[Editor's Note: Viewpoint author Bill Boisture is CEO of Beechcraft.]
In his recent Viewpoint, Not Even Close: The Better Choice for LAS (AW&ST April 15, p. 58), Fred George identifies “significant differences” between Beechcraft’s AT-6 and ’s Super Tucano aircraft, both competing for the hotly contested U.S. Air Force ( ) Light Air Support (LAS) bid. However, his opinion of those differences ignores significant facts and badly misuses others in an attempt to substantiate his view.
In this competition, what matters is whether the capabilities of the aircraft meet the threshold or objective requirements as defined in the solicitation—not what differences exist. Here are a few facts:
•The AT-6 met 100% of the LAS requirements, was rated technically “exceptional,” and met five of seven “objective,” or stretch, goals.
•The AT-6 scored the highest possible rating in every LAS technical evaluation category, including mission capability, logistics and training.
•The LAS solicitation calls for an aircraft that “will serve as both an advanced aircrew trainer and a light attack aircraft.” The Super Tucano did not win the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) competition, and was eliminated by the USAF primarily due to its poor flying qualities. Rather, the competition was won by Beechcraft’s T-6 training aircraft upon which the AT-6 draws its heritage. The T-6’s 2.1 million flying hours and excellent safety record speak to its capabilities to perform as an advanced trainer.
•The Super Tucano bid was over 40% ($125 million-plus) more expensive than the AT-6 bid.
Some of the differences George points out as advantages for the Embraer aircraft are actually advantages for the AT-6. Here are a few:
•“Built from the ground up for the light attack role, the Brazilian contender is larger.” Super Tucano was not built from the ground up, despite Embraer’s claim. In fact, the Tucano’s lineage is from the 1990s’ JPATS competition. The fact remains that the AT-6 is a smaller, lighter aircraft that enjoys a significant performance advantage over the larger, heavier Super Tucano.
•“A-29B’s wingspan is 4 ft. wider.” Yes, it’s wider, but the AT-6’s smaller physical size presents a lower wetted area (resulting in less form drag) and is 19% lighter than the Super Tucano. The AT-6’s lower wing loading and power loading translates into better takeoff, climb and cruise performance with the same engine as the larger, heavier Super Tucano.
•“The A-29B’s fuselage is 3 ft. longer and its vertical stabilizer is 2.3 ft. higher, providing more aerodynamic stability to handle the 1,600-shp engine.”
The Super Tucano’s larger size was a design choice to improve handling characteristics of the baseline aircraft that was rejected in the JPATS competition. This design also adds to the heavier weight of the aircraft, which hurts its overall performance when compared with the AT-6. The AT-6 integrated the same 1,600-shp engine without having to grow the physical size of the aircraft; it meets all LAS requirements for handling characteristics with ease. When flown in the guided-weapons configuration, the underpowered Super Tucano must give up a weapons station on the centerline for a pylon due to aerodynamic requirements.
When it comes to combat capabilities, despite George’s very selective and specific comparisons, a closer review of the two aircraft reveals that the AT-6 carries more ammunition and is superior to the Super Tucano. For example:
•The AT-6’s external guns carry twice as many rounds as the internal guns of the Super Tucano and offer the commander a higher degree of flexibility in configuring the aircraft to meet battlespace requirements.
•In spite of its larger wings, the Super Tucano carries 100 lb. less fuel and is not certified to land at maximum gross takeoff weight. The AT-6 is capable of takeoff and landing operations at MGTOW.
•All six wing stations of the AT-6 can be loaded when the aircraft is configured with an EO/IR sensor; the Super Tucano’s centerline pylon cannot be loaded with weapons in this configuration.
•The AT-6 has more NATO-Standard weapons stations for carrying external stores than the Tucano.
Other facts George wants to ignore:
•Aircrew Safety. The AT-6 meets today’s USAF pilot size requirements; the Super Tucano does not.
•Weapons Safety. All AT-6 weapons testing was accomplished with USAF Non-nuclear Munitions Safety Board oversight; Super Tucano testing was not, and the aircraft does not meet the board’s standards.
Lastly, George notes that long-term financial staying power of the company is a key risk factor. The contracting officer judged Beechcraft to be financially responsible just like Embraer. The facts don’t support George’s conclusion that “the Air Force made the best choice for LAS” and the facts are why we have asked theto review the USAF’s decision, again.