Schweizer SA-2-39: the Saab Safari which lost to the infamous T-3A Firefly


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25 June 2009
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Late in 1991, Schweizer Aircraft Corp. and Saab reached an agreement under which Schweizer would build up to 125 SA 2-39 trainers, for the Air Force if it won the Enhanced Flight Screener (EFS) competition. Saab would provide technical support and Schweizer would purchase a US type certificate for the Saab-Scania AB MFI-15-200A Safari trainer and sign a 20-year lease for production tooling. They would manufacture the aircraft while UNC Aviation Services would provide contractor logistic support.

The objective of US Air Force's EFS program, which was completed in 1992, was to select a replacement for the Cessna T-41 as an ab initio training aircraft. Eleven companies from around the world competed. Besides Schweizer's SA-2-39, US contenders included the American General Tiger, the Mooney 201 and the Daytona D200. Overseas contenders included the Grob G115T from Germany; the Slingsby T.67M-200 Firefly (teamed with Northrop); the Pacific Aerospace CT-4E Airtrainer from New Zealand (teamed with Lockheed Aircraft Services, then with AAC); the FAA AS.202 Bravo from Switzerland; and the Siai Marchetti S.260E from Italy (teamed with Grumman, then Sabreliner). Without going into the details, final selection came down to Schweizer and a team composed of Slingsby Aviation Ltd of Kirbymoorside, England and Northrop.

Schweizer were supplied with a Saab Safari (SE-FIT, see photos in this page) in which a 250 hp six-cylinder Continental engine was installed. With this engine the Safari was the only aircraft to meet and exceed the performance specs desired by the Air Force. According to a former employee, "the aircraft was wonderful to fly! Rate of climb was impressive, stalls were gentle, and aerobatics were great!"


Schweizer's proposed aircraft (the SA 2-39) was a highly modified derivative of the Safari, an aircraft that is operated as a military trainer in many countries. The aircraft had exceptional fiying qualities; it was modified with a larger engine so that it met (or exceeded) every requirement; Schweizer received blue and green ratings in all evaluation categories; they provided a more aggressive delivery schedule; they even had a bid price 8% lower ($4.5 million) than the Slingsby/Northrop quotation. Schweizer would manufacture the SA 2-39 totally in the United States whereas Slingsby would manufacture its aircraft in England.

Upon losing, Schweizer protested to the GAO. After spending approximately $1.0 million on bidding the program, another $200,000 was spent on the protest. Schweizer felt certain that its SA 2-39 was a better training aircraft with superior performance. Schweizer had received a better management/company evaluation than Slingsby; they had fifty years of credibility of building and supporting training aircraft for the USAF; and they were significantly lower in price. How could they lose?

Their loss occurred because the USAF's final selection did not have to follow the evaluation criteria that were listed in the Request for Proposal. The GAO concluded that because this was a Best Value Contract, as long as the winning bidder was qualified and met the RFP requirements, the Air Force was within its rights to make a subjective decision based upon its perception of Best Value.

And subjective it was, since their proposed EFS aircraft met or exceeded every requirement and specification of the USAF Request for Proposal and contained many enhancement features which exceeded USAF goals. Schweizer's price for both aircraft acquisition and logistics support was significantly lower than Slingsby's. And if Schweizer had been selected, 100% of the aircraft manufacturing jobs would have been in the US. And yet the USAF selected Slingsby despite Schweizer's $4.5 million (8.2%) lower price.

Had the USAF followed the announced evaluation criteria, Schweizer Aircraft would have been awarded the contract. Slingsby was selected with no apparent consideration of American jobs and taxpayers' money.


Adapted from:
Some additional info taken from:
If I think this is the aircraft I think it is, then this might actually have a combat pedigree. I think the plane was derived from the Malmo MFI-9, which was actually flown by mercenaries for Biafran forces against Nigerian government forces during their civil war in the late 1960's. They actually flew a number of attack sorties against Nigerian Air Force targets.
It is sad to concluded that if this aircraft wuld have been selected it, most likely, would still be in use - unlike the T-3A which was an utter failure.

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