+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!
The Royal Libyan Air Force (سلاح الجو الملكي الليبي , Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Malakiya al Libiyya) was established in September 1962 by a decision of the minister of defense Abd al-Nabi Yunis. Lt. Col. al-Hadi Salem al-Husomi was assigned to lead the new force. It was originally equipped with a small number of transports and trainers. In May 1967, the Kingdom of Libya reached an agreement with the United States to supply Northrop F-5A and Bs to the Royal Libyan Air Force and more advanced trainers, in the form of six Cessna T-37C trainers.
The Cessna T-37 Tweet (designated Model 318 by Cessna) was a small, economical twin-engined jet trainer type which flew for decades as a primary trainer for the United States Air Force (USAF) and in the air forces of several other nations. It was a response to the USAF’s request for proposals for a "Trainer Experimental (TX)" program in 1952, specifying a lightweight, two-seat basic trainer for introducing USAF cadets to jet aircraft. Cessna responded to the TX request with a twin-jet design with side-by-side seating. The USAF liked the Cessna design and the side-by-side seating since it let the student and instructor interact more closely than with tandem seating. In the spring of 1954, the USAF awarded Cessna a contract for three prototypes of the Model 318, and a contract for a single static test aircraft. The Air Force designated the type as XT-37.
The XT-37 had a low, straight wing, with the engines buried in the wing roots, a clamshell-type canopy hinged to open vertically to the rear, a control layout similar to that used on board of contemporary operational USAF aircraft, ejection seats, and tricycle landing gear with a wide track of 14 ft (4.3 m). It first flew on 12 October 1954. The wide track and a steerable nosewheel made the aircraft easy to handle on the ground, and the short landing gear avoided the need for access ladders and service stands. The aircraft was designed to be simple to maintain, with more than 100 access panels and doors. An experienced ground crew could change an engine in about half an hour.
The XT-37 was aerodynamically clean, so much so that a speed brake was fitted behind the nosewheel doors to help increase drag for landing and for use in other phases of flight. Since the short landing gear placed the engine air intakes close to the ground, screens pivoted over the intakes from underneath when the landing gear was extended, to prevent foreign object damage.
The XT-37 was fitted with two Continental-Teledyne J69-T-9 turbojet engines, French Turbomeca Marboré engines built under license, with 920 lbf (4.1 kN) thrust each. The engines had thrust attenuators to allow them to remain spooled-up (i.e. rotating at speeds above idle) during landing approach, permitting shorter landings while still allowing the aircraft to easily make another go-around in case something went wrong. Empty weight of the XT-37 was 5,000 lb (2,300 kg).
Tests showed the XT-37 had a maximum speed of 390 mph (630 km/h) at altitude, with a range of 935 mi (1,505 km). The aircraft had a service ceiling of 35,000 feet (10,700 m) but was unpressurized and was therefore limited to an operational ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,600 m) by USAF regulations.
The production T-37A was similar to the XT-37 prototypes, except for minor changes to fix problems revealed by the flight-test program. The first T-37A was completed in September 1955 and flew later that year. The T-37A was very noisy, even by the standards of jet aircraft. The intake of air into its small turbojets emitted a high-pitched shriek that led some to describe the trainer as the "Screaming Mimi", the "6,000 pound dog whistle" or "Converter" (= converts fuel and air into noise and smoke). The piercing whistle quickly gave the T-37 its name, the "Tweety Bird", or just "Tweet". The Air Force spent a lot of time and money soundproofing buildings at bases where the T-37 was stationed, and ear protection remains mandatory for all personnel when near an operating aircraft.
The USAF ordered 444 T-37As, with the last produced in 1959. In 1957, the US Army evaluated three T-37As for battlefield observation and other combat support roles, but eventually procured the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk instead. However, the Air Force liked the T-37A, but considered it to be underpowered; consequently, they ordered an improved version, the T-37B, with uprated J-69-T-25 engines. The new engines provided about 10% more thrust and were more reliable. Improved avionics were also specified for the new variant. A total of 552 newly built T-37Bs was constructed through 1973, and all surviving T-37As were eventually upgraded to the T-37B standard as well.
The T-37A and T-37B had no built-in armament and no stores pylons for external armament. In 1961, Cessna began developing a modest enhancement of the T-37 for use as a weapons trainer. This new variant, the T-37C, was primarily intended for export and could be used for light attack duties if required. The respective changes included stronger wings, with a pylon under each wing outboard of the main landing gear well, and the T-37C could also be fitted with wingtip fuel tanks, each with a capacity of 65 US gal (245 l), that could be dropped in an emergency. A computing gunsight and gun camera were added, too, and the T-37C could also be fitted with a reconnaissance camera mounted inside the fuselage.
The primary armament of the T-37C was the General Electric "multipurpose pod" with a .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine gun with 200 rounds, two 70 mm (2.75 in) folding-fin rocket pods, and four practice bombs. Other stores, such as folding-fin rocket pods or even IR-guided Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, could be carried, too. However, the changes increased the weight of the T-37C by 1,430 lb (650 kg). As the engines were not upgraded, this reduced top speed to 595 km/h (370 mph), though the optional wingtip tanks increased maximum range to 1,770 km (1,100 mi). A total of 273 T-37Cs were exported until T-37 production stopped in 1975.
The F-5s and the T-37s were the first dedicated combat aircraft for the young Libyan Air Force, which only operated six Douglas C-47 transports and three Lockheed T-33A trainers at the time. Fifty-six personnel underwent training at bases in the US, pilots at Williams Air Force Base; a US Survey Team on Expansion came to Libya in August 1968 to supervise the introduction of the new jet aircraft and service them. The first aircraft arrived at Wheelus Air Base, a former US facility about 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) from Tripoli and local training started immediately.
