Argentina’s Pulqui II – South America’s First Swept Wing Jet Fighter

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!

FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 in the National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires during my visit in December 2019. The Pulqui II was the first swept-wing jet fighter designed and built in South America.
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 in the National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires during my visit in December 2019. The Pulqui II was the first swept-wing jet fighter designed and built in South America.
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 – National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).

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.

Focke-Wulf Ta 183 Huckebein WW2 wind tunnel test model (Photo Source: Airwar.ru)
Focke-Wulf Ta 183 Huckebein WW2 wind tunnel test model (Photo Source: Airwar.ru)
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 – National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).

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.

FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 – National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).

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.

FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 – National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 – National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).

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.

FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aire (December 2019).
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 – National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).

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.

FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).
Later Pulqui II prototypes were armed with four chin mounted 20mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannons.
FMA I.Ae 33 Pulqui II (Arrow II) prototype No. 5 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina) at Morón Air Base in Buenos Aires (December 2019).
Prototype No. 5 was used to complete 12 research flights but the ambitious Pulqui II project was ultimately cancelled in 1960.

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!

FAA North American F-86F Sabre
FAA North American F-86F Sabre at the National Aviation Museum of Argentina (December 2019)
FAA Gloster Meteor F.4 - National Aviation Museum of Argentina (December 2019)
FAA Gloster Meteor F.4 – National Aviation Museum of Argentina (December 2019)

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.

Argentine Air Force FMA IA 58A Pucará (AX-01) COIN
Argentine Air Force FMA IA 58A Pucará (AX-01) Counter Insurgency (COIN) aircraft at the National Aviation Museum of Argentina (December 2019). The type was used in combat during the Falklands War of 1982 (Islas Malvinas). Built by Fábrica Militar de Aviones.

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).

References:

Airwar.ru – Focke-Wulf Ta 183

Military Factory – FMA IAe 33 Pulqui II

National Aviation Museum of Argentina (Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina)

Wikipedia – FMA IAe.33 Pulqui II

Wikipedia – Kurt Tank

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