The modernisation of Brazil’s McDonnell Douglas AF-1B/C Skyhawk fighter-interceptor/ground attack aircraft fleet has been completed by Embraer, with the final example being handed back to the Marinha do Brasil (Brazilian