A Project of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

Schweitzer RG-8A   “Condor”

The RG-8A was developed by the U.S. Air Force under a “black” procurement program. It was a derivative of the Schweitzer motor-glider and was engineered and used to perform covert surveillance missions. Mission versatility was designed into the aircraft. The Coast Guard acquired two of these aircraft in 1988. They were used for drug interdiction, locating illegal immigrants, documenting fisheries violations and detecting the pollution of oceans and rivers, and on rare occasions for night search and rescue.

Careful matching of the very high-aspect ratio aerodynamic design with the propeller, engine and mufflers enabled the RG-8A to operate with engine between 1,000 RPM and 1,300 RPM during the “quiet” mission mode. It was equipped with a six cylinder reciprocating Lycoming IO-540 engine rated at 250 horsepower but required only about 65 horsepower to maintain altitude in the “quiet” mode. The engine was highly muffled with exhaust vents over the low wing.  The low RPM propeller speed vastly reduced the noise generated by the prop tips. The aircraft was painted with low contrast IR paint and was fully night vision goggle compatible. This combination permitted safe operation in the night sky, with virtually no chance of detection, at low altitudes. The RG-8A was equipped with an AAQ-15 Forward Looking Infra-Red image system (FLIR). The FLIR data was recorded on a VHS tape along with voice narrative by the pilot and the sensor operator indicating time, location and a description of activities.

The aircraft was flown by a single pilot, assisted by a Surveillance System Operator (SSO) who was trained to operate tactical navigation, communication and surveillance equipment, The RG-8A was a single-engine aircraft space limited in the amount and type of sensor equipment it could safely carry. Concerns about the lack of anti-icing capability and weather radar, the aircraft’s limited ditching characteristics in the event of an emergency, small cockpit, and pilot fatigue, led the service to explore a modification of the RG-8 to a twin-engine design.