Schweizer RU-38B Twin Condor

Schweizer RU-38A

The Schweizer RU-38B Twin Condor is a twin-engine development of the single engine SA 2-37A and like itís predecessor it was designed specifically for covert surveillance. The Schweizer company had previously built the SA 2-37A to meet a specific requirement for a quiet reconnaissance aircraft and the RU-38B Twin Condor was developed to meet a need for a larger aircraft designed for the same purpose. The first RU-38B Twin Condor was a re-build of a single engine RG-8A previously operated by the US Coast Guard, the remaining two aircraft were newly built.

Powered by twin turbo-charged Teledyne Continental GIO-550A engines in a pusher-puller configuration, the Twin Condor provided a payload weight of 800lb and a volume capacity of 140 cubic feet, together with a larger, more comfortable crew compartment. To keep noise signature down to an absolute minimum, enhanced mufflers were fitted to the engine exhaust. The front engine exhaust is also piped to flow over the wing, shielding the noise as much as possible from the ground.

The Twin Condor is designed to fly slowly along a coastline at between 1,500 and 2,000ft making it ideally suited for conducting drug enforcement and fishery protection patrols. The rear engine provided redundancy, together with much greater security for the crew during a long surveillance mission and enabled a higher cruise speed to and from the target area. After take-off, once the aircraft was operating in the quiet surveillance mode, the rear engine was shut down and the propeller fully feathered to further reduce the noise. The normal crew was 2 pilots, with the co-pilot also acting as the sensor operator, there was also the option of carrying a dedicated sensor operator sitting behind the pilots seats.

Schweizer RU-38A

The unusual twin-boom configuration of the Twin Condor allowed the forward end of each boom to house reconnaissance equipment. The port pod contained an AN/APN-215(V) colour radar with search and mapping capabilities, whilst the starboard pod contained an AN/AAQ-15 Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) system together with a Low-Light TV system. A comprehensive navigation system, with OMEGA and GPS, together with a wide range of clear and encrypted communications equipment, was also installed on the aircraft. Large payload bays were designed to allow the use of palletised sensors, enabling the aircraft to quickly change roles as required by the mission. These sensors frequently included signals collection and direction finding equipment and gave the aircraft the ability to act as a relay platform.

After development testing in 1988, the aircraft commenced operations with the US Coast Guard in Miami where they were used in support of drug interdiction operations over the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The program was later halted in mid-2000 due to problems with aircraft serviceability. The current whereabouts of the 3 aircraft is unknown and I suspect they are still in use, as the payload capability these aircraft provided would still make them a cost-effective surviellance option.