The Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, also named ALX or A-29, is a turboprop light attack aircraft designed for counter-insurgency, close air support, and aerial reconnaissance missions in low-threat environments, as well as providing pilot training. Designed to operate in high temperature and humidity conditions in extremely rugged terrain, the Super Tucano is highly maneuverable, has a low heat signature, and incorporates fourth-generation avionics and weapons systems to deliver precision-guided munitions.
The aircraft differs from the baseline EMB-312 Tucano trainer aircraft in several respects. It is powered by a more powerful 1,200 kW (1,600 shp) Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C engine (compared to the EMB-312’s 560 kW (750 shp) powerplant); has a strengthened airframe to sustain higher g loads and increase fatigue life to 18,000–12,000 hours in operational environments; a reinforced landing gear to handle greater takeoff weights and heavier stores load, up to 1,550 kg (3,300 lb); Kevlar armour protection; two internal, wing-mounted .50 cal. machine guns (with 200 rounds of ammunition each); capacity to carry various ordnance on five weapon hardpoints including Giat NC621 20 mm cannon pods, Mk 81/82 bombs, MAA-1 Piranha air-to-air missiles (AAMs), BLG-252 cluster bombs, and SBAT-70/19 or LAU-68A/G rocket pods on its underwing stations; and has a night-vision goggle-compatible “glass cockpit” with hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls; provision for a datalink; a video camera and recorder; an embedded mission-planning capability; forward-looking infrared; chaff/flare dispensers; missile approach warning receiver systems and radar warning receivers; and zero-zero ejection seats. The structure is corrosion-protected and the side-hinged canopy has a windshield able to withstand bird strike impacts up to 500 km/h (270 kn).
In 1996, Embraer selected the Israeli firm Elbit Systems to supply the mission avionics for the ALX. For this contract, Elbit was chosen over GEC-Marconi and Sextant Avionique. The Israeli company supplies such equipment as the mission computer, head-up displays, and navigation and stores management systems.
On 13 October 2010, the Super Tucano A-29B had passed the mark of 48,000 hours since 21 July 2005 on full-scale wing-fuselage structural fatigue tests, conducted by the Aeronautical Systems Division, part of the Aeronautics and Space Institute at the Structural Testing Laboratory. The tests involve a complex system of hydraulics and tabs that apply pressure to aircraft structure, simulating air pressure from flying at varying altitudes. The simulation continued for another year to complete the engine-fatigue life test and crack-propagation studies for a damage-tolerance analysis program of conducted by Embraer and the Aeronautics and Space Institute.
Embraer developed an advanced training and support system suite called Training Operational Support System (TOSS) an integrated computational tool composed of four systems: computer-based training enabling the student to rehearse the next sortie on a computer simulation; an aviation mission planning station, which uses the three-dimensional(3D) visuals to practice planned missions and to check intervisibility between aircraft and from aircraft and other entities; a mission debriefing station employing real aircraft data to play back missions for review and analysis; and a flight simulator. MPS and MDS was enhanced with MAK’s 3D visualization solution to support airforces pre-existing data, including GIS, Web-based servers and a plug-in for custom terrain formats.
In 2012, Boeing Defense, Space & Security was selected to integrate joint direct attack munition and small-diameter bombs for the Super Tucano. In 2013, Embraer Defense and Security disclosed that its subsidiary, OrbiSat, was developing a new radar for the Super Tucano. A Colombian general disclosed that the side-looking airborne radar will be able to locate ground targets smaller than a car with digital precision.
In 2011, the A-29 Super Tucano was declared the winner of the US Light Air Support contract competition over the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6B Texan II. The contract was cancelled in 2012 citing concerns with the procurement process, but re-won in 2013. Twenty of these light attack aircraft were purchased for the Afghan Air Force.
The first four aircraft arrived in Afghanistan in January 2016, with a further four due before the end of 2016. Combat-ready Afghan A-29 pilots graduated from training at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, and returned to Afghanistan to represent the first of 30 pilots trained by the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody AFB. A fleet of 20 A-29s will be in place by 2018, according to a senior U.S. defense official.
The Pentagon purchased the Super Tucanos in a $427 million contract with Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer, with the aircraft produced at Embraer’s facility on the grounds of Jacksonville International Airport in Jacksonville, Florida. The Afghan Air Force’s A-29 Super Tucanos could soon make their combat debut after the first four aircraft arrived at Hamid Karzai International Airport on January 15, 2016.
The Afghan Air Force ordered 20 aircraft. The first aircraft were delivered in 2016 and the last are to be in service by late 2018. The first A-29 Super Tucano of the Pentagon’s Light Air Support (LAS) program, destined for the Afghan Air Force, has been delivered to the US Air Force in Jacksonville, Florida, by the Sierra Nevada Corporation and Embraer in September 2014. The first eight Afghan airmen are trained in the US to form a new Afghan fighter squadron. The first four aircraft arrived in-country at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on the 15 January 2016. Four more were delivered in July 2016, and an additional four arrived in March 2017, bringing the total of delivered Super Tucanos to 12.