The EMB 314 "Super Tucano" (also "A-29") represents a locally-produced Brazilian aircraft product falling under the then-government run EMBRAER banner. The aircraft is a turboprop-powered light attack, reconnaissance and surveillance platform that comes in two distinct flavors - a single-seat and twin-seat model. Though both can be armed to suit the operators needs, the twin-seat Super Tucano can also serve as an advanced trainer. The Tucano pedigree has proven itself to be one of the best in the world and the Super Tucano looks to continue this level of excellence in a more modernized and capable fashion.
The EMB-314 came about as EMBRAER was looking into a more powerful and armed version of its existing EMB-312 Tucano trainers in the late 1980s to be used in anti-smuggling and counter-insurgency roles. By 1994, Embraer was no longer a government-sponsored entity and was now forced to compete for its lively hood. The new feasibility study spawned two EMB-312H "Super Tucano" prototypes and was subsequently pitted against the Raytheon-modified Pilatus PC-9 (Texan 2) in the joint United States Air Force / United States Navy JPATS (Joint Primary Aircraft Training System) program competition. Though Raytheon ultimately won out over the EMBRAER submission, the Super Tucano idea as a whole was not dead and its evaluation by the American military proved the system promising enough.
The Brazilian government was looking at additional ways to keep its expansive borders in check from illegal activity. A new effort was put forth under a Brazilian Air Force initiative - known as the ALX Project - to provide a new level of defense via a similarly new light aircraft type. The new aircraft would need the inherent ability to operate in Brazil's unforgiving tropical environment, operate in all-weather be it day or night and provide for excellent range, munitions capabilities and short-field operations. Along with these requirements, the system would also have to supplant the aging fleet of Embraer EMB-326GB Xavante (essentially an Aermacchi MB-326) jet-powered advanced trainer / light attack aircraft. As a low-flying, light strike implement, the new required design was refined by the Brazilian Air Force to be a turboprop-powered system.
EMBRAER proceeded with their new Super Tucano and developed the type into two ALX prototypes. The engine was uprated to 1,600 horsepower and powered a five-bladed Hartzell propeller system. The canopy was redesigned and the undercarriage was strengthened for a greater payload and rugged field operations. Seeing it that the revised design proved quite different from the base Tucano, the system was now afforded its own designation as the EMB-314 "Super Tucano".
The Super Tucano was evolved into two distinct airframes. The single-seat version was known as the A-29A and achieved first flight on June 2nd, 1999. This model was a dedicated light attack and armed reconnaissance platform and could fulfill the offensive needs required by the Brazilian Air Force. The twin-seat derivative became the dual-control A-29B and achieved first flight on October 22nd of that same year. This particular model could be equally suited up for the task of light attack and armed reconnaissance or double suitably as a surveillance mount if called upon while also acting as a two-seat trainer for an instructor and student seated in tandem (the addition of the second cockpit deletes an internal fuel tank as found on the A-29A model). All Super Tucanos also feature Martin-Baker "zero-zero" ejection seats. The Super Tucano was accepted into Brazilian service in 2003 to which some 88 examples have since been produced with many more on order, either locally and from interested parties throughout South America. More than half of Brazil's orders have been of the two-seat variant. If the Super Tucano follows the same legacy as that of the original Tucano, the system should be in world-wide use before her history is written.
Design-wise, the Super Tucano shares many similarities to its predecessor EMB-312 Tucano. The Super Tucano features a sleek and slim fuselage, lengthened over that as found on the base Tucano. Additionally, she sports a redesigned canopy, a larger surface area vertical tail unit, all-new wings and the addition of ventral strakes (the latter for improved stability). Wings are straight and low-mounted onto the fuselage just under the cockpit and offer up four external hardpoints (two per wing). The fuselage sports a single hardpoint. While the single-seat version naturally features seating for one, the two-seat version sits a pilot/student and co-pilot/instructor under an elongated single piece canopy hinged to the starboard side of the fuselage. The cockpit itself is noticeably placed far back behind the nose assembly giving the Super Tucano its unique appearance. The undercarriage is retractable and made up of two single-wheeled main landing gears (retracting into wing undersides) and a single-wheeled nose gear (retracting rearwards). The empennage is made up of a conventional single vertical fin and two low-mounted horizontal planes. Internally, the Super Tucano features a modern all-glass cockpit with a pair of large multi-function displays. A head-up display is also part of the design as is a Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) implementation.
Performance from its single turboprop engine is supplied by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C of 1,600 horsepower (upgraded from its early 1,250 horsepower output). This powerplant allows for a top speed of 368 miles per hour, a range of 2,995 miles with a service ceiling upwards of 35,000 feet while providing a rate-of-climb near 80 feet per second. The engine powers a five-bladed propeller system. Total endurance on internal fuel alone is an impressive 6 hours and 30 minutes of flight time - offering up a good loitering capability for this nimble little machine - a must in the light-strike and reconnaissance role. Additionally, external fuel tanks mounted underwing and centerline can increase the Super Tucanos operational range.
Super Tucano can make use of a munitions capacity on its five hardpoints (four wing and one centerline). Standard armament options include a 20mm cannon pod mounted under the fuselage and 2 x 12.7mm FN Herstal M3P heavy machine guns in the wings (200 rounds to a gun). Optional and mission-specific ordnance can include 4 x 70mm rocket launcher pods for explosive air-to-surface strikes, conventional bombs and guided smart bombs. One of the primary roles the Super Tucano is called to tackle is that of intercepting low-flying/low-speed aircraft (fixed-wing or rotary-wing) illegally flying into Brazilian airspace. As such, the Super Tucano can be fitted with 2 x Sidewinder, MAA-1 Piranha or Python 3/4 short-ranged air-to-air missiles to meet the target with lethal results.
