Ok, we all know about the A-10 by now, the star of CAS (Close Air Support). Basically an armored glider with two jet engines built about a cannon the length of a Cessna. This beast was developed to have reversible parts (left aileron could be used on the right), land without landing gear deployed (that is why the wheels in the wings stick out a little),and the engines protected by the tails to get the pilot's assets back to base.
But that is not what this post is about.
CAS support aircraft are the general term for an aircraft designed to fight close to the front line in direct support of friendly troops:
A-10 in the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan
Skyraider in Vietnam
Surplus WWII aircraft in Korea
Stuka dive bomber in WWII (top pilot Rudel was actually interviewed when they designed the A-10 to make sure they got as much input as possible).
Today we are dealing with smaller wars, brush wars, bandits (ala ISIS which I prefer to call Daesh as ISIS legitimizes their status... they're thugs), FARC, etc...
Larger modern warplanes are not only overpowered for such operations, but insanely expensive. There is actually a type of aircraft for this that is commonly referred
to as COIN (COunter INsurgency). While more modern military groups used helicopters (still an over powered/expensive solution in many cases) or drones (expensive and
Now there are a lot of light planes adapted to this role, from something as simple as a Cessna with a rocket pod to purpose built aircraft like the Pucara (Argentina).
But for today we are going to set the way-back machine to the Vietnam war and the Dragonfly.
The T-37 Dragonfly was designed by Cessna for the USAF as a pilot training aircraft back in the the days when props were going away. A simple aircraft it was easy to fly and very forgiving. Its tiny engines made a very high-pitch noise and the plane earned the name Tweety Bird.
With the losses of A-1 Skyraiders and no replacements available (they actually debated starting up production again, no small task) the USAF opted to build modified T-37 Dragonfly as A-37s. There was a minor variant (A-37A) and the production variant (A-37B).
The A-37A was a totally bizarre program in that weapons testing and combat capability was developed in Vietnam under live-fire conditions(unlike the seemingly endless testing we see today with aircraft like the F-35). While it never flew in to North Vietnam it did make a name for itself supporting the South with the lower (hah) intensity conflicts (spelled no SAMs).
The plane could actually carry more weight in bombs that plane weighed, could mid-air refueled, and had a mini-gun in the nose. It was also the only plane in the USAF that was allowed to turn off an engine while in flight to save fuel. It was cheap (1/4 the cost of a fighter) and took far fewer hours to maintain (2-6 times less than an F-4).
Operational bases for the A-37 were simple airfields in the middle of nowhere of if they operated from normal airfields their take-off run was so short that they were about enemy fire before clearing the end of the runway.
The planes were loved by the troops on the ground as much as the A-10 would be loved in modern times. Their small size and unusual speed and flight profile made them hard for enemy gunners to hit. They could take a lot of damage, their wide landing gear made them very forgiving on takeoffs and landings.
A typical pilot in an A-37 might fly 1000 sorties while on rotation in Vietnam, whereas a typical fighter pilot in an F-4, F-100, or F-105 would fly 400 sorties. Many of the pilots in the A-37 were not from the ranks of fighter pilots and the USAF fighter groups all but shunned the Tweety Bird pilots. Most of the pilots were Navigators or cargo plane pilots looking for something more interesting. The USAF gave almost no real credit to these guys and very few ever went on to attain any notability in USAF leadership. Minigun in a training aircraft just didn't spark interest, never mind the fact that these guys did twice as many missions and probably saw five times as much ground fire.
After Vietnam the US kept the A-37 operational in a few reserve squadrons, but all were gone from US service in the early 90s (none saw service in Iraq).
The US Army handles this mission now mostly by using helicopters. The USAF has the A-10 and armed drones. Future conflicts will probably use drones more and more for close in work while 'fast jets' will attack from altitude.
Will we ever see another Tweety Bird? Probably. There are several companies working on armed light aircraft for low-intensity combat areas. Of interesting note is the Air Tractor, now offered as a COIN aircraft and a 9000 pound bomb load.