Belt into the front seat of each aircraft and more important differences emerge. The A-29B's canopy is considerably larger, affording better visibility in the combat environment. Front and rear internal windshields protect the crew if the canopy is lost in combat. Its sensor ball is mounted farther forward on the bottom of the fuselage so its view of targets abeam the aircraft is not blocked by the wing when the aircraft is banked. The larger wing affords more lateral control with asymmetric external stores loads, such as a pilot might encounter if a 500-lb. smart bomb hangs up on an ejector rack.
The A-29B also has anti-skid power brakes, a computer that calculates drag and runway distance for 133 different external stores configurations and an autopilot that can be coupled to the mission computer to reduce pilot workload. The aircraft also has a proven combat record, having logged more than 18,000 hr., mainly in counterinsurgency operations against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It has amassed about 180,000 hr. with the air forces of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. Deliveries now have begun to Angola and Indonesia.
But, even if the two aircraft were exactly comparable, the long-term financial staying power of the two companies is not the same. That is a key risk factor written into the Federal Acquisition Regulation decision-making process. Sierra Nevada and Embraer have strong product portfolios and robust balance sheets. They will assemble the Super Tucano in Jacksonville. Beechcraft, having shed several unviable product lines, just now is emerging from bankruptcy. The Wichita manufacturer still faces a tough road to recovery. So, on balance, I believe the Air Force twice made the best choice for LAS, first in December 2011 and again in 2013.
Tap on the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST for more on the LAS procurement saga, including Fred George's pilot reports on the AT-6B and Super Tucano, or go to AviationWeek.com/las