The A-29B is the winner of the U.S. Air Force’s Light Air Support (LAS) competition to supply 20 planes to the Afghan air force beginning next year. The Super Tucano is also used by several other air forces. The Colombian air force uses it for surveillance and to deliver ordnance in its ongoing conflict with that country’s two insurgent groups, as depicted in the previously unpublished photos appearing here.
While the AT-6 hasn’t won a Pentagon production order, planemaker Beechcraft says it expects a launch customer (so far unnamed) for 24 aircraft by year’s end and is building upon its two flying examples by investing in a third and fourth airframe. The company borrowed the Pentagon term low-rate initial production (LRIP) to characterize its building of these additional AT-6s.
The third AT-6, individually known somewhat confusingly as AT-3, has been rolled out wearing what might be called desert camouflage with shark’s teeth. It was once scheduled to make its first flight the week of Aug. 4, and is now scheduled to take to the air during the week of Aug. 18.
Neither Defense Media Network nor the author of this commentary has any stake in the rivalry between the A-29B and the AT-6. We’ve consulted with experts on how these aircraft might fit into small-war scenarios around the world and wanted to present some observations on the attributes offered by both aircraft. The following draws upon authoritative sources with various points of view.
Two Light Attack Aircraft: A Quick Comparison
The A-29B and AT-6 both have tricycle landing gear, tandem, two-seat cockpits, and turboprop engines. The A-29B’s canopy is stepped, meaning the back-seater sits higher and has greater visibility, although experts disagree whether this matters in combat. Flown originally with a less powerful engine, the AT-6 was upgraded to the same 1, 600 shaft horsepower (1180 kW) PT6 turboprop engine used by the A-29B, but with no corresponding change to its flight surfaces. Super Tucano supporters say their engine has no power limitation in any flight phase, while the AT-6 powerplant is flown de-rated in some scenarios.
The A-29B is larger. Wingspan and gross weight for the A-29B are 36 feet 6.5 inches (11.38 meters) and 7, 033 pounds (3190 kilograms), while for the AT-6 they are 33 feet 5 inches (10.19 meters) and 6, 300 pounds (2858 kilograms). The A-29B sits higher off the ground, and has wider-track landing gear (by 50 percent), which the planemaker says makes it more stable in rugged terrain. Fred George of wrote that, “The A-29B’s main landing gear rolling stock is larger, featuring low-pressure 6.5-10 tires that are better suited to unimproved runway operations than the AT-6’s high-pressure, 4.4-20 tires that are designed for smooth pavement.”
A-29B proponents laud the plane’s larger tail unit and flight surfaces, even though Beechcraft’s Bill Boisture calls it “less maneuverable.” AT-6 supporters argue that because their competitor is larger, it places greater demands on the same engine, hindering performance.