Colombia Gains Capacity to Update Tucano AT-27 Aircraft
By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo March 09, 2018The Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish) expanded its capacity to modernize aircraft. Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer gave FAC operational capacity to update and repair the Tucano AT-27, an armed aircraft several air forces in the region use for training and counterinsurgency operations.
FAC now concludes a process agreed to with Embraer in 2006, when it first began refurbishing mechanical parts. Upon earning its latest certification for aircraft repair and maintenance on extendable and retractable flaps and the landing gear in February 2018, FAC gained the capacity to perform work on the entire Tucano AT-27 aircraft.
Procurement and knowledge transfer
In 2005, the Colombian Ministry of Defense acquired 25 Tucano planes, 14 of them AT-27 models, at a cost of $237 million. The purchase requested an offset agreement from Embraer to allow for technology transfer. FAC began training its personnel, with ongoing consultation from the manufacturer.
“In 2009, we entered into an offset agreement in which Embraer pledged to develop the capacity to modernize the AT-27 in Colombia,” said to Diálogo FAC Colonel Jaime Ernesto Díaz Gómez, commander of the Air Maintenance Command (CAMAN, in Spanish) that carries out renovations. “This was made possible under the Pegasus Plan [Plan Pegaso], an agreement signed between CAMAN and the Colombian Aviation Industry Corporation [CIAC, in Spanish] to pool our maintenance capabilities, focus on technological development, and commercialize that ability.” Colombia acquired 14 upgrade kits for the Tucano AT-27.
Colombia, the only certified nation
“This process meant a lot both to Colombia and Brazil. Even though Embraer is the manufacturer, Colombia is the country with the most experience using this aircraft, and that had a significant impact on our capacity to update and modernize it,” Col. Díaz told Diálogo. “Today, the only entity certified to work on and modernize the AT-27 is FAC, operating through CAMAN under an agreement with CIAC, the entity that leads this whole process. This means that the air forces of nations that possess this aircraft and need to work on any of its parts, or on the entire aircraft, must go through us to do so.”
The process took almost 10 years and more than 60 people to complete. Colombia has a fleet of 14 AT-27 planes—of those it modernized 12. “The certification covers all AT-27 modernization procedures referring to changes to flight control surfaces [such as wings], wire repairs, as well as modernization procedures related to a specific avionics model on this type of aircraft,” FAC Lieutenant Colonel Diego Beltrán, head of the Aviation Certification Section for the Colombian Ministry of Defense, told Diálogo.
Through the modernization effort, CIAC performs other complementary operations to deliver a product in optimum condition. “These operations include structural inspection of the aircraft using nondestructive inspection techniques, painting, and corrosion control,” Lt. Col. Beltrán explained. “That is, planned inspections of the aircraft were carried out according to the maintenance schedule set by the manufacturer and corrected with additional maintenance notes, such as the manufacture and replacement of certain structural components and the capacity to do an overhaul of the landing gear and its hydraulic power units.”
In Colombia, the Tucano AT-27 had a dual mission: support operations, as a result of the domestic situation; and training—what it was designed for. Today, it is only used only for FAC pilots to learn to fly.
As Embraer no longer produces this aircraft, it was important to gain the capacity to modernize it, allowing for a 20-year extension of its lifespan. Nations that count AT-27 models in their fleets will continue to upgrade the aircraft rather than purchase new ones as long as it hasn’t exhausted operational usefulness. The Argentine, Brazilian, Egyptian, French, and Peruvian air forces currently use the aircraft.
CAMAN, flagship unit
FAC positioned itself as the only certified entity thanks to CAMAN, its oldest operational unit, which holds certifications from multiple aeronautical specialties issued by various public and private entities. In Colombia, the Special Administrative Unit for Civil Aviation certifies FAC’s hydraulic and electrical shops. Its avionics and fuel control shop is certified through Honeywell, a U.S. manufacturer. Several years ago, HAS, a U.S. Company, certified the shop for servos (electro-hydraulic actuators), used in Huey II, UH-1H, B212, and B412 helicopters. Bell Helicopter also recognized the unit as an authorized location to upgrade some of its aircraft.
“CAMAN currently works on earning certification in metrology from the Colombian Superintendency of Industry and Commerce,” Lt. Col. Beltrán concluded. Meanwhile, the work to modernize the two remaining Tucano AT-27s continues, enabling the aircraft to serve FAC for several more years to come.