As of this writing, Brazil fields about 70 Super Tucanos with its Air Force made up of four squadrons and currently represents the largest user of the system. The Columbian Air Force (the first Super Tucano export customer) maintains 25 such examples while Ecuador has ordered no less than 24. Chile has 12 such systems on order and the Dominican Republic will be receiving 8. The United States Navy has procured a single example under a lease agreement for testing purposes in possible use by special forces elements - which in itself would be an interesting addition to such actions. Additionally, the American-based private contractor, Blackwater Worldwide (now EPAviation), purchased a single 2-seat trainer sans its wing machine guns.
EMBRAER lost a 24-example sale to Venezuela in 2006.
In an effort to increase its foothold in the Brazilian market and submit a possible contender for the USAF's Light Air Support program, the Boeing Company of America is working with Embraer to implement support for American weapons on the A-29 Super Tucano. This is in addition to Boeing's newly pledged support to assist Embraer in the development of its heaviest aircraft to date - the C-390 medium-lift transport. Of course, Boeing also envisions successfully selling its F/A-18 Hornet fighter product line to the Brazilian Air Force who is actively seeking a winner to its F-2X fighter competition (the French Dassault Rafale is another front-runner). The support of American weaponry on the Super Tucano will broaden its global appeal substantially.
Some twenty Super Tucanos have been committed to the rebuilding Afghan National Air Force with the first example set to be delivered during the early part of 2015. The remainder is scheduled to arrived prior to 2019.
November 2015 - It was announced that Lebanon would be receiving A-29 aircraft from Sierra Nevada Corporation. The contract will be completed in 2019.
January of 2016 - It was announced that the USAF had delivered the first four of twenty A-29 attack aircraft to the Afghan National Air Force.
June 2016 - Nigeria has agreed to buy ex-U.S. Super Tucano aircraft. These will replace an aging stock of Alpha Jet advanced trainers.
May 2017 - The Super Tucano has been selected by the USAF for a Light Attack Demonstation.
October 2017 - The Philippines is making plans to acquire a fleet of six Super Tucanos.
October 2017 - The USAF has announced that a pair of A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft will deploy to Iraq for an operational demonstration under "Combat Dragon III".
December 2017 - The Philippines government has committed to an order for six A-29 Super Tucanos from Embraer. These will begin deliveries sometime in 2019 and be used in various over-battlefield roles beyond Close-Air Support (CAS).
February 2018 - The A-29 remains in contention for the USAF light attack requirement. It faces competition from the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine (detailed elsewhere on this site).
May 2018 - The Super Tucano has entered a second round of testing with the USAF over Holloman AFB in New Mexico. It is competing against the Textron AT-6B Wolverine.
June 2018 - A fatal crash of a Super Tucano during the USAF's light strike competition on June 22nd has placed the program in jeopardy - the service may now be looking to end the program earlier than anticipated. Both Tucano pilots ejected from their doomed aircraft with only one of the pair surviving.
September 2018 - The USAF has awarded Sierra Nevada Corporation a $1.8 billion contract for additional A-29s to be built and delivered to Afghan Security Forces. Six are scheduled for delivery before 2023. Up to twenty-five A-29s may complete the entire Afghan fleet before the end.
December 2018 - The Nigerian Air Force has ordered 12 A-29 Super Tucano light strike aircraft. The $329 million sale was given to Sierra Nevada under a U.S. foreign military sales contract. The aircraft will be used in counter-terrorism sorties against guerrilla elements such as Boko Haram which has staked a claim in the country.
February 2019 - Nigeria has set aside funding for the procurement of twelve Super Tucano light-attack aircraft through the United States (Foreign Military Sales program).
October 2019 - The Philippines Air Force is to receive first-deliveries of six total Super Tucano platforms in the early part of 2020.
March 2020 - The United States Air Force will purchase an additional two A-29 light attack aircraft to continue its evaluation of the type.
April 2020 - The Nigerian Air Force has recorded a first-flight of its new A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft.
May 2020 - US SOCOM (Special Operations COMmand) has added a third A-29 aircraft to serve in its "Combat Aviation Advisor" mission.
September 2020 - The Philippines has taken delivery of an initial batch of four Super Tucano aircraft. Up to six are planned for procurement.
October 2020 - Embraer has completed delivery of six A-29 aircraft to the Philippine Air Force.
March 2021 - Sierra Nevada Corporation has flown the second of three A-29 airframes under consideration by USAF Special Operations Command for the light-attack role.
Afghanistan; Angola; Brazil; Burkina Faso; Chile; Columbia; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; Indonesia; Honduras; Lebanon; Mauritania; Nigeria; Philippines; Senegal; United States (evaluation)
(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.
Developed ability to be used as a dedicated trainer for student pilots (typically under the supervision of an instructor).
37.2 ft (11.33 m)
36.5 ft (11.14 m)
13.0 ft (3.97 m)
6,658 lb (3,020 kg)
11,464 lb (5,200 kg)
+4,806 lb (+2,180 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano production variant)
1 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C turboprop engine developing 1,600 horsepower and driving a five-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
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