SPARKS, Nev. --- When Gen. Charles F. “Chuck” Wald emerged from a test flight in the A-29 Super Tucano his first comment was, “this is an awesome 21st century airplane.” The retired four-star general and decorated combat pilot has a keen appreciation for how an aircraft handles. Moreover, as one of the top military leaders responsible for planning and executing Operation Enduring Freedom and serving as Air Commander for the initial stages of the war, Gen. Wald knows what an aircraft like the A-29 Super Tucano would mean on the ground in Afghanistan.
“I think if we’d had this in the inventory at the beginning of Afghanistan, it would have led the way for all the things we are doing there,” he said. “It’s not for a high-threat environment, but Afghanistan isn’t. It’s for close air support and staying close to the target. It has a lot of endurance.”
Gen. Wald tried out the aircraft – a contender in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Light Air Support (LAS) competition offered by Sierra Nevada Corporation in partnership with Embraer. He compared the A-29 Super Tucano to an F-16 in terms of handling, capabilities, displays and navigation. Where the similarities end, he said, was cost. “This airplane doesn’t cost anything like an F-16 in terms of initial cost, fuel or maintenance. This is an affordable aircraft that gives you F-16-type delivery performance.”
The aircraft selected for the LAS program initially will be used to provide close air support, reconnaissance and training capabilities to the Afghanistan military. As such, it is a critical element of the United States’ Afghan withdrawal strategy and central to maintaining security in that region going forward. The LAS program also will provide the United States and other partner nations with critical capabilities for agile, flexible, economical, new generation multi-role airpower.
The A-29 Super Tucano is a relatively small, sleek, and powerful turboprop aircraft capable of carrying out a wide range of missions, including close air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The aircraft is in use with seven air forces around the world and, for more than five years, has employed state-of-the-art munitions in real operational missions. The aircraft is equipped with advanced electronic, electro-optic, infrared and laser system technologies, as well as secure radio systems with data links and unrivalled munitions capacity. This makes it highly reliable and allows for an excellent cost-benefit ratio for a wide range of military missions, even operating from unpaved runways and in hostile environments. These characteristics along with the fact that the aircraft has a proven combat record make it the leading contender for the LAS contract.
During his test flight, Gen. Wald put the aircraft through its paces. “It handled beautifully,” he said. “I didn’t have to worry about a lot of rudder. It powered up and came through the loop at 4Gs no sweat. I didn’t have any problems going over the top.”
In summary, Gen. Wald said: “Easy to fly. Easy to maneuver. I think it’s perfect.”
Facts about the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano:
• A clean sheet design – built from the ground up for the light air support mission
• A production aircraft – more than 180 ordered and more than 160 built and delivered
• Operational today performing ISR and security missions around the globe
• In use or on order with militaries in nine nations
• More than 170,000 flight hours logged, including 26,000 combat hours; no combat losses
• Certified for more than 130 munitions configurations
• Features open-architecture avionics
• Provides significant room for growth
• Proven low operating costs – 84 percent fleet availability; 99 percent fleet mission effectiveness
• Buy American Act compliant; 86 percent of the dollar value of the Super Tucano comes from components supplied by U.S. companies or countries that qualify under the Buy American Act
• More than 100 U.S. companies in more than 20 states provide parts or services for the Super Tucano
Sierra Nevada Corporation employs over 2,300 people in 32 locations in 17 states.