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Dragonfly: The Smallest Fighter ... The Fastest Gun ... A-37s Over Vietnam.

Dragonfly: The Smallest Fighter ... The Fastest Gun ... A-37s Over Vietnam. By Frederick D. Long and Lon Holtz, eds. Montgomery Ala.: A-37 Association, 2015. Photographs. Maps. Illustrations. Index. Appendixes. Glossary. Bibliography. Pp. 311. $19.95 paperback ISBN 978-09908472-0-5

Dragonfly presents a comprehensive collection of attention-grabbing history lessons about combat air operations. History can be related in many ways, but the best stories come from firsthand accounts. Dragonfly fills that bill and then some. Long and Holtz collected the reminiscences of more than 100 pilots who flew the A-37 in the Vietnam War. The jocks talk about their combat experiences from 1967 to 1972. Reading their accounts is like sorting a stack of lottery tickets and finding every one is a winner.

I initially opened the book to "Sir, I'm on Fire" and was amazed and delighted by how in the heat of the moment pilots perform illogical actions and survive. From there, the stories got even better. Tales such as "I'll Never Do That Again," "Hanging By A Thread," and "Enter the Gates of Hell" describe the good, the bad, and the ugly of combat, recalling dangerous and heroic deeds as well as explaining utterly stupid ones. Honesty prevails, along with the ability to laugh at oneself in the direst situations.

The flying events parallel the course of the war. The A37 took out missile sites, artillery and supply sites, bunkers, trucks, sampans, buildings, and support ground troops while under attack. They flew day and night, dropped napalm and bombs, and fired rockets and the minigun under every conceivable condition. They went on FAC missions, dodged antiaircraft fire, and performed escort operations. A successful mission was the rule, not the exception.

Long's introduction records the transformation of the T--37 from a trainer into an attack aircraft. The reconfiguration began in 1962 but was on-and-off until 1966. But the A-37's low cost (roughly $161,000 each, or a tenth the price of one F-4) made it the best plane available for close air support. Holtz (who flew the Dragonfly in Nam in 1968-1969 and is currently president of the A-37 Association) adds historical perspective with "Prologue 1945-1966: The Beginning of an Unpopular War."

The book explains the development and deployment of all USAF A-37 squadrons up to the time when the fleet was turned over to the Vietnamese Air Force. Some of the USAF record-breakers stand out from the crowd. Captain "Ollie" Maier flew 502 combat missions during a 12-month tour. Captain Pat "Boy Wonder" McAdoo (nicknamed by a senior officer) flew three tours in the Dragonfly, racking up 300 missions on his first rotation. And there was Major "Billy" Turner who is mentioned in many stories told by other fliers.

Dragonfly pilots exude a strong sense of camaraderie. They treasure the status they acquired by flying a special type of aircraft. Their mission dedication reminds me of the AC-130 Spectre crewmen I flew with during Vietnam. For the men of both groups, every flight provided a new adventure. The book includes a section that honors 13 pilots killed during the war.

Books of this type fill voids in military history. Combat is a highly personalized and relatively spectatorless endeavor. Rarely are people standing around to watch and report it. Mainly, the people that see it are the people engaged in it. Consequently, readers rely on guys from the arena to tell it like it was. This book performs that duty through the voices of a specialized group of warriors. Dragonfly opened my eyes to a weapon system unfamiliar to me.

Lt. Col. Henry Zeybel, USAF (Ret), Austin, Texas
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Author:Zeybel, Henry
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2016
Words:597
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