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.
The work ethic of America's most unhyped combat jet often extended right up to a pilot's final sortie. In a noisy hotel hospitality suite in Branson, Bob Chappelear described his last day in Vietnam. He had flown 475 missions, so I expected tales of fighter pilot-esque revelry—the cork-popping champagne send-off. Instead, just hours from boarding a Boeing 707 that would get him "back in the world," he opted for an all-nighter racking up numbers 476 to 478. Two scrambles after midnight and a shake-and-bake dropping Snake Eye bombs and napalm at daybreak. Then, he landed the A-37 and walked away.
"I just grabbed a quick shower, put on my uniform, and packed my bags," Chappelear said. "Caught the Freedom Bird and came on home."
Frequent contributor Stephen Joiner writes about aviation from his home in southern California.