A-29 Super Tucano

The EMB 314 Super Tucano, also known as A-29 or ALX, is a turboprop light attack aircraft built by Embraer, a Brazilian aerospace company and a point of national pride. It’s a relatively affordable option for air-to-ground and air-to-air assault in low-threat airspace. It can equip a variety of weapons, including machine guns, unguided bombs, and precision-guided missiles.

You’re more likely to find A-29s in operation in countries with weaker economic output, such as Nigeria, Lebanon, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, and Chile. It gives these countries an affordable option to combat internal threats, such as violent extremism in Nigeria and guerrilla armies in Colombia. The A-29 can also carry sophisticated equipment for reconnaissance missions, such as patrolling and monitoring the vast Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

A pair of Brazilian Air Force Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos in flight over the Amazon Rainforest. (Credit: Johnson Barros, CC BY 2.0)

The origin of the A-29 goes back to the mid-1980s when Embraer was working on a previous basic trainer aircraft named the Short Tucano. It dropped the project due to a lack of interest from the Brazilian Air Force but continued to research an attack version of it for future purposes. Fortunately for the company, Brazil later needed a custom light attack aircraft under its Amazon Surveillance System project to intercept illegal aircraft flights and patrol its borders.

The Brazilian Air Force created the A-29 aircraft program for the surveillance project and awarded Embraer a $50 million contract for it in 1995. The first production-configured version took flight in 1999, and the total development cost was estimated at $200 million to $300 million.

The A-29 is a turboprop aircraft that behaves like a fighter. It has a strengthened airframe to sustain high g-forces in flight, reinforced landing gear to endure substantial takeoff weight, and Kevlar armor protection including for the pilot. It has a long range of 4,280km, is capable of operating at night or day in most environmental conditions, and can land on short, unpaved airfields with minimal ground support.

An A-29 Super Tucano of the Afghan Air Force flies over Kabul, Afghanistan in 2018. When the Afghanistan government fell during the 2021 Taliban offensive, some pilots fled with their A-29s.

The A-29 has a respective maximum and cruise speed of 530km/h and 593km/h. It’s agile and able to maneuver during flight better than most comparable turboprop aircraft. The plane carries two wing-mounted 12.7mm machine guns with a fire rate of 1,100 rounds a minute, although both wings can carry a maximum of 400 rounds. Likewise, there’s the option to add a 20mm cannon fitted under the fuselage to haul bullets at large targets at a fire rate of 650 rounds a minute. It can also carry general-purpose bombs and precision-guided air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

A new A-29 can cost anywhere from $10 million to $20 million excluding infrastructure and weapon upgrade costs. In 2017, the U.S. government procured 26 Tucanos costing $18 million each for the Afghan Air Force.

The A-29 is currently in service with 15 air forces worldwide and has collectively logged 430,000 flight hours and 60,000 combat hours, according to its manufacturer. It’s currently in production at two assembly lines, one in Brazil and the other in the U.S.

Fast Facts about the A-29 Super Tucano

  • Ceiling – 35,000 feet
  • Maximum endurance – Six hours and 30 minutes
  • Maximum take-off weight – 5,200kg
  • Engine – Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6
  • g limits – +7 /-3.5
  • Rate of climb – 3,230 ft/min