SANTIAGO, Chile — The Chilean Air Force has officially launched a program to acquire 33 Pillan II training aircraft, to be developed and produced locally by state-owned Empresa Nacional de Aeronaútica (ENAER), under a contract worth 142 million.

The award of the deal to ENAER follows the project’s kick-off last April during the FIDAE International Air Show in Santiago city. As a proof of government support, the program’s launch ceremony was presided by Chilean Defense Minister Maya Fernandez.

The new aircraft will replace around 30 T-35 Pillan training aircraft, developed by ENAER with assistance of Piper and produced locally in the 1980s, that are currently operated by the Chilean Air Force.

The option to procure an off-the-shelf aircraft from the international market was previously considered and studied. But in the end the choice was to proceed with the development and production of an indigenous design, “in order both to preserve and to build up the industrial and technological capacities of ENAER and other firms in Chile’s local industry,” said ENAER chief executive Henry Cleveland.

Work on the current project started in 2012, using the experience gained by ENAER between the late 1990s and 2004, when a new wing was designed for T-35 Pillan, a prototype fitted with a turbo-prop engine was tested, and studies were made for the modernization of the cockpit.

According to Pablo Astica, engineering director at ENAER, “besides including aerodynamical improvement and a major use of composites instead of metallic parts, the main characteristic of the Pillan II will be the fitting of an advanced glass-cockpit and avionics suite.”

The upgrades as designed to replicate the interior of new-generation combat aircraft that trainee get familiar with what they will find when progressing to fly tactical types, he added.

For cost and efficiency reasons,the Pillan II will be powered by a piston engine, but it will be upgraded to four-blade propeller.

The aircraft will be the center of an Integrated Flight Training System for the Chilean air service, which will also include synthetic training using flight simulators as well as flight pre-planning support. Those elements are already in advanced stage of development by Desarrollos de Tecnologias y Sistemas (DTS), another Chilean company subsidiary of ENAER.

The program of development and production of Pillan II will run for eight years. The phase of definition of requirements and design, already completed, will be followed by a phase of engineering and production of a prototype, which is expected to be ready to perform its first flight in 2025. A subsequent testing phase is expected to end in 2026, giving way to serial production, with deliveries to start from 2027 and to continue until 2030.

But production of Pillan II will not necessarily end in 2030. ENAER also expects that Pillan II will replicate the success of the original T-35 Pillan, which was also exported to Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Salvador, Spain and Panama, countries where it is still in use with military and paramilitary forces.

While those users will also need to replace their machines and could choose Pillan II as the solution, an effort will be made to find new customers abroad, according to the company.

José Higuera is the South America correspondent for Defense News, covering South American and Latin American affairs.

Share:
More In The Americas