Beechcraft RU-21A “Ute” s/n 67-18113 was one of four RU-21A’s built for the US Army Security Agency developed for use in the latter years of the Vietnam War. The aircraft and its’ associated mission gear were given the code name “Cefirm Leader” (AN/ULQ-11) which included four RU-21A’s for Direction Finding, three RU-21B’s for Intercept and Collection, and two RU-21C’s as radio jammers. Although the system never deployed to Vietnam, it was eventually turned over to the US Army Reserve and the 138th Aviation Company (EW), of Orlando Florida.
The aircraft did see a lot of use with the Reserves, deploying to Honduras in the early 1980’s during the Civil War in El Salvador, a deployment to Egypt as part of the Bright Star 85 exercise where one of her sister ships, 67-18112 was lost in a ditching off the coast of Greece, and many deployments to Naval Air Station Key West, Florida and throughout the Caribbean basin at the behest of National Level intelligence consumers and Counter Narcotic missions directed by Joint Task Force-East.
WarbirdsNews has learned of a fascinating, and under-represented vintage military aircraft that a US Army veterans group is trying to transform into a fitting memorial to the crews who flew and maintained them. The Beech RU-21, was based upon a Beechcraft King Air A90, but had significant modifications for signals intelligence work. They saw extensive service during the Viet Nam War detecting enemy signals traffic and evaluating the transmissions. Obviously, it was quite a dangerous mission, as it required flying over hostile territory. But being that it’s both from the cloak-and-dagger realm, and not as “glamorous” as a combat aircraft, the RU-21’s mission is largely unknown to the general public, so it is refreshing to see a proper memorial coming together to celebrate its exploits. The 138th Aviation Company Memorial is working on this solution, but they need our help. Here is their report on what they have been able to achieve so far…
“When the US Army retired the U-21 Fleet, the Cefirm Leader Aircraft which included the two other surviving RU-21A’s and two RU-21C’s (the RU-21B’s were almost immediately scrapped under mysterious conditions at Opa Loka Airport in Florida) ended up in the salvage yard of the legendary (and possibly infamous) J.W. “Bill” Duff of Denver Colorado. For 20 years the aircraft sat unrealistically priced out of reach of anyone who wanted to acquire them. Upon his passing in 2013, a group of Veterans of the 138th Aviation Company decided to pursue recovering one of the aircraft for a memorial display. However, the Veteran’s group weren’t the only ones waiting for a change of ownership at the salvage yard, now known as Acme Aircraft Sales and Salvage, as Karl Stoltzfus of Dynamic Aviation had acquired the collection of RU-21’s there in order to keep his company’s King Airs flying. Incidentally, Dynamic Aviation was the biggest purchaser of the US Army U-21 fleet when they were retired in the early 1990’s.
However, the story doesn’t end there, because the veterans group reached out to Karl Stoltzfus and he has kindly and generously agreed to restore and donate 67-18113 for a memorial. All the Veterans group had to do was to raise the funds to transport the aircraft from Denver to Bridgewater, Virginia, home of Dynamic Aviation, and once the restoration is complete, bring the aircraft to Orlando, Florida. The current plan is for the RU-21A to be put on display next to another example of one of the aircraft that were stationed at McCoy Air Force Base, the predecessor of Orlando International Airport, the venerable B-52D Stratofortress, s/n 57-0687.
As of this writing, the aircraft has been pulled out of the former JW Duff Salvage yard and is being transported across country by Les Chapman Transport of Blossom, Texas.
The Veterans Group, the 138thAviation Company Memorial Inc. is in the process now of soliciting funds to pay for the follow-on move, as well as landscaping and granite markers for where the aircraft will be on display.”
You can follow their progress and make a donation at www.138thavnco.org/ru21a-