Continuing my visit to the National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina), at the Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires during December 2019, let’s now take a look at the FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype. Intended for service with the Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina – FAA), the Pulqui II rolled out of the Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) factory in Córdoba (Instituto Aerotécnico), to become the first swept-wing jet fighter designed and built in South America.
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II
For me the FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) has always been an interesting aircraft I wanted to see first hand, particularly because of who designed it. The one and only Kurt Tank (1898-1983), yes the famous German aeronautical engineer who led the design team at Focke-Wulf from 1931 to 1945, which produced amongst numerous aircraft, the legendary Fw 190 “Butcher Bird” fighter!
Tank worked in Argentina (basically in exile) from 1947 until the fall of the government under President Juan Perón in 1955. His FMA design team included Argentine engineer Norberto Morcchio and other Argentinians, alongside 62 Germans formerly from Focke-Wulf. He then interestingly went to India to continue his design career until he was able to return to West Germany in the 1960’s.
The swept-wing T-tail FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II design stemmed from Tanks earlier work on the Focke-Wulf Ta 183 Huckebein (a trouble making raven from a German story in the 1860’s). The Ta 183 did not go beyond model wind tunnel tests before World War Two ended in 1945 but Tank knew the basic design was sound and furthered his work on the project with FMA in the late 1940’s.
Design work began in 1947 and by June 1950 five FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II prototypes had been built with one for static tests (No. 01) and four flown (No. 02 – No. 05). The engine used was the Rolls-Royce Nene II turbojet. It was a modern looking contemporary of those Cold War Warriors, the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15 (most likely influenced by the Ta 183 design too) and the North American F-86 Sabre.
The first flight of prototype No. 2 on June 27th, 1950 was piloted by Captain Edmundo Weiss. The jet fighter was intended to replace the 100 straight wing design Gloster Meteor F.4 jet fighters purchased in May 1947.
Aerodynamic problems and lateral stability was an issue during test flights, as were the unexpected stalls! Kurt Tank also conducted test flights himself to determine the problems first hand. Technical issues lead to protracted development and unfortunately the second and third prototypes were lost in test flight crashes in 1951 and the static prototype was also destroyed during testing.
With incorporated design improvements, including a revised wing design and ventral strakes to reduce the risk of stalling, prototype No. 4 flew in August 1953. It featured a pressurised cockpit and was fitted with the planned production armament of four chin mounted 20mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannons.
Despite only being a prototype, Pulqui II No.4 was used in combat by rebel military forces during the Revolución Libertadora (“Liberating Revolution”), the coup that saw President Juan Perón overthrown by the military in September 1955. I imagine the jet fighter was seen as a deservedly major achievement for Argentina and provided a great sense of national pride. It had potential but the times were changing.
In the early 1950’s Argentina was under financial duress and by the mid 1950’s, highly capable and cost effective surplus USAF swept-wing North American F-86 Sabre jets were readily available. The demand for an expensive, limited production run, locally produced jet fighter waned.
To revive government interest, in 1956 the FAA conducted a long-range demonstration flight and simulated attack using prototype No. 4 but after experiencing issues with the oxygen system, it was damaged beyond repair following an emergency heavy landing. This may have been the end of the line for the project but a plan to buy Canadair Sabre jets fell through when the required funds for foreign exchange could not be raised.
The Argentine air force needed to reconsider their choices and in 1957 the Pulqui II was seen as being worth one more attempt. Prototype No.5 was authorised to be built but it was not completed until 1959. By then the design was considered obsolete and in 1960 Argentina instead went on to purchase 28 discounted second hand North American F-86F Sabre jet fighters from the United States.
Prototype No. 5 was used to complete 12 research flights but the ambitious Pulqui II project was ultimately cancelled in 1960. The aircraft went into storage and eventually to the museum as the only surviving Pulqui II prototype.
The North American F-86F Sabre jet fighters served the FAA until the mid 1980’s. The old Gloster Meteor F.4 jet fighters that the Pulqui II was intended to replace, ended up serving until 1970!
Although it never went into full production, the FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II project established the groundwork for FMA to continue to develop and deliver numerous aircraft designs from training aircraft to transport and Counter Insurgency (COIN) types. Some of these aircraft continue to fly today in Argentina and beyond, including the FMA IA-58 Pucará COIN aircraft and FMA IA-63 Pampa jet trainer.
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)