August 2001 (Northrop F-5) Home October 2001 (Leduc 0.22)

Aircraft of the Month for September 2001

Schweizer RU-38A Twin Condor

by Alex Stoll


y taking a US Coast Guard Schweizer RG-8A (SA 2-37A type), removing the engine and adding two larger ones, enlarging the crew compartment, enhancing the mufflers, increasing the wingspan, adding a twin tail, improved sensors, noise signature reduction enhancements, and tricycle landing gear, Schweizer created the RU-38A covert day/night patrol and surveillance aircraft. Schweizer received the first RG-8A to convert on 24 January 1994. It was planned to convert two and have one RU-38A be new-build. The first flight, an unofficial technical flight, occured on 31 May 1995, with the first official flight taking place when flight testing began in June 1995. The second USCG RG-8A donor aircraft was lost of the coast of Puerto Rico in 1996 (reportedly due to pilot error), so in December 1996 an agreement was reached to supply only two RU-38As to the USCG. The RG-8A crash caused a delay of many months for the RU-38A program, flying not resuming until May 1997.

Since the RU-38A will be used at low altitudes over water or hostile terrain, the second engine is important to safety as well as providing higher cruise speeds. It uses a full-feathering propellor with accumulator but will be shut down during surveillance to make the RU-38A quieter. The co-pilot, who sits in the left seat in the cockpit, has full flight control and can serve as a backup sensor operator. The RU-38A can be outfitted with a third seat for a dedicated sensor operator behind the pilot-co-pilot seats. Control surfaces are limited to ailerons and upper/lower airbrakes on the wings, horn-balanced rudders on the twin tails, and an elevator on the horizontal tailplane. No flaps are needed. The turbocharged GIO-550A engines use 3:2 gear reduction to 2267 rpm and are "muffled" to reduce sound.

With 140 cubic feet available for surveillance equipment and maximum sensor weight at 800 pounds, the RU-38A is able to carry an AlliedSignal AN/APN-215(V) multi-function X-band sea search radar, mapping and weather radar in a radome below the nose of the port fuselage boom, FLIR, in the starboard boom, LLTV, and a dual recorder. The boom pod sensors are interchangeable. Since the large payload bays take palletized sensors, the RU-38A can quickly switch sensors. Each payload bay is accessed through large access doors. Mission avionics are located in the booms and in behind the cockpit. The RU-38B's flexability allows it to be used in many different roles, including border integrity protection, counter drug activities, intelligence collection, fisheries patrol, environmental monitoring, and SAR.

Avionics include Omega, GPS, Allied Signal Bendix/King KY58 and KY75 communication encryption devices, Wolfsberg RT9600 Maritime band radio, Rockwell Collins ARC-182 VHF/UHF, Allied Signal HF-900 radios, and VHF/UHF direction finders. Night vision goggles are optional.

Schweizer RU-38A Secifications
AccomodationPilot and sensor operator
PowerplantTwo Teledyne Continental GIO-55A piston engines, 261 kW (350 hp) each
Fuel capacity375 liters (100 US gallons)
Cruise speed254 km/h (136 kts/157 mph) at 75% power
Mission speed157-176 km/h (85-95 kts/98-110 mph)
Stall speed140 km/h (76 kts/87 mph)
Takeoff distance293 m (960 ft)
Landing distance412 m (1350 ft)
Mission altitudeBelow 3050 m (10,000 ft)
Ceiling7315 m (24,000 ft)
Climb rate671 m (2200 ft) per minute, or 351 m (1150 ft) per minute with rear engine stopped
Duration6-10 hours
Empty1524 kg (3360 lb)
MTOW2404 kg (5300 lb)
Payload408 kg (900 lb)
Wingspan19.51 m (64 ft)
Maximum length9.19 m (30 ft 2 in)
Wing area20.98 m² (225.86 sq ft)

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