Embraer A-29 Super Tucano: Trainer and Light Attack Aircraft
Light attack aircraft thrived in conflicts like Vietnam, where a number of variants operated regularly. Simple to maintain and operate in the worst conditions with limited resources. However, they had little place in the Cold War doctrine and strategy, so the aircraft type was largely phased out of the U.S. inventory. Rather than using small, inexpensive aircraft, the U.S. war planners pushed fast movers like the F-16 and the F-15E into rolls they weren’t designed for.
But Afghanistan taught us that was not always a sound tactical strategy. The A-10 was revived from an always-impending retirement to serve as the prime CAS for two decades. It was evidence that guerilla warfare is alive and well globally, and high-speed, high-altitude fighter-attack jets are not the answer for all kinds of asymmetrical warfare. Light attack aircraft have a distinct piece of the puzzle; for several nations, the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano is the answer.
First, let’s look at the Super Tucano's technical specifications. The A-29 (EMB-314) is a single-engine turbine that is configured with tandem seating. It is based on a turbine primary trainer, the EMB-312, so the performance envelope, controls, and flight characteristics are familiar to new pilots assigned to the airframe.
Here are the physical dimensions of the A-29A Super Tucano/EMB-314:
- Length: 11.38 m (37 ft 4 in)
- Wingspan: 11.14 m (36 ft 7 in)
- Height: 3.97 m (13 ft 0 in)
- Empty weight: 3,200 kg (7,055 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 5,400 kg (11,905 lb)
As you can see from these stats, the A-29 is not a small aircraft. It is substantially larger than the T-6/AT-6 Texan II, even though the two aircraft look similar. The Super Tucano is much heavier than the Texan and yet remains nimble and utterly agile.
Powering the A-29 is a variant of the most popular turbine engine in the world: the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68C.
The -68C produces a hair over 1,600shp, which drives a five-blade Hartzell propeller that is a massive 7’ 10” in diameter.
The Super Tucano is no slouch in the performance department. The huge Hartzell prop pulls it along to a maximum airspeed of 320 knots, cruising at 280 knots. The stall speed in an A-29 is 80 knots, showcasing an impressive performance envelope, all while maintaining an endurance of nearly eight and a half hours.
While the A-29 is geared for CAS missions, it has a service ceiling of 35,000 feet, so it can loiter on station for hours in orbit and be on location quickly. A 3,200 ft/min rate of climb takes the A-29 up to its service ceiling in about eleven minutes.
The range on the A-29 is fairly low at about 830 nautical miles, but the entire point of these light attack aircraft is to position them close to the fight.
Avionics and Electronics
The avionics suite on the Super Tucano is thoroughly modern.
The Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano is equipped with the following systems to allow the aircrew to engage and remain situationally aware:
- Glass cockpit with four multi-function displays
- Head-up display (HUD)
- Night vision goggles (NVG) compatibility
- Embedded GPS/INS/FMS
- Radar altimeter
- Doppler weather radar
- Laser range finder
- Infra-red search and track (IRST) system
- Electronic warfare suite
The Super Tucano's avionics and electronics suite provides the pilot with all the information and tools needed to carry out a variety of missions, including close air support, reconnaissance, and surveillance.
Armament and Mission Systems
Since the A-29 is designed for counter-insurgency (COIN) and light attack missions, it has a glass cockpit, night vision goggles (NVG) compatibility, and a weapons system that includes a 12.7 mm machine gun, a 20 mm cannon, and a variety of rockets and bombs.
It uses multiple hardpoints for its payload, so it is compatible with many standardized hardpoint weapon systems, including systems used on common attack helicopters (rocket pods, gun pods).
The A-29 can deliver either guided munitions like the GBU-58 LGB and GBU-12 LGB or standard Mk. 81 and Mk. 82 general-purpose bombs.
The cockpit of the Super Tucano was purpose-built to provide excellent visibility for both pilots in the tandem configuration. This is important in both roles:
- Trainers must afford high visibility to the student and instructor pilots for maneuvering and recovery.
- Excellent visibility is extremely important for target acquisition for the tactical mission profile, either reconnaissance, tactical air coordinator, or light attack.
The cockpit is designed to reduce pilot workload and fatigue and implements the following systems:
- Glass cockpit concept
- Anti-G system
- Armored cockpit and engine compartment for maximum survivability
- Hands-on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls
- Dual redundant mission computers
- Autopilot system
- Heads-up display (HUD) with a color HUD video camera
- Upfront control panel (UFCP)
- Pressurized and air-conditioned cockpit
Safety and Reliability
The A-29 was designed for a high level of survivability. Since the mission profile places the aircraft directly in harm's way often, it was built to survive a lot of abuse and get back home.
It all starts with the engine. The PT6A family of engines has more hours under their belt than any other turbine engine ever. But beyond the most reliable turbine engine ever devised, the airframe itself is made to deliver a mixed payload and then bring the crew back home. Strategically place armor plating to protect the engine and the pilots from ground fire.
In the worst-case scenario of pilot ejection, the A-29 is equipped with a pair of Martin Baker Mk. 10 ejection seats. These are zero-zero ejection seats, meaning the pilot can safely punch out at zero altitude, zero airspeed if need be.
Several variants of the A-29 Super Tucano are in use globally.
The EMB-314 is not a different variant of the A-29 but is instead the official designation of the aircraft by Embraer. This is not altogether uncommon; Boeing calls the 737 what it is, even though the C-40 is the same thing. ENB-314 is simply the manufacturer’s nomenclature for the aircraft.
The EMB-314 is in the direct lineage of the EMB-312, and while they look very similar, there are differences throughout the evolution of the design. The most obvious difference is the engine, which is significantly more powerful on the A-29 to handle advanced maneuvering and heavy payloads of ordinance.
The A-29A is the first operational version of the Super Tucano. It was designed to provide low acquisition and operational costs, ease of maintenance, and combat effectiveness.
The A-29A and -B are functionally the same, with only minor changes on the Bravo model over the Alpha. There is no requirement to be type-rated on both models.
The A & B models comprise the bulk of the fleet of A-29s globally, with over 200 produced to date.
The November model is earmarked for export sales to NATO countries. It is equipped with NATO-standard datalink equipment and is built to be a single-pilot capable aircraft.
The Super Tucano has proven to be very popular and has been adopted by a number of countries for use in the light attack role. It has cut its teeth in combat in Afghanistan, racking up over 60,000 combat hours. According to Embraer, 16 air forces globally use the A-29, which include:
- Brazil (the largest user of the A-29)
- Burkina Faso
- Dominican Republic
- United States
- At least one undisclosed nation.
We have written on the A-29 in the past, particularly in how it stacks up to the Beechcraft T-6/AT-6 Texan II. While they appear similar, they are two very different aircraft. The A-29 is much heavier, faster, and more powerful than the T-6. It is truly a pilot’s airplane, taking much of the workload off of the pilot so he can focus on the mission at hand.
Greenwood Aerospace is your trusted partner to supply parts or secure services for the A-29. We are an ITAR-certified program, so we can service your needs no matter where you are. Give us a call, or start an online quote today!