Aviation Week’s ShowNews flew the Super Tucano to evaluate its capabilities. The airplane has a larger footprint than the AT-6C, having 4 ft. more length, a 3-ft. greater wingspan and a 2-ft.-4-in.-higher tail. Its empty weight is about 1,000 lb. greater and its max takeoff weight is 1,900 lb. higher. Its main gear has a 50% wider track; its 6.5-10 main tires are larger, and they are only inflated to 128 psi, potentially giving it better unimproved-landing-strip capabilities than the AT-6C, which has high-pressure 4.4-20 tires. The latest version of the Super Tucano also has antiskid power brakes, which is an advantage when operating on short, contaminated or improved runways.
Like the AT-6C, the Super Tucano is powered by a 1,600-shp P&W Canada PT6A-68 series engines with a 4,500-hr. TBO. The A-29’s -68C can maintain that power up to ISA+16.2°C, and the AT-6B’s -68D should have a similar flat rating; thus neither aircraft would have been a standout hot-and-high-airport performer in Afghanistan.
demo pilot William Souza pointed out the aircraft’s “jump-start” capability, which allows one Super Tucano to supply electrical power to another with a dead battery by means of onboard extension cords. The aircraft has two internal, wing-mounted, 250-round, 50-caliber FN Herstal machine guns. The internal wing guns have less drag than externally mounted gun pods, but the pair also hold 300 rounds less ammunition than the AT-6C’s external gun pods. The A-29has five NATO-standard external stores stations, including two on each wing and one at center fuselage. Those stations can carry up to 3,420 lb. of external stores with fully loaded guns.
The Super Tucano’s inboard wing and center fuselage stations respectively also can carry 547-lb. and 507-lb. capacity external fuel tanks in place of munitions. Each external fuel tank extends endurance by about 1.1 hours. The AT-6C’s internal wing fuel capacity is 427 lb. greater than that of the EMB-314, so it’s not as dependent upon external tanks to extend range.
The four wing stations can carry various combinations of Mk 81 250-lb., Mk 82 500-lb. and Mk 117 750-lb. bombs, including laser-guided variants, 2.75-in rockets and air-to-air missiles.
The LAS contract requires candidate aircraft to carry chaff and flare dispensers and EO/IR sensor balls. The Super Tucano’s dispensers are mounted in the port and starboard wing root fairings. It has a forward under-fuselage mount for FLIR Systems’ Brite Star II EO/IR sensor ball. Notably, the Super Tucano’s sensor ball is mounted ahead of the wing leading edge; thus it has a less restricted field of view than the underwing EO/IR ball on the AT-6C.
Embraer and thehave qualified 133 different external stores configurations. However, we flew the aircraft without external stores on our demo flight.
Strapping into the front seat, we noted both aircraft have similar cockpits, with full-function HUDs, dual Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seats and hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls. The Brazilian air force aircraft we flew had older avionics with two multifunction displays and a full-function Elbit head-up display in the front cockpit. Newer versions have three Elbit color MFDs in each instrument panel.
Compared to the AT-6B, the Super Tucano has a larger bubble canopy and thus better visibility.
It also has external front and internal rear windshields, so the aircraft is controllable if the canopy is lost in flight.
Our zero-fuel weight was 7,224 lb. with two pilots and empty guns. With 1,091 lb. of fuel, the ramp weight was 8,315 lb. prior to engine start.
Using São José dos Campos, Brazil’s 2,120-ft. field elevation, a barometer setting of 1014 hPa and 34°C OAT, and compensating for the weight and drag count of the internal wing guns, the computed takeoff roll was 1,778 ft., and the takeoff distance over a 50-ft. obstacle was 3,504 ft., based on a takeoff weight of 8,271 lb. and flaps extended. Computed rotation speed was 89 KIAS and best angle of climb speed was 116 KIAS.
The aircraft also has an air intake inertial separator that can be deployed to minimize FOD risk on unimproved surfaces. We didn’t need to use it on the pavement at São José dos Campos. We switched on the automatic rudder trim unit that compensates for P-factor, checked the manually actuated primary flight controls, verified that the laser IRS/GPS navigation system was ready, pulled the safety pins out of the ejection seats and started to taxi to Runway 15.
Once cleared for takeoff, we pushed up the power control lever to the forward stop and the engine stabilized at 88% torque, equivalent to 1,408 shp. Acceleration was brisk and very little rudder was needed to maintain heading.
Retracting the gear and flaps, we noted very little pitch moment with configuration changes. We accelerated to 145 KIAS and climbed to 15,000 ft. en route to the northeast operating area, dodging several cumulonimbus buildups. Once level, the aircraft cruised at 285 to 300 KTAS at full power in turbulent air. This added credibility to Embraer’s claim of a 320 KTAS top cruise speed at lower altitudes.
We then descended to 10,000 ft. for a series of aerobatic maneuvers, including loops, barrel rolls and wingovers. The aircraft exhibited excellent control harmony, and very little rudder was needed to maintain balance flight because of the automatic rudder trim unit.
We also fully stalled the aircraft in clean and dirty configurations. The stalls were preceded by plenty of aerodynamic buffet. Pitch force increased quite linearly as angle of attack increased. In both stalls, the nose pitched down very gently.
Spin behavior was equally benign. In both fully developed left and right spins, we initiated recovery by centering the stick and countering with opposite rudder. The nose dropped almost straight down within one turn and we recovered by pulling out of the dive. We also used a hands-off recovery technique during a third spin. Once we relaxed pro–spin control inputs, the nose dropped within one and a half turns and we pulled out of the dive.
Souza then demonstrated the aircraft’s ability to couple the autopilot to follow a multi-leg flight plan at low altitude. This reduces pilot workload, providing more time to set up for weapons delivery. He then demonstrated the HUD’s continuously computed impact point, continuously computed release point and dive-toss attack modes.
The aircraft’s dual mission computers use radio altitude to estimate target elevation. However, the avionics system has an open architecture with generic-Std-1553B and ARINC 429 multiplex data busses that can accommodate the latest versions of U.S.-spec Link-16 joint tactical information distribution system net-centric warfare communications equipment, including situation awareness data link and enhanced
position location reporting system gear.
After multiple runs on simulated targets, we returned to São José dos Campos to enter the overhead left break for pattern work. The aircraft proved easy to handle. We flew the pattern at 140 KIAS and typical final approach speeds were 108 to 109 KIAS. We also flew a couple of practice simulated engine-out landings using a 130-KIAS glide speed and no flaps.
The Super Tucano proved to be a strong finalist in the LAS program competition. But theundoubtedly will consider many factors beside the raw merits of each aircraft.
. and Embraer point out that more than 150 Super Tucanos are in service with seven customers, and that the fleet has amassed more than 100,000 flight hours, one-sixth of which have been in combat operations. The fleet has a 99.2% dispatch rate and an 86% full-mission capable availability, they assert.
Based on fleet statistics, Embraer claims that less than one maintenance staff hour is needed to support each flight hour.