When I travelled to Argentina in December 2019, one of my main destinations was always going to be the National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) and I was not disappointed. The museum is nearly spotless and you can get a good view of all the aircraft on display.
Located at the Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires, within the museum you can see plenty of Cold War era aircraft and rare homegrown designs built by Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) for the Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina or FAA). One of these aircraft is a very rare and very historic aircraft indeed: the prototype FMA I.Ae 27 Pulqui I (Arrow I). This proposed jet fighter began life in 1946 on the design tables in Córdoba at the Instituto Aerotécnico to become the first jet designed and built in South America.
FMA I.Ae 27 Pulqui I
The FMA I.Ae 27 Pulqui I (Arrow I) prototype is a basic looking, straight winged jet aircraft with a nose air intake (the airflow went around the cockpit) but is resplendent in its glossy red livery! The design team was an interesting choice of Argentine aviation engineers lead by Émile Dewoitine (1892-1979) from France, especially given he was a designer who didn’t have the opportunity to develop jet aircraft during World War Two. His company designed the Dewoitine D.520 though, the best French fighter aircraft in 1940!
Following the fall of France, Dewoitine attempted to go to the United States but ended up continuing to design aircraft under the French Vichy government. Following World War Two he was seen as a collaborator and went into exile, first to Spain, then Argentina to work for the government of President Juan Perón.
Designed in 1946, only one Pulqui I prototype was built as an experimental jet fighter aircraft. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Derwent 5 turbojet engine, piloted by Edmundo O. Weiss, it first took flight on August 9th, 1947 and had a top speed of 720 km/h (450 mph).
Armament was intended to include 4 x 20mm cannons along with underwing mounted ordnance such as bombs and rockets. Ultimately though, no weapons were ever fitted to the prototype.
A key problem with the basic design was the small fuselage, which lead to the fuel tanks having to be of a limited capacity as they were installed in the wings. The Derwent turbojet engine was a thirsty beast and it’s high fuel consumption accompanied with small fuel tanks, severely limited the range of the prototype to just 700 km (435 miles).
By 1947, following flight testing and evaluation, the FMA I.Ae 27 Pulqui I was ultimately proven underpowered. Although a great step in aviation for Argentina, the design had fallen behind international jet fighter development (both the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15 first flew in late 1947) and with little hope of squeezing anything more out of the basic design, the program was cancelled.
Lessons were learned but Argentina required something more if they were to develop an advanced frontline jet fighter. This lead to development of the more advanced Pulqui II, the first swept-wing jet fighter designed and built in South America, which I will feature in detail in my next post.
Given its historic significance, the Pulqui I was fortunately kept at the Fábrica Militar de Aviones factory in Córdoba until transferred to the National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) collection in 1962. It is great to see Argentina has been able to preserve its aviation history!
Note: If a foreign visitor, to gain access to the aviation museum, bring identification with you i.e. your passport. You will be cleared by security at the Morón Air Base front gate, then escorted to the museum. You can get to the base via public transport from central Buenos Aires (train then bus).
National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina)