FMA IA 58 Pucara

The FMA IA 58 Pucará (Quechua: Fortress) is an Argentine ground-attack and counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft manufactured by the Fábrica Militar de Aviones. It is a low-wing twin-turboprop all-metal monoplane with retractable landing gear, capable of operating from unprepared strips when operationally required. The type saw action during the Falklands War and the Sri Lankan Civil War.


FMA IA 58 Pucara
Class Aircraft
Type Attack
Manufacturer Fabrica Argentina de Aviones
Production Period 1976 - 1986
Origin Argentina
Country Name Origin Year
Argentina 1969
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Argentina 1975 View
Bolivia View
Brazil View
Central African Republic View
Ceylon (Sri Lanka) View
Colombia View
Iran (Persia) View
Iraq View
Mauritania View
Paraguay View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) View
Uruguay View
Venezuela View
Democratic Republic of the Congo View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Fabrica Argentina de Aviones 1976 1986 110 View

The IA 58 Pucará is of conventional, all-metal (mainly duralumin) construction. The unswept cantilever wings have 7 degrees of dihedral on the outer panels and are fitted with slotted trailing-edge flaps. The IA-58 has a tandem cockpit arrangement; the crew of two is seated under the upward opening clamshell canopy on Martin-Baker Mk 6AP6A zero/zero ejection seats and are provided with dual controls. Armour plating is fitted to protect the crew and engines from ground fire. The aircraft is powered by a pair of Turbomeca Astazou engines, driving sets of three-bladed Ratier-Forest 23LF propellers; the propellers are also capable of being used as air brakes.

The Pucará was designed for operations from short, rough airstrips. The retractable tricycle landing gear, with a single nosewheel and twin mainwheels retracting into the engine nacelles, is fitted with low pressure tyres to suit operations on rough ground, while the undercarriage legs are tall to give good clearance for underslung weapons loads. Three JATO rockets can be fitted under the fuselage to allow extra short takeoffs. Fuel is fed from two fuselage tanks of combined capacity of 800 L (180 imp gal; 210 US gal) and two self-sealing tanks of 460 L (100 imp gal; 120 US gal) in the wings. The undercarriage, flaps and brakes are operated hydraulically, with no pneumatic systems.

Fixed armament of the Pucará consists of two Hispano 804 20 mm cannons mounted under the cockpit with 270 rounds each and four 7.62 mm Browning machine guns mounted on the sides of the fuselage with 900 rounds each. Three hardpoints are fitted for carrying external stores such as bombs, rockets or external fuel tanks, with one of 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) capacity mounted under the fuselage and the remaining two, of 500 kg (1,100 lb) capacity beneath the wings. Total external weapons load is limited to 1,620 kg (3,570 lb). Onboard armaments are aimed by a simple reflector sight.

The first units were delivered in May 1975 to the Argentine Air Force (Spanish: Fuerza Aérea Argentina, FAA), equipping the 2° Escuadron de Exploración y Ataque, part of the 3rd Air Brigade (Spanish: III Brigada Aérea) in northern Reconquista, Santa Fe province. They had their operational debut late in 1976, when a number of Pucarás carried out counter-insurgency strikes from Córdoba against Communist ERP guerillas in Tucumán Province as part of Operativo Independencia.

1982 Falklands war

By the time of the Falklands War, about 60 Pucarás had been delivered As one of the few aircraft of the Argentine service capable of flying operationally from the small airfields in the Falklands, as the runway at Port Stanley Airport was not long enough for FAA Skyhawks and Mirages to be deployed, it was decided to deploy a number of Pucarás to the Falklands, with four arriving at Port Stanley on 2 April 1982, with a further 8 arriving on 9 April. Many of the Pucarás remaining on the mainland were moved to Puerto Santa Cruz or Comodoro Rivadavia in southern Argentina where they were closer to the Falklands if needed for reinforcements, and were used to perform coastal surveillance.

Most aircraft used in combat were armed with unguided bombs, 2.75 inch rocket pods, or 7.62 mm machine gun pods. Pucarás operated from Port Stanley airport and two small grass improvised airfields at Goose Green and Pebble Island. They were used in the reconnaissance and light-attack role.

Three Pucarás were destroyed and one of their pilots killed at Goose Green by cluster bombs dropped by 800 NAS Sea Harriers on 1 May 1982. Six more were destroyed in the SAS Raid on Pebble Island on 15 May 1982.

On 21 May a Pucará was lost to a Stinger SAM fired by D Squadron SAS (the first Stinger launched in combat) and another to 30 mm cannon rounds from Cmdr Nigel "Sharkey" Ward's RN Sea Harrier, the latter after leading a successful two-aircraft raid on a shed allegedly used as an observation post by British forces. The aircraft was surprisingly tough, as Ward observed no fewer than 20 cannon hits before the target started to fall to earth. The other Pucará, piloted by Lt. Micheloud, made good its escape after being chased by Lt. Cmdr. Alan Craig's Sea Harrier. Major Tomba, the pilot of the aircraft shot down by Cmdr Ward, survived the ejection and was recovered by friendly forces.

Two Pucarás shot down a Royal Marines Scout helicopter with 7.62 mm machine gun fire on 28 May, while it was on a casualty evacuation mission during the battle of Goose Green. This was the only confirmed Argentine air-to-air victory of the war. One of these Pucarás crashed into Blue Mountain on the return flight to Port Stanley and was destroyed—the body of the pilot (Lt. Gimenez) was found in 1986, and was buried with military honours at Port Darwin by his family, the first Argentine relatives to visit the Falklands since the end of the war.

