A-29 Used to Train Fighter Pilots

A-29 Used to Train Fighter Pilots

By Kaiser David Konrad/Diálogo
May 24, 2017

More than 30 years ago, when Embraer introduced the Tucano aircraft, it completely revolutionized the concept of military pilot training, achieving immediate international success with the production of 637 units. In 1986, faced with the possibility of participating in a U.S. bidding process to acquire 711 units of a single trainer for the U.S. Air Force and Navy Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS), Embraer developed a new version of the Tucano aircraft. The project was based on the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force T-27G1 Short Tucano. The idea of modifying the Tucano as a fighter, and as a counterinsurgency aircraft, first arose within Embraer in the late 1980s, with upgrades being made to its engine using Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6A-67R 1,420-shp turboprop, which doubled the power of the aircraft. Next, to balance out the additional weight and power of the new engine, Embraer lengthened the fuselage by 1.37 meters, with a 0.37 m extension in front of the cockpit, and a 1-meter plug at the stern. This conceptual aircraft was built on a modified platform that included structural changes when compared with the original Tucano, evolving into the EMB-312H. The ‘H’ stands for the mission that was intended for the aircraft: to hunt helicopters. The EMB-312H had its maiden flight on September 9, 1991, just as the United States was launching the JPATS program. Embraer joined together with Northrop Grumman in 1993 to offer the EMB-312H, with 80 percent of its parts manufactured in the United States. A year later, it lost the deal to the Beechcraft T-6A Texan II, a successor to the Pilatus PC-9. That defeat was quickly overcome, and by 1995 the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym), was getting ready to launch the Amazon Surveillance System project (SIVAM, per its Portuguese acronym) and its operational arm, the Amazon Protection System (SIPAM, per its Portuguese acronym). As this concept was being developed, the need arose for a light-attack plane to fight smugglers and drug traffickers and “shield” the border airspace, and FAB launched a procurement program for 99 light-attack (AL-X) fighters. The EMB-312H was the starting point for developing a completely new aircraft using Pratt & Whitney Canada’s 1,600-shp PT6A-68C turboprop engine. The EMB-314 was born and given the A-29 Super Tucano designation by FAB. It made its first flight on June 28, 1999. Ever since the Super Tucano replaced the AT-26 Xavante jet in the FAB fighter pilot training, a series of new technologies has been introduced, improving training and preparing new fighter pilots to more easily operate advanced aircraft, as well as managing the complex systems that are necessary for mission success.“In Brazil, this aircraft is mainly used for fighter pilot training, and it performs that task quite well, as it allows the pilot to carry out various kinds of missions, thanks to its advanced weapons system, while also being able to carry out complex solo air combat [attack] missions, and launching precision weapons at a low operating cost,” said Air Force Colonel João Alexandro Vilela, a reservist who was a test pilot in FAB’s AL-X program, which created the A-29 Super Tucano. “The Super Tucano was developed with advanced avionics befitting fourth-generation planes, and it is at the forefront of aircraft in its class,” he emphasized. The state-of-the-art systems on board the A-29 Super Tucano have afforded operational benefits to the Specialized Fighter Operations Course held at the 2nd Squadron of FAB’s 10th Wing 5th Aviation Group, headquartered in Natal, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in northeastern Brazil. Brigadier General Pedro Luis Farsic, commander of 10th Wing, described the operational benefits afforded by replacing the AT-26 Xavante with the A-29: Flight Simulator: This feature has been of great benefit for familiarizing pilots with the aircraft systems. Additionally, it offers a savings in flight hours, as many missions can first be trained in the simulator, allowing for a reduction in the number of flights during certain stages. Video Feedback System: With debriefing stations and video feedback, the quality of the instruction has considerably improved. After the mission, the student can review his or her entire flight and, together with the instructor, analyze the main aspects to be improved. Additionally, the evaluation of training and air combat missions ends up being much more stringent, as it is possible to validate the results and analyze every detail of the pilot’s passes. On the AT-26 there was no video feedback system, and mission debriefing was solely reliant on the instructor’s memory. Precision Use: The A-29 is a precision weapons platform. Thus, radio navigation missions and missions involving the use of air weapons have a higher probability of success than with the AT-26. Navigation Systems: In addition to being more reliable, the A-29’s navigation aids are also more modern. The inertial navigation systems with EGIR (Embedded GPS, Inertial and Radar Altimeter), and the autonomous GPS are easy to operate, and they considerably enhance pilots’ operational awareness. The Color Multi-Function Displays (CMFD) show the chosen routes, training areas, and any other relevant information that the pilot has entered in his or her planning. And the autopilot significantly reduces the pilot’s workload, allowing for more comfort during longer missions. Electronic Warfare: The Data-Link system allows the fighter pilot trainee to make initial contact with a data-link network. Although basic, this training serves as preparation for using Data-Link on world-class fighter aircraft. Fleet modernization With a flight envelope of +7G and -3.5G, the Super Tucano protects pilots with a Kevlar-shielded cockpit, a 0-0 ejection seat, a windshield that is reinforced against bird strikes and redundancies in the most critical systems. For its navigation and flight, it is equipped with a state-of-the-art avionics system that includes a Head-Up Display (HUD), a Hands-on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) system, an On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), and lighting that is compatible with the use of night vision goggles. The Super Tucano is equipped with a state-of-the-art control panel made up of two liquid crystal displays furnished by AEL Systems that augments the pilot’s situational awareness and ushered in the information age for FAB, turning the pilot into a systems operator and bringing countless other new onboard technologies, capabilities, and training opportunities, which have become the benchmark that helps FAB set standards for its F-5 and A-1 fleet modernization programs. Its export version includes several improvements, such as a control panel with three multifunctional displays, and has been sold to Angola, Burkina Faso, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Mali, Mauritania, and the Dominican Republic. It also was selected for the Light Air Support program to provide counterinsurgency aircraft to allied nations of the United States. For example, the U.S. Air Force has been flying this aircraft in its 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, with some of the units having already been delivered to Afghanistan, where they are being used tirelessly in combat, mainly to conduct convoy escort and close-air support missions. Since the Super Tucanos are wear-resistant, they are a good option for the Afghan Air Force (AAF), which undertakes close-air support operations in the desert, under extreme temperatures. Under a U.S.-funded cooperation program, the AAF is scheduled to receive 20 A-29s by 2018. In addition to the aircraft, the program includes training AAF crew in the United States, both to maintain the aircraft as well as to fly it. “I have to learn how to work with the A-29 system, how it operates so that my pilot can fly it, I have to become a professional maintainer and become familiar with all its characteristics... It is very important for us to become professionals so we can serve our country, our homeland, and our people,” said an Afghan Air Force captain participating in the program, whose identity remains anonymous due to security concerns. “I thank the U.S. government, which is helping the Afghan government build the capabilities to defend some geographically strategic points from insurgents there. We have the expectation that the Afghan Air Force will become better prepared professionally to defend our country from those who wish to entrap it,” he told Diálogo. The Super Tucano is truly a Brazilian combat aircraft, certified to carry 150 different weapon and sensor combinations suitable for conducting a wide range of missions, day and night, including light attack, close-air support, surveillance, land convoy escort and helicopter escort in C-SAR operations, as well as air interdiction and interception, while also proving to be an ideal platform for counterinsurgency. In addition, the Super Tucano has proved to be an excellent aircraft for advanced fighter pilot instruction and training. Thanks to the state-of-the-art sensors and electronics on board and its simulated training capabilities, it is possible to train more experienced and capable pilots in world-class fighter squadrons quicker and at a lower cost.
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