasted for five decades is itself a sign that was an extremely good and reliant plane.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 18, 2020:
Robert, welcome with a 'tweet.' Although the Dragonfly was a trainee jet, it fulfil a combat role. I do not know the jet was operational in those many conflicts like the Panama. Thanks for sharing.