F.M.A. IA 58A Pucara by Special Hobby

1/72 scale
Cost: $21.00
Decals: 4 versions – all Argentine Air Force
Comments: Engraved panel lines: resin cockpit seats and engine exhausts; photo-etch seat straps and instrument panels

History

In the mid-1960’s the Argentine Air Force issued a specification for a new ground attack aircraft capable of providing close air support for the Army. The requirement was handed over to the Air Force-owned Fabrica Militar de Aviones (FMA). The proposal presented to the Air Force on January 29, 1968 was for a twin-turboprop, two-seat, low wing, T-tailed aircraft capable of flying low and slow for effective air support.  The prototype’s maiden flight was on August 20, 1969. The first three aircraft were powered by Garrett TPE-331-U303 engines, but problems with this powerplant plus strained relations with the U.S. led to a switch to the French-built Turbomeca Aztazou as the powerplant. Soon after, at the suggestion of the wife of one of the program’s test pilots (1st Lieutenant Digier), the new plane was named after the local Quechua Indian tribe word for fortress, the name Pucara was accepted.

The first production model flew for the first time on November 4, 1974, while a Pucara Task Group was preparing the base it was to operate from: Base Area Milatar (BAM) in the province of Santa Fe. By the time the first two Pucaras, A-501 and A-502, arrived at the base on August 27, 1975, Argentina had been steadily infiltrated by suspected communist guerillas, mainly from Bolivia into the country’s northern provinces. The Argentine Army launched “Operation Independence” to remove the threat.

During the successful operation, four Pucaras provided close air support from the Military Aviation School in the Cordoba province. Tension with neighboring Chile at then end of 1978 saw the Army deploy all its Pucaras to two bases in Patagonia: BAM Puerto Santa Cruz, and BAM Fuerte General Roca. Fortunately the crisis soon passed and the aircraft stood down from heighted alert.

By 1982, the military government that had overthrown the previous civilian government was in decline. A group of Army and Navy officers organized the taking of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands to strengthen the government’s hand, never imagining that Great Britain would respond with force to retake the islands.

During the successful operation, four Pucaras provided close air support from the Military Aviation School in the Cordoba province. Tension with neighboring Chile at then end of 1978 saw the Army deploy all its Pucaras to two bases in Patagonia: BAM Puerto Santa Cruz, and BAM Fuerte General Roca. Fortunately the crisis soon passed and the aircraft stood down from heightened alert.

By 1982, the military government that had overthrown the previous civilian government was in decline. A group of Army and Navy officers organized the taking of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands to strengthen the government’s hand, never imagining that Great Britain would respond with force to retake the islands.

The Argentine Air Force soon found itself in the position of having to air provide support in the ensuing operations — a war it never anticipated. Soon after the islands were taken on April 2, 1982, it was discovered that few combat aircraft could be sent to operate from them, due to inadequate facilities and runways. The Pucara was one, due to its ruggedness, strong undercarriage, and short take off and landing (STOL) capability. Until the Falklands War, all Pucaras had operated in their natural metal finish, but all aircraft deployed to the combat area were camouflaged for the first time in light brown and light green, with pale blue undersurfaces.

 

While quite effective against guerillas in the counter-insurgency role, calling as it did for a slow mover, the Pucara did not fare well against the modern air force it encountered in the skies over the Falkland Islands, nor in fairness was it ever designed to do so. Due to poor military planning, in 1982 it was pressed into service to perform a mission for which it was particularly ill-suited.  Argentina needed modern jet fighters with STOL capability deployed to the Falklands, able to operate from the islands’ unprepared runways, but also capable of interception and air defense — and these two latter roles the Pucara simply could not perform.  Ironically, the Argentines had available but did not deploy the superb French-built Mirage III, in part due to its limited range, the unsuitability of the Falklands’ rough airfields for the Mirage, and the fact that 600 miles of ocean lay between Mirage airbases in Argentina and East Falkland Island.  At that time, one of the very few jet fighters in the world with the array of capabilities Argentina needed was, ironically, the British Hawker Harrier.  Still, the Pucara was specifically designed to attack infantry, and the British were sufficiently concerned about the Pucara force on the Falklands that they sent a special unit of Marine Commandos on a night raid to destroy them, in advance of the landing by the main British force.  Many Pucaras were destroyed on the ground in this action; subsequently three more were shot down in actual combat: one by a Stinger missile, a second by a Royal Navy Sea Harrier, and the third by small arms fire. An additional unspecified number were destroyed on the ground by British air attacks during the brief war.

Foreign operators include Uruguay and Sri Lanka, with the latter using Pucaras in combat against Tamil rebels and having two shot down. The government of Colombia returned three Pucaras donated by Argentina in 1989, due to a lack of spare parts and the necessary funds for maintenance. Production totalled 108 aircraft, not including 3 prototypes, and halted in 1988. However additional Pucaras were delivered to the Argentine Air Force as late as 1996, and will likely remain on inventory for some years to come.

 

The Kit

The Pucara is molded in grey and consists of 145 parts, six of them resin, and 65 photo-etched. Its engraved panel lines include finely scribed ventilation vents on the nacelles for the turboprop engines, and the propellers have individually mounted blades. The kit has an extraordinarily detailed cockpit consisting of 53 pieces: plastic, resin, and a great deal of photo-etch. With all that detail, it’s a pity there is only a one-piece canopy and no option for an open cockpit.

The Argentine Pucara in flight.

While the box art shows what appear to be a series of rocket pods mounted beneath the fuselage and to under wing hardpoints, no such ordnance is included in the kit — only the pylons from which weapons would be slung. The painting instructions go into unusual and welcome detail about the proper colors for the cockpit interior, landing gear and wheel wells. The decal sheet offers any one of four sets of markings for Argentinian Pucaras during the Falklands War, two with camouflage paint schemes, and two in overall aluminum. An unusual kit of one of the lesser-known aircraft of the Falklands War — highly recommended.

Reference

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