Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Architect of Afghan Air Operations Takes the A-29 Super Tucano for a Ride

When retired fighter pilot and Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Lt. Gen. David Deptula was offered the opportunity to take the A-29 Super Tucano for a test-flight, he jumped at the chance. The aircraft is a contender, offered by Sierra Nevada Corporation in partnership with Embraer, in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Light Air Support (LAS) competition. The plane is on display this week at the Oshkosh air show.

The A-29 Super Tucano has gained prominence in the international defense market in recent years due to its capabilities and track record in difficult environments, as well as its low cost of operation and ownership. In the Latin American countries that were the first to adopt this aircraft (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Ecuador), political leaders credit it with toppling illegal organizations and controlling a variety of other threats. Since the beginning of 2012, Burkina Faso, Angola and Mauritania each have signed contracts to purchase Super Tucano aircraft and Indonesia placed an order for another batch of eight aircraft and a flight simulator, having already purchased eight Super Tucanos. Embraer, the plane's manufacturer, recently announced an agreement with Boeing to provide weapons integration for the A-29 Super Tucano, further enhancing its capabilities.

The aircraft selected by the USAF for its Light Air Support program initially will be used to provide light attack, armed reconnaissance and training capabilities to the Afghanistan military. It will also provide the U.S. and other partner nations with critical capabilities for agile, flexible, economical, new generation multi-role airpower.

"Given that now, more than ever, the United States and its allies need to find cost-effective, innovative ways to successfully defeat a variety of non-traditional threats, I wanted to see for myself whether the Super Tucano deserves the superb reputation it already possesses," General Deptula said.

Deptula served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 34 years. Among his many accomplishments, he served as Director of the Combined Air Operations Center for Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, where he orchestrated air operations over Afghanistan resulting in removal of the Taliban regime and eliminating the al-Qaeda terrorist training camps. He also was the principal attack planner for the Desert Storm coalition air campaign in 1991. Deptula was the first Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Headquarters Air Force, where he was responsible for policy formulation, planning, and leadership of AF ISR and remotely piloted aircraft. He has piloted more than 3,000 flying hours (400 in combat) that include multiple operational fighter command assignments in the F-15. As a civilian, Deptula is focused on helping the defense industry provide better, cheaper and faster solutions to global security problems.

The A-29 Super Tucano is a relatively small, sleek, and powerful turboprop aircraft designed for multiple combat and ISR roles. Its airpower agility and value proposition is a result of years of advances in technology, design innovation, and demonstrated capability.

According to Deptula, there is no question that the A-29 Super Tucano was designed for maximum effectiveness in austere operations. "One of the things you notice immediately is the very wide track and high ground clearance of the Super T. Wide, sturdy gear, and low pressure tires mean superior 'off road' and crosswind performance." He also noted that the plane is intended to make the most of its 1600 SHP Pratt & Whitney PT6 engine. "The long fuselage and large vertical stabilizer are well designed to compensate for the torque of the powerful motor – and add ready growth space for future missions." The engine also overcomes the challenge of high, hot environments, and enables a sustained airspeed throughout high-G maneuvers.

Deptula also noted that the structure, frame, engine mounts, canopy, and the nine stores stations that support over 130 certified configurations (including a Bright Star II sensor by FLIR Corp.) are "purposely over-engineered." The wings and fuselage are blended for both strength and improved aerodynamics. Twin .50 cal machine guns are integrated into the wings saving weight and drag while improving accuracy. This, in-turn, improves station-time and adds critical persistence when operating in conjunction with ground forces.

The On Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), "0-0" Martin Baker ejection seats, cockpit armor, and "wonderful visibility" from both cockpit seats, provide great confidence and comfort for those who fly the A-29, according to Deptula.

"The A-29 flies like a 'fighter' should. It's responsive, yet forgiving; rugged, yet advanced. If it weren't for the prop out front, I would have thought I was flying a jet," Deptula said.

The mission planning and debrief system, Honeywell and Collins avionics, configurable multi-function displays and HOTAS (hands-on-throttle-and-stick) are modeled after the USAF's modern fighters. According to Deptula, this design minimizes transition and training time and makes weapons employment intuitive and user-friendly. "These are important characteristics of an aircraft with which you are trying to get people up to speed fast," he said.

"I could have flown an actual mission after my short demo. Here's the landing checklist: Gear down. Flaps down. It doesn't get much simpler than that." Asian Defence News

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