Designed from the outset as a covert day/night surveillance platform, the RG-8A Condor Schweizer SA2-37B does not look like a covert spy plane. However, its sophisticated suite of FLIR, EO and electronic sensors, large payload, long endurance and low acoustic signature, enable this unusual aircraft to provide a comprehensive surveillance capability at relatively low cost.
To enable the Schweizer SA2-37B to operate effectively it was designed to fly quietly, using minimum power to reduce noise and this works so effectively that above 2000ft the aircraft is virtually undetectable from the ground. The reduced acoustic signature was achieved by a clever aerodynamic design which carefully matched the propeller, engines and various sound muffling devices. Powered by a Lycoming T10-540 engine rated at 250hp, in quiet mode the engine can be throttled back to between 1,100 – 1,300 rpm, generating just 65hp which is sufficient to keep the aircraft flying slowly.
The clever aerodynamics and engine efficiency also gives the aircraft an excellent endurance of 12 hours or a radius of operations of 200nmi whilst remaining on station for 7 hours. Generally the aircraft operates below 5000ft, to give the optical sensors the best possible views, but it also has a 24,000ft service ceiling and can undertake high level missions. The SA 2-37B can carry up to 510lb (231kg) of sensors and associated equipment in a 70 cu ft payload bay in the fuselage. The payload bay was designed to accept modular systems enabling different sensors to be changed quickly.
Three Schweizer SA2-37Bs have been operated by the US Coast Guard for a number of years in supporting anti-drug smuggling operations. A further 3 aircraft are believed to be operated by the CIA in support of various clandestine operations and one of these aircraft is believed to have provided support for the Peruvian government on 22 Apr 97, when terrorists seized 72 hostages in the Japanese ambassadors residence in Lima.
To provide an additional surveillance capability in their continual fight against the narcotics trade, in 1999 the Colombian government placed an order for a single Schweizer SA 2-37B as part of a joint US/Colombian project known as LANAS – Low Acoustic Noise Signature Airborne Surveillance; a further four aircraft were funded directly by the USA . The Colombian aircraft rolled off the production line in 2000, was certified on 7 Jun 00 and given the registration N2601L (c/n0015). The installation of the various sensors took a year and the in late 2001 the aircraft departed for Colombia. The unique capability this aircraft offers has considerably enhanced the ability of the Colombian government in their ongoing battle against the countries cocaine smugglers.