Despite this enthusiastic start, the Royal Libyan Air Force and its small stock of aircraft did not last long because the government was overthrown in a coup d’état in 1969. The USA left Libya in 1970 and the air force changed its name to the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force (LARAF), and Wheelus Air Base was subsequently renamed Okba Ben Nafi Air Base, becoming the LARAF’s headquarter.
During the following months, Libya distanced itself from the United Kingdom and the United States and the serviceability of the older American aircraft quickly declined, especially the F-5s were affected. Eight F-5 single-seaters and two two-seaters had been delivered until then, as well as four T-37Cs — the rest of the order was cancelled. Educated service personnel for these aircraft was initially loaned from Greece as an emergency measure, but this did not help much, and most were eventually sold to Turkey (the F-5s) and Greece (the T-37Cs). Instead, close ties were developed with France, and, accordingly, an order for 110 Dassault Mirage 5s fighter bombers, twelve Fouga Magisters, ten Aérospatiale Alouette IIIs and nine Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelons was signed in December 1969, and in 1971 the LARAF still received eight C-130Hs from the United States. Negotiations for the purchase of Soviet military aircraft only started in 1973, in the light of the experiences of the Yom Kippur War, but relations with France were maintained.
Length: 29 ft 3 in (8.92 m)
Wingspan: 33 ft 99.3 in (12.581 m)
Height: 9 ft 2 in (2.79 m)
Wing area: 201 sq ft (18.7 m²)
Aspect ratio: 6.2:1
Airfoil: NACA 2418 at root, NACA 2412 at tip
Empty weight: 5,484 lb (2.490 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 8,000 lb (3.632 kg)
2× Continental-Teledyne J69-T-25 turbojets, 1,025 lbf (4.56 kN) thrust each
Maximum speed: 595 km/h (370 mph)
Cruise speed: 360 mph (580 km/h, 310 kn) at 35,000 ft (11,000 m)
Stall speed: 85 mph (137 km/h, 74 kn)
Range: 932 mi (1,500 km, 810 nmi) with internal fuel
Service ceiling: 38,700 ft (11,800 m)
Rate of climb: 3,370 ft/min (17.1 m/s)
2 underwing pylons for stores up to 500 lb (227 kg) each
The kit and its assembly:
This small but exotic what-if model was inspired by decals for an RLAF F-5A from a Colorado Decals sheet – and I had stumbled upon these rather hapless aircraft that only served for a few months under this flag in a F-5 book. I found the historic time slot interesting and wondered about other aircraft that could have been introduced in 1968 and found that Libya might have needed some more and more modern jet trainers than the three T-33 it had. My first choice was the British Jet Provost, but since Libya procured the equipment from US sources, a Hasegawa A-37 kit from a lot (and without any plan for it yet) came to the rescue.
At first I wanted to build the Tweet OOB, but found that the A-37 was a little “too much” for Libya’s needs, so I decided to retrograde it to a T-37C – a light trainer, but still armed. Biggest changes were the omission of the refueling probe, the gun port was faired over, and I left away the optional tip tanks and replaced them with scratched wing tips, made from styrene. A small dorsal antenna fairing “hump” was added, a smaller one that the A-37s feature. Even though they were not necessary to represent the real aircraft I added styrene tube dummies to the exhaust ports — the gaping OOB holes did not convince me.
The underwing hardpoints were reduced to just a pair of pylons, and the light armament now consist only of a pair of LAU-7 unguided missile launchers (from the Italeri NATO weapons set). The single-piece canopy was cut into two parts for open display, in the cockpit two gunsights, seat belts and a hydraulic piston for the open canopy were added.
Painting and markings:
The RLAF F-5s were the benchmark, and they carried a rather simple/dry livery: the were painted overall in a dull silver lacquer (not NMF), similar to the USAF prototypes, with a black anti-glare panel. Finding a good paint for this look/finish was not easy, though, and I eventually settled for Humbrol 11 (Silver) with a light black ink washing and post-panel-shading with Humbrol’s Matt Aluminum metallizer (27002).
The cockpit interior became medium grey while landing gear and air intakes became white. The LAU-7 pods became very light grey.
To emphasize the Tweet’s trainer role I pimped the uniform silver livery with dayglo orange markings, procured from an Airfix Jet Provost sheet. National markings were taken from the aforementioned Colorado Decals F-5 sheet, even though its national markings are wrong: they lack green, they were just printed in 2C. To mend this flaw, I just added a thin green decal stripe to the flag on the fin, and the roundels, which are pretty small on the F-5, were completely replaced with bigger alternatives: Albanian air force markings from an Antonov An-2 (Balkan Models sheet), with a small green decal circle added to their center. Simple, but effective, and in combination with the orange stripes the whole aircraft looks quite attractive. The tactical codes were taken from a Myanmar MiG-29 (Caracal Models sheet). Most stencils were taken from the OOB sheet, with some more added from the 1/72 A-37 aftermarket sheet from PrintScale.
After a light treatment with graphite around the jet nozzles the model was sealed overall with matt acrylic varnish (Italeri), and this IMHO comes pretty close to the real world RLAF F-5 finish.
A small project, even though the tank-less wing tips were quite challenging. However, the Libyan Tweet looks very convincing, and with the high-viz trainer markings the whole package even has a stylish touch. The early Libyan roundels are also quite exotic, since they were only used for a couple of months
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