The pending US Air Force competition for a light-weight ground-attack aircraft has been widely publicized. The US is expected to formally announce the OA-X competition this summer. The winner of this competition could very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. Or could it?
Yes, the famed and feared Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt will continue to cause hazards to forces opposing the US for a few more years. However, unsure about exactly how many more years and if the Lockheed Martin F-35 will be able to fill the Thunderbolt’s shoes when it finally leaves, the US Air Force is looking at its ground attack capabilities. And the conclusion is that a small and flexible aircraft is needed.
That aircraft may very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. This Brazilian turboprop was designed in Brazil but is currenty also license-built in the US by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). As part of a contract awarded in February 2013, these aircraft are adding a ground attack capability to the Afghan Air Force. Pilots from Afghanistan learn to fly the A-29 with the US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
Given this experience, the A-29 is likely candidate to enter in the OA-X competition. But ideal enough to actually win? The US-designed and produced Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine may fit the bill just as well. And how about an armed Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet?
Plus, let’s not forget there’s another competition running right now, and it’s called T-X. The candidates in that competition may also offer the flexibility the US is looking for. An armed version over Lockheed Martin’s and Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50 trainer already exists, and its called FA-50. Meanwhile, Leonardo in Italy is already busy developing the M-346FT Fighter Trainer, an armed version of the M-346 Master.
Obviously, the winner of OA-X competition won’t be announced for some years. But it’s just as obvious that upon closer inspection, there are a lot more likely candidates than just the A-29.
The US Air Force on Tuesday 2 August declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for its very first squadron of F-35A Lightning II jets, situated at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The declaration follows a period of extensive training for the squadron and comes one year after the United States Marine Corps (USMC) declared IOC for its F-35Bs.
The 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill is now the world’s first operational F-35A squadron, flying ‘combat-coded’ aircraft running on the latest software block. The unit consist of 12 aircraft and 21 pilots, plus many support personnel. The first Lightning II arrived at Hill in September 2013.
Wether the squadron will soon make use of its IOC and deploy for operations abroad remains to be seen. Critics are quick to point out that the advanced Lockheed Martin F-35 is far from ready for actual combat. For exampe, the internal gun is still being tested at Edwards Air Force Base.
US Air Force tops brass however recently hinted to a deployment to Europe perhaps in 2017. That year, the USMC will first deploy its F-35Bs to Japan
The U.S. Air Force is moving its formal production decision on the KC-46 tanker program—known as Milestone C—from June 2016 to August 2016 to allow additional time to implement the solution to a refueling boom loads issue identified during flight testing earlier this year.
The Air Force also released an updated projection from Boeing for initial KC-46 deliveries and the expected timing for delivery of the first 18 certified tanker aircraft, a milestone known as Required Assets Available (RAA). Due to ongoing complexities associated with qualification and certification of the aircraft’s centerline drogue and wing-aerial refueling pod (WARP) systems, and the previously announced higher volume of change incorporation to bring the first 18 aircraft up to the certification configuration, the first tanker delivery will move from March 2017 to August 2017 with the 18th aircraft delivered in January 2018.
The underlying production system remains on track, and Boeing will have more than 18 aircraft through the factory line and in various stages of final change incorporation and certification by August 2017. The first 18 aircraft will be equipped with refueling boom and centerline drogue refueling capabilities as well as all other contract required capability except WARPs. The WARP systems required to complete full contractual RAA will be delivered separately in October 2018.
Boeing continues its effort with 5 aircraft now in test (including the first production aircraft), 7 aircraft in final production build, and 8 aircraft in the supply chain – up to tail number 20.
The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has completed development of F-35 software block 3i, the same software the US Air Force will use to declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC) later this year. The Block 3i software provides F-35s with initial combat capability on upgraded computer hardware.
Until last week, the F-35 program had flown more than 100 flight hours with the 3i software and according to a JPO statemrnt, it has shown approximately twice the level of stability as the previously fielded Block 2B software and three times better stability than the original 3i software.
The JPO will begin to upgrade the F-35 fleet (LRIP 6, 7, and 8 aircraft) with 3i software the week of 9 May. The same stability and mission effectiveness enhancements have also been incorporated into a new version of Block 2B software, for the benefit of earlier fleet aircraft.
The new version of 2B software will be used to start upgrading LRIP 2-5 aircraft by the end of May. The entire fleet of fielded F-35 aircraft will eventually be upgraded to these two new software versions by the end of 2016.
Concluding Block 2B and 3i development and testing now allows the F-35 program to focus on completing Block 3F – the software block that should provide full combat capability. The improvements to Block 2B and 3i have been transferred to Block 3F, and all developmental test aircraft and labs have been upgraded to Block 3F.
Just to tease you: we dug in with the chopper force of the United States 7th Army, in Germany. Preview of what is coming soon at Airheadsfly.com. Featured photo by Airheadsfly.com editor Dennis Spronk, video footage by dedicated videographer Vincent Kok.