Cherry on Top: Argentina

by MB

Fábrica Argentina de Aviones ‘Brigadier San Martin’ S.A., often shortened to Fábrica Argentina de Aviones SA (FAdeA), is Argentinas principal aircraft manufacturer. The others are Aero Boero which specializes in light civil utility and agricultural aircraft, Chincul licensed by Piper Aircraft, and Cicaré Helicópteros which focusses on helicopters. FAdeA was founded in Córdoba on October 10th 1927 as Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) under the supervision of several dignitaries.

Construction of the first domestically produced aircraft, the licensed Avro 504, began instantly. This First World War biplane has a speed of 140 km/h and an endurance of 2 hours. It was produced and used by a multitude of nations around the globe resulting in more than 10.000 units from the 1913 until the end of production in 1932. This model performed several firsts like a bombing raid over Germany, strafing troops on the ground and being downed by hostile anti-aircraft fire.

In 1943 the name of the company was changed to Instituto Aerotécnico and the previously initialised development and improvement of aeronautical technology increased. Due to the massive influx of experts after Germanies capitulation in 1945 like Émile Deqoitine, Kurt W. Tank and Reimar Horten, a technological boom occurred. As a consequence the institute became renowned world-wide in 1947 for producing the first jet aircraft in South America and being the 8th nation in the world to accomplish this by itself. The result was the I.Ae. 27 Pulqui I. This name is based on the indigenous language Mapuche in which Pulqúi means arrow. Only one prototype was completed due to its unsatisfactory performance.


Its successor from 1950, the I.Ae. 33 Pulqui II, resulted from merging two similar projects. Two of the four prototypes however crashed fatally due to adverse handling characteristics  and a combination of pilot arrogance and faulty workmanship. In 1956 a record flight from Córdoba to Buenos Aires was performed while demonstrating its combat abilities en route. The aircraft was cancelled in 1960 due to its lengthy, labor-intensive and problematic development. The Pulqui II was officially presented to the public in the following footage:

Another interesting aircraft from this period is the I.Ae. 34 Clen Antú or Horten XVa after its designer. This two-seat tailless glider unsuccessfully competed in the 1952 World Gliding Championship and is rumoured to be intended as aerodynamic model for the I.Ae. 38 Naranjero, a four-engined transport aircraft.


After this project Horten started on the I.Ae. 37; a prototype jet fighter eerily similar in appearance to aircraft developed in the United States during this time. It however never flew and was cancelled in 1960 as well.

To boost the automotive industry in Argentina, the institute was restructured as part of the Industrias Aeronáuticas y Mecánicas de Estado (IAME) in 1952. After a coup in 1955, the Revolución Libertadora, the IAME was named FMA once again before being rebranded as Dirección Nacional de Fabricaciones e Investigaciones Aeronáuticas (DINFIA) by decree in 1957. In 1967 the automotive and aerospace sector of the company were separated by accommodating them in the Industria Mecánicas del Estado (IME) and FMA respectively. During this time Argentina was still at the forefront of aerospace engineering since other South American countries like Brazil only started investing in their own aeronautical industry from the 1950s onwards.

The Embraer/FMA CBA 123 Vector is a turboprop aircraft for regional flights of up to 19 passengers resulting from a partnership with the Brazilian Embraer. It incorporated, for the time, advanced technology in the fields of avionics, aerodynamics and propulsion. These include supercritical airfoils increasing the maximum speed, a fully digital system for engine control and advanced electronic avionics systems. The maiden flight of the first prototype occurred on July 18th 1990 without any problems. Coupled with the political crisis in Brazil, all this high-tech which should have ensured its succes unfortunately resulted in its demise due to the final unit cost of 5 million US dollar. 

Due to the disappointing results of recent projects and the general downwards trend of the economy in Latin America, the company became a subsidiary of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the Lockheed Martin Aircraft Argentina SA, in 1995. From then onwards its main focus was shifted from development to the maintenance and refurbishment of existing aircraft. In August 2009 the company was nationalized again and named FAdeA. Since then the development and production of indigenous aircraft has slowly been initiated again.

Information concerning this facet of aerospace history is commonly only available in Spanish and the sparse information in English regularly contradicts these accounts thereby muddying the water. The history of this institute crucial for the aerospace industry in South America is reviewed critically in the 2008 documentary ‘Alas Argentinas: Reflejo de un país’ or ‘Argentine Wings: Reflection on a Country’. Sufficient closed captions are available for non-spanish speaking readers.

sources and starting point for more research:
Fábrica Argentina de Aviones on Wikipedia (Spanish)
Fábrica Argentina de Aviones website


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