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Fighter Squadron Put the 'A' and 'C' in Aircraft

Baltimore -- If you think today's A-10s and C-130s are the first "A" (attack) and "C" (cargo) aircraft the Maryland Air National Guard has flown, think again. Go back to the 1970s, and you'll find Maryland Guardsmen flying A-37 Dragonflies and C-7 Caribous.

The A-37, a ground attack version of the Cessna T-37 Tweet trainer with more powerful engines, larger fuel tanks, an internal minigun and provisions for external munitions, replaced the 104th Tactical Fighter Squadron's F-86Hs in 1970.

The de Havilland C-7 Caribou, meanwhile, arrived in 1977, as a replacement for the 135th Tactical Airlift Squadron's O-2 Super Skymasters. The C-7 remained in service with the 135th for a brief three years before being replaced by C-130s.

But while the A-37 and C-7 were both significant milestones in the Maryland Air Guard's evolution into its modern-day form, neither were actually the first of their type to be assigned to the state.

For that, you must take yet another step back in time, to the immediate post-World War II era, where you will find the 104th Fighter Squadron equipped with both of the state's first "A" and "C" aircraft - the A-26 Invader and the C-47 Skytrain, both built by Douglas.

The A-26 (redesigned B-26 after 1948) was a light attack bomber first fielded during World War II. It was flown by the Maryland Guard from 1946 to 1950. While the model would go on to see action in both Korea and Vietnam, for fighter units like the 104th, it served a necessary but less glamorous role: that of towing aerial targets.

A typical mission would involve the A-26 towing a target banner, which unit P-47s would fire at using ammunition coated with colored paint. When the gunnery practice was over, the pilots would score their hits by examining the banner for holes with their color.

The C-47, meanwhile, served as the squadron's operational support aircraft, hauling troops and cargo in support of the unit's fighter mission. The 104th would fly a number of cargo-type aircraft over the years, including the C-45 Expeditor and C-54 Skymaster. Maryland flew the C-47 from 1946 until 1959.