Light Air Support Contenders are Tested by U.S. Air Force

 - February 4, 2011, 5:45 AM

Flight evaluations of the two contenders for the U.S. Air Forceπs Light Air Support contract were completed late last week at Kirtland AFB, N.M. Embraer has teamed with U.S.-based Sierra Nevada to offer the Super Tucano. Hawker Beechcraft has partnered with Lockheed Martin to offer the AT-6. To further comply with the contract’s “Buy America” provision, Embraer has chosen Jacksonville, Fla., as the final assembly location, should the team win the USAF deal for about 35 aircraft–up to 20 counter-insurgency trainers and fighters for Afghanistan and 15 more for other “foreign partners.”

In a media presentation after the trials, Embraer showed a production airplane that will soon be delivered to an undisclosed customer in Africa. The Brazilian company noted that the Super Tucano’s five hard points already have 133 “fully qualified and operational external load configurations.” The aircraft also has two internal .50-caliber guns and a hard point for a FLIR.

Embraer said that the AT-6 does not have an internal gun, which must instead be mounted on an external hard point. Because more than 150 Super Tucanos have already amassed about 103,000 flight hours with eight air arms worldwide, Embraer believes it is the low-risk choice. The USAF’s decision should be announced in June.