Also on the 28 May 2 PARA shot down a Pucará with small arms fire after it launched rockets on British troops (without causing any casualties), during the Battle of Goose Green. Lt Cruzado ejected and became a POW.

Captured aircraft

After the Argentine surrender eleven Pucarás (four of them in flying condition) were captured by British forces. Six were taken back to the United Kingdom, as follows:

  • A-515 (ZD485) – Royal Air Force Museum Cosford.
  • A-517 – Privately owned. Possibly shipped to the Channel Islands.
  • A-522 (8768M) – North East Aircraft Museum (on loan from the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton).
  • A-528 (8769M) – Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum (on loan from Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop).
  • A-533 (ZD486) – Boscombe Down Aviation Collection (Cockpit Section only).
  • A-549 (ZD487) – Imperial War Museum Duxford.

Sri Lankan Civil War

Four Pucarás were purchased by the Sri Lanka Air Force for counter-insurgency operations from 1993 to 1999. Despite the initial success on the first two years of COIN operations against Tamil rebel forces, the purchase of SA-7 Igla missiles by the later result on the destruction of two Pucaras during combat sorties. In July 1995, during fierce fighting in the Northern Province, near Jaffna, Tamil Tiger rebels downed a third Pucará, the pilot Fg Off D. F. D. S. Perera was killed.

Upgrades

On May 1982, at the peak of the Falklands War, the Argentine Air Force, in collaboration with the Navy, outfitted a prototype, AX-04, with pylons to mount Mark 13 torpedoes. The aim was its possible production as torpedo-carrying aircraft to enhance the anti-ship capabilities of the Argentine air forces. Several trials were performed off Puerto Madryn, over Golfo Nuevo, but the war was over before the technicians could evaluate the feasibility of the project.

Several attempts were made to upgrade the entire fleet, including the Pucará Charlie conversion, Pucará 2000 and Pucará Bravo (modernization of 40 units was ordered and later canceled by the FAA, only one unit was converted). These were cancelled during the 1980s due to shortage of funds.

The Uruguayan Air Force updated its fleet with the incorporation of Litton LTN-211 and GPS omega navigation systems. Minor structure modifications were made in order to carry the Mk82 Snakeye bomb and 1000 litre drop tank. Other avionics incorporated were the WX-500 Stormscope by L3 Communications and LED Sandel SN3500 backlit display navigation.

In 2007 an IA-58 of the Fuerza Aérea Argentina was converted to carry a modified engine operating on soy-derived bio-jet fuel. The project, financed and directed by the Argentine Government (Secretaría de Ciencia Tecnología e Innovación Productiva de la Nación), made Argentina the second nation in the world to propel an aircraft with biojet fuel. The project intends to make the FAA less reliant on fossil fuels.

Since 2009 an extensive upgrade of the avionics and major overhaul of the airframes has been carried out by the FAA and FAdeA. creating the IA-58D Pucará Delta. The avionics for the cockpit will be as close as possible to the FMA IA-63 Pampa Phase II. Some of the updated components will include a new set of communications hardware, DME, ELT, IFF, GPS, EADI, EHSI, RWR, HUD, DEFA 554 cannon and new powerplant PT6A-62 950shp instead of the original Turbomeca Astazou. The overhaul will keep Argentinian Pucarás active until 2045. Burocratic and economic issues are delaying the conversion of the entire fleet. Fuerza Aerea Uruguaya also showed interest on the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) program and installation of new engines offered by FAdeA.

Role Counter-insurgency aircraft
Manufacturer FMA
First flight 20 August 1969
Introduction 1975
Status Active
Primary users Argentine Air Force
Sri Lankan Air Force
Uruguayan Air Force
Produced 1976–1986
Number built 110


General characteristics

  • Crew: two
  • Length: 14.25 m (46 ft 9 in)
  • Wingspan: 14.50 m (47 ft 7 in)
  • Height: 5.36 m (17 ft 7 in)
  • Wing area: 30.30 m2 (326.1 sq ft)
  • Aspect ratio: 6.9:1
  • Airfoil: NACA 642A215 at root, NACA641 at tip
  • Empty weight: 4,020 kg (8,863 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 6,800 kg (14,991 lb)
  • Fuel capacity: 1,280 L (280 imp gal; 340 US gal) internal, up to 1,736 L (382 imp gal; 459 US gal) in external tanks
  • Powerplant: 2 × Turbomeca Astazou XVIG turboprop, 729 kW (978 hp) each

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 500 km/h (311 mph; 270 kn) at 3,000 m (9,800 ft)
  • Cruising speed: 430 km/h (267 mph; 232 kn) at 6,000 ft (1,800 m) (econ cruise)
  • Stall speed: 143 km/h (89 mph; 77 kn) (flaps and undercarriage down)
  • Never exceed speed: 750 km/h (466 mph; 405 kn)
  • Combat range: 350 km (217 mi; 189 nmi) (Combat radius with 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) weapons, High-low-high profile)
  • Ferry range: 3,710 km (2,305 mi; 2,003 nmi) max internal and external fuel
  • Service ceiling: 10,000 m (32,808 ft)
  • g limits: +6/-3 g
  • Rate of climb: 5.5 m/s (1,080 ft/min)

Armament

  • Guns:
    2× 20 mm Hispano-Suiza HS.804 autocannons
    4× 7.62 mm FN Browning machine guns
  • Hardpoints: 3 with a capacity of :centerline 1,000 kg (2,200 lb), wing pylons 500 kg (1,100 lb), total external stores 1,620 kg (3,570 lb),

End notes