The impressive-looking, two-seat IA-58 Pucara (meaning "Fortress") was produced by the Fabrica Militar de Aviones of Argentina. The aircraft was classified as a counter-insurgency ground-attack system capable of rough-field operation and designed with a multitude of munition options to suit the role. The Pucara was built for speed, maneuverability, lethality and crew survivability in mind. In many regards, the Argentine Pucara shared many similarities - in both its combat role and outward design - to the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco. As many as 160 Pucaras are thought to have been produced in total.
The Pucara was designed to meet an Argentine specification requirement for a counter-insurgency platform. Development of the aircraft began in 1966 with the initial prototype achieving first flight on August 20th, 1969 as the AX-2 "Delfin". The first prototype Delfin was powered by twin Garrett AiResearch TPE331I/U-303 turboprop engines of 904 shaft horsepower while the second prototype featured the production-common Turbomeca Astazous series turboprops. The second prototype took to the air in September of 1970. The first production Pucara became airborne on November 8th, 1974 and this was followed by quantitative production as handled by the government-run Fabrica Militar de Aviones (FMA). Deliveries to the Argentine Air Force's 3rd Air Brigade began in 1975 and continued on into 1976.
Design of the Pucara was relatively conventional. The tandem two-seat cockpit was situated in the extreme forward area of the fuselage with seating for pilot and copilot. This area was covered over by a clamshell canopy with light framing, divided up into two major pieces made up of the forward windshield section and the main canopy body covering both pilot positions. Visibility from either cockpit was good-to-excellent thanks to its somewhat raised position and clear views throughout.
Both positions are also afforded Martin-Baker Mk 6AP6A "Zero-Zero" ejection seats as well as dual pilot controls. The AP-6A series seats allow for ejection at zero speeds and at zero altitude (hence the name) and could be activated by pulling the faceblind situated over the operator's head.
Wings were low-mounted monoplane types with integrated engine nacelles and sported noticeable dihedral outboard of each engine placement. The engines were placed close to the fuselage and wingroots and sported three-blade French Ratier Forest propellers of solid Duralumin construction. A careful observer would be quick to note the propellers placement well ahead of the engine cowl - this was necessitated by the length of the gearbox (the gearbox matches engine speed to the speed of the propeller). Engine inlets are electrically heated.
The engine nacelles also housed the dual-wheeled main landing gears while the nose gear sat forward and below the fore-most cockpit position. The undercarriage was of a conventional tricycle arrangement and fully retractable with the main legs retracting forward and covered over by twin doors. Similarly, the fully-steerable single-wheeled nose leg also retracted forward and covered up by twin doors. When at rest, the aircraft provided a tall ground clearance making work underneath the airplane more "ground crew friendly". The fuselage was streamlined and finished in a raised empennage adorned with a single vertical tail fin containing a large-area rudder. The horizontal tailplanes sat high on the fin in a "T-style" arrangement. Construction of the aircraft in whole was of all-metal.
As a close-support/counter insurgency role aircraft, the system was inevitably defined by its the armament options. This included standard armament such as the 2 x 20mm Hispano-Suiza HS-804 series autocannons mounted in the lower forward fuselage and supplemented by a battery of 4 x 7.62mm Browning FM M2-20 machine guns fitted in pairs on either side of the forward fuselage. Beyond that, the forte of the Pucara lay in the plethora of air-to-surface munition options afforded to the system. This included various 7.62mm and 12.7mm gun pods, conventional drop bombs (triple rack capable), 2.75" rocket pods, mine dispensers and anti-ship torpedoes on two underwing pylons and one centerline fuselage hardpoint.
Performance for the Pucara was provided for by 2 x Turbomeca Astazou XVIG turboprop engines delivering up to 978 horsepower apiece. Maximum speed was approximately 310 miles-per-hour with a cruising speed listed at 267 miles-per-hour. A range of 2,305 miles was complimented by a service ceiling of up to 31,800 feet.
Variants have been few and far between for the limited-production Pucara. This included the AX-2 "Delfin" prototype followed by the base (and definitive) IA-58A two-seat production model. The IA-58B "Pucara Bravo" was a proposed single-seat prototype development featuring improved avionics and an "upgunned" armament suite consisting of 2 x 30mm DEFA cannons. First flight was achieved on May of 1979. The IA-58C was another proposed single-seat prototype design but this model featured a faired-over front cockpit, similar 30mm cannon armament, improved avionics, additional armor for the second enlarged cockpit and provision for Matra Magic air-to-air missiles and Martin Pescador anti-ship missiles. This variant prototype first flew in December of 1985 though the financial situation in Argentina killed the project by the late 1980s. The IA-66 became yet another "one-off" prototype aircraft that fitted two Garrett TPE331-11-601W turboprop engines of 1,000 horsepower in place of the Turbomeca powerplants but, again, no production orders were forthcoming. Beyond that, the Pucara has never evolved past its original two-seat counter-insurgency form.
