Legends of Vietnam: Super Tweet
Yeah. The A-37 was small. So was Napoleon.
- By Stephen Joiner
- Air & Space magazine, January 2010
Courtesy Lon Holtz
(Page 4 of 5)
When A-37 pilots remember the war, they talk about protecting "the guys on the ground." Before deployment to Vietnam, Major Richard Martel made one request of the Air Force: "I really don't want to kill people." He applied for an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft. But Martel was a computer specialist who flew a T-33 trainer weekly just to keep his skills sharp. Another candidate for Lou Weber's 604th. At the reunion banquet, the staff was stacking chairs and yanking tablecloths from under our drinks when Martel told me about the ironic path from his request to a Silver Star.
On November 29, 1967, he found himself far from his first-choice assignment, piloting one of two heavily armed A-37s circling atop a stack of Super Sabres at midnight. On the ground 16,000 feet below, in a place called Bu Dop, a special forces air base was under siege by Viet Cong hunkered down in thick jungle. The F-100s rolled in, bombing and strafing, then left the area. Despite the pounding, an anxious forward air controller alerted Martel to a multitude of Viet Cong massing for a final assault. Only the two A-37s remained above the target, both carrying 250- and 500-pound bombs plus six tubes of CBUs—anti-personnel cluster bomb units. Martel radioed the other Dragonfly pilot to extinguish his navigation lights and rotating beacon, then flipped his CBU switches to "HOT."
"We're going down now, lights out, " he told the FAC.
"We're gliding down from altitude completely dark with our throttles pulled all the way back to idle," he recalled. "It's pitch black. The VC think everybody's gone home. They can't see us. They can't even hear us. I dove the last 6,000 to the deck and leveled out at 100 feet. But that's nothing in an A-37."
Tracers from Russian-made 12.7-mm guns swarmed him as he methodically dispersed cluster bombs from rock-throwing altitude. He laid them in a swath 300 meters long. Flying a racetrack pattern, his wingman followed, also strewing the bomb units.
The ambivalent combatant, whose one request was duty in a non-lethal aircraft, paused for an instant four decades later. "We killed them all," he continued quietly. "We killed over 200 of them on one run." Both A-37s climbed away, then returned to take out gun emplacements with hard bombs. "The base was saved," Martel said, regaining his all-in-a-day's-work tone. "And we picked up a little medal." His Silver Star recommendation describes "Outstanding bravery...in the face of the heaviest ground fire anyone has ever received in this area of operations."
On the hotel patio, guests craned their necks to watch four attack aircraft ("A-10s," I heard someone grumble) execute a flyover in honor of Lou Weber and the A-37 vets. The $400,000 Dragonfly gave up its role to the $8 million (in 1980 dollars) Warthog. Dragonflys went to Air National Guard units as OA-37 observation craft. Today, many perform counterinsurgency and drug interdiction for Latin American nations, and until recently, some served in South Korea.
Cessna's A-37 never got the girl or the movie deal, but from 1967 to 1974, the Air Force reports, the airplane flew 68,471 missions. Pilots whose squadrons flew 1,000 missions a month consider the figure low.