Brazilian air force retires last Xavante trainers

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After nearly 39 years of service, the Brazilian air force formally retired its Embraer EMB-326 (AT-26) Xavante fleet on 2 December. The event is expected to signal the start of a search for a replacement jet trainer.

Local sources indicate that the service is finalising the technical and operational requirements for a new lead-in fighter trainer, with an eye on releasing a request for proposals in 2011.

Air force sources list the prime candidates as the Alenia Aermacchi M-346, BAE Systems Hawk 128 and Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50. However, other contenders are also expected to enter the fray for the 18-24 aircraft requirement

The Brazilian manufacturer assembled 182 EMB-326GBs under licence between 1971 and 1983. Of these, 166 were sold to the Brazilian air force. Employed primarily as an advanced trainer and light strike aircraft, the Xavante's career with the service began winding down in 1998, making way for the Alenia Aermacchi/Embraer AMX and Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano.

However, in 2005, 14 ex-South African air force Atlas Impala Mk 1/2s were purchased to cover a jet trainer shortfall. Embraer had previously proposed a new version of the two-seat AMX, but the project was shelved because of industrial reluctance in Brazil and Italy to jointly develop the design.

The search for a Xavante replacement had been placed on hold until Brazil's F-X2 fighter had been selected. But delays to that programme have spurred the air force to place its trainer programme in the fast lane. It could seek a decision no later than 2012, with initial deliveries to be made in early 2014, sources say.

Three of Brazil's Xavantes are expected to remain in service with the air force's flight-test unit at São José dos Campos until 2013. Other low-time airframes are expected to be handed over to the Paraguayan air force.