In its first year of operation, the Pucara was put to good use by the Argentine government in combating rebel elements in the country's northwest region. The aircraft also played a prominent role in Argentine Air Force operations during the upcoming Falklands War with Britain in 1982. In the conflict, the Pucara's limitations (and that of her warplanners) shown painfully through. Of the twenty-four that were fielded by the government at the time, all were lost to either destruction while still on the ground, by sabotage courtesy of British special forces SAS members or by capture courtesy of the British Army. One such captured Pucara went on to serve as a showpiece in the RAF Museum Cosford after undergoing evaluation by the Royal Air Force. Another found a similar home as a British trophy in the Imperial War Museum. The Argentine Air Force was credited with its only air kill of the war when a Pucara shot down a Royal Marine Westland Scout helicopter on May 28th, 1982.
The failures of the Pucara in the Falklands War did not endear the type to future Argentine military endeavors and, as such, the system was generally relieved of service with many out of frontline operation by 1986. As of this writing, current military operators of the Pucara still include the Argentine Air Force (and still operating with the 3rd Air Brigade) and the Uruguayan Air Force, though in very limited numbers with the latter as well. Former operators of the type have included the Columbian Air Force and the Sri Lankan Air Force. Sri Lanka utilized the type in their counter-insurgency strikes occurring between 1993 and 1999 to which three were known to be lost.
Despite its lackluster combat performance in the Falklands War, the Pucara netted some potential production contracts during her tenure for at her core she really was an exceptional low-altitude, close-support aircraft. However, production contracts Egypt (50 units), Central African Republic (12 units) and Iraq (20 units) were all cancelled by the buyer or vetoed by the Argentine government.
At least 20 Pucaras are being modernized for the Argentine Air Force and there is growing talk of restarting the production lines to filfull demand for a conventional counter-insurgency platform across South America.
FMA is now known under the Fabrica Argentina de Aviones (FAdeA) brand label.
October 2019 - The Argentine Air Force announced plans to rework some of its IA-58 stock to satisfy an Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) role. At present, the service operates about twenty-five IA-58 aircraft. This initiative is an effort to squeeze more service life out of the outdated design. Changes will include re-engining to the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-62 turboprop engine (from French Turbomeca "Astazou" models and four-bladed propeller units will succeed the current three-bladed forms. In addition to this, the comms package will be updated an a laser designator installed along with a synthetic-aperture radar system. ISR-appropriate equipment will be carried for the role.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
Equipped to search, track, and engage enemy surface elements through visual acquisition, radar support, and onboard weaponry.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
46.8 ft (14.25 m)
47.6 ft (14.50 m)
17.6 ft (5.36 m)
8,863 lb (4,020 kg)
14,991 lb (6,800 kg)
+6,129 lb (+2,780 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base FMA IA-58 Pucara (Fortress) production variant)
2 x Turbomeca "Astazou" XVIG turboprop engines developing 978 horsepower each driving three-bladed propeller units.
2 x 20mm Hispano-Suiza HS-804 autocannons mounted under the nose.
4 x 7.62mm Browning FM M2-20 machine guns, mounted in pairs on the fuselage sides.
2 x 7.62mm Gun Pods
2 x 12.7mm Gun Pods
2 x Conventional Unguided Drop Bombs
2 x 2.75" (70mm) Rocket Pods / Rockets
1 x Mine Dispensers
1 x Torpedo
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 3
AX-2 "Delfin" - Prototype Model Designation
IA-58A - Initial Production Model Designation; two-seat attack platform.
IA-58B "Pucara Bravo" - Single Prototype Example; revised avionics suite; fitted with 2 x 30mm DEFA cannons.
IA-58C "Pucara Charlie" - Single Prototype Example; single-seat; improved avionics; faired over front cockpit; additional armor in enlarged second cockpit; 2 x 30mm cannons; provision for Matra Magic air-to-air missiles and Martin Pescador anti-ship missles.
IA-58D - Upgraded Pucaras with minor revisions.
IA-66 - Single Prototype Example; fitted with 2 x Garrett TPE331-11-601W turboprop engines of 1,000ehp.
IA-58 "Fenix" - Proposed modification of existing airframes to satisfy Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) role; PW PT6-62 turboprop engines driving four-bladed propeller units; modern comms, laser designator, radar, and appropriate ISR equipment will be carried for the role.
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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