In an era of stealth bombers and super fighters, the U.S. and its allies still have a need for rugged, no-nonsense turboprop fighter planes that harken back to the old days of the P-51 Mustang.
The Blaze brings you the A-29 Super Tucano.
In conflict zones around the world, the need for nimble, low-maintenance reconnaissance and light attack capability far outstrips the need for the most advanced 5th generation airframes. The U.S. needs an aerial platform it can give to and train allies on as part of partner building efforts in Afghanistan and other conflict nations.
To meet the demand for counterinsurgency airframes, the U.S. Air Force has awarded Embraer’s Super Tucano a major contract as a Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft, also known as a counterinsurgency (COIN) plane.
The price tag of $355 million for 20 planes is low by combat aviation standards, and the Super Tucano fills a number of aerial defense roles at a tiny fraction of the price of the cost for a modern jet fighter. The U.S. Airforce is buying 20 Super Ts from Embraer and its U.S. partner, Sierra Nevada Corporation.
The Super Tucano will be used to conduct advanced flight training, aerial reconnaissance and light air support combat operations around the world. It is currently in widespread use by Brazil and Colombia, though many more countries have purchased them.
The manufacturer of the Super Tucano, Embraer, described the ideas behind the plane's design and its evolution over the years as:
"ideally suited to deal with current and future military fight training requirements and also deployable in scenarios that do not fit high-performance combat aircraft...This new multi-purpose military turboprop aircraft embodies features guaranteed to make it as legendary as its predecessor, the Tucano, a favorite of so many air forces throughout the world."
Indeed, earlier versions of the Tucano have been in service for decades. The name Tucano is taken from a town in northeast Brazil, as the company's founder was Brazilian.
To handle its various roles, Embraer has equipped the A-29 with systems designed not only to comply with basic requirements, but also to keep pace with the continual changes taking place in the aircraft's potential operating theaters. The Super T's armaments include:
"Two .50" machine guns (200 rounds each) in the wings. Five hard points under the wing and fuselage allow up to 1,500 kg of weapons for most configurations...with additional underwing armament, such as two 20mm gun pods or .50" machine guns, thereby significantly increasing its firepower for missions requiring air-to-ground saturation."
In addition, all weapons stations can be loaded with the Mk 81 or Mk 82 bombs, SBAT-70/19 or LAU-68 rocket launchers. So the Super T has plenty of punch in a small package.
It's also pretty tough. Crew survivability is ensured through armor protection and state-of-the-art provisions such as a Missile Approach Warning System and Radar Warning Receiver, alongside chaff and flare dispensers.
The Super Tucano's airframe was designed for single- and twin-seater versions and can withstand +7G/-3.5G loads. The aircraft's structure is corrosion-protected and the side-hinged canopy has a windshield capable of withstanding a bird strike at 270 kts.
The propulsion system is not especially fancy, but it's effective. A 1,600 SHP Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68/3 turboprop engine that incorporates FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) and EICAS (Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System) powers the aircraft.
It does carry some nifty new electronics, and provides a state-of-the art Human-Machine Interface designed to minimize pilot workload and avionics system structured around a MIL-STD-1533 Databus Architecture.
You can watch a video of the Super Tucano during some live fire exercises below, courtesy of Military.com: