T-28, A-37, COIN Aircraft, & OV-10
Attack Planes for Small Wars, 1963-1991
When war began in Vietnam, the Air Force had no ground attack planes in current production, for strategic bombing had been its first priority. The first aircraft sent to Saigon’s VNAF had been surplus Navy AD-6s (see Chapter 31), and when the Farm Gate Detachment was sent to train and support the VNAF in November 1961, the Air Force provided aging A-26 light bombers and an armed trainer type, the T-28D.
North American’s T-28 Trojan had been built as a two-place Air Force and Navy trainer from 1949 to 1957, when it was replaced by T-37 jets after a propeller-driven trainer was no longer useful. Responding to a French request for a low-cost light ground attack type for their war in Algeria, North American provided the T-28S Nomad, converted from a T-28A by installation of a 1,425-hp R-1820-56S and under wing racks for two 12.7-mm guns, two 500-pound bombs or two rocket pods.
The first such conversion had been sent in July 1959 to France as a prototype for 145 surplus T-28As converted to the armed configuration by Sud Aviation. Known as the Fennec (Desert Fox), they served until the Algerian war was lost, after which 25 were passed to Morocco in 1965 and 40 to Argentina in 1966.
From 1961 to 1969, North American’s Columbus factory converted 313 T-28As from the stored surplus to
T-28Ds for the Mutual Aid Program. Fairchild modified another 72 T-28Ds from the trainer stockpile. In November 1961, 31 arrived in Saigon for the second VNAF “fighter” squadron, which was trained by the American Farm Gate detachment.
The 1st Air Commando Squadron flew the T-28D against the Viet Cong, using American pilots and Vietnamese crewmen. Its combat role terminated in April 1964, after two American pilots had been killed when their T-28D wings had failed. The Air Commandos were given A-1Es instead, although distribution of T-28Ds to allies continued. Cambodia and Laos each received 60 T-28Ds, and allocations were also made to Thailand, Bolivia, the Congo (Zaire), Ecuador, Ethiopia, Haiti, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan.
An improved version, the YAT-28E with a 2,445-hp Lycoming YT55-L-9 turboprop and taller tailfin, was flown on February 15, 1963. The original aircraft, with two .50-caliber guns and six pylons for stores, was destroyed in a crash. Two more built in 1964 could carry up to 4,000 pounds of stores, but no production was ordered, as the OV-10 was available.
The twin-jet Cessna T-37 trainer was chosen as an interim attack type for the Air Force until the more advanced A-7D became available. Cessna first proposed an AT-37D attack version in May 1963, and two T-37Bs became YAT-37Ds, with 2,400-pounds thrust J85-GE-5 engines and weapons installations. First flown October 22, 1963, they were prototypes for the similar A-37A.
The Air Force did not order the attack Cessna into production until August 1966. Thirty-nine new A-37As were built on the T-37B production line, delivery beginning in July 1967. The 604th Special Operations Squadron received 25 and began operations in Vietnam on August 15, 1967.
With two crewmen side-by-side, and two J85-GE-17A jets derated to 2,400-pounds, the A-37A had armor, a 7.62-mm Minigun with 6,000 rounds in the nose, 90-gallon tip tanks, and eight under-wing pylons; the four inner ones could handle 870-pound bombs or 100-gallon drop tanks, the others up to 500 pounds of bombs, bomblet dispensers, or rocket pods, or up to 4,130 pounds of stores. Reliability and weapons delivery were rated as superior during the A-37A’s combat tour at Bien Hoa.
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