I can’t even count the numbers of times I’ve written about OV-10/A-29/AT-6/various other light COIN/LAARA/LARA/you name it type low cost light attack aircraft.
And virtually ever time I do, either a comment or an email shows up asking “why not the PA-48 Enforcer?”
In the late 1950s, a very small company that eventually became Cavalier Aviation had the bright idea to use surplus P-51 Mustangs as high speed executive transports. Remember, this was well before the idea of a business jet was conceived. A nice interior and a second seat in a ‘stang seemed like just the thing a company president would need to travel in style for business. And it wasn’t that wild of an idea. Several other companies were converting light bombers like the A-26 into transports as well.
In the end, only a small number of these Cavalier Mustangs* were converted. As a way of keeping the company busy, Cavalier also refurbished some P-51s in use in South American air forces. Along the way, someone at Cavalier got the bright idea of replacing the Packard built Merlin engine with a Rolls Royce Dart turboprop engine.
The Dart powered conversion, known as the Enforcer, was quite the performer. And Cavalier wanted to get some USAF contracts. But it really had no chance. Seeking a better suited industrial partner, Cavalier sold the Enforcer design to Piper Aircraft in 1970.
Piper eventually convinced the Air Force to evaluate the renamed PA-48 Enforcer. By this time, the Enforcer was about 90% a new design, with only the slimmest heritage shared with the original P-51. In 1983 and 1984, two Enforcers were evaluated by the Air Force. They weren’t flown by the Air Force. They weren’t bought by the Air Force. The Air Force just watched Piper put them through their paces, said “that’s pretty cool” and when asked if they wanted to buy some, said “thanks, but no thanks.”
It’s not that the Enforcer was a bad airplane. But in 1984, the Air Force still had in its inventory several hundred OV-10 and A/OA-37 planes. They couldn’t see the point of adding yet another airframe for essentially the same mission.
Four Enforcers were built over the years. And two still exist. One is in the National Museum of the Air Force. The other has just undergone an extensive restoration at the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base.
*Many of which have been restored to their original configuration and are now seen at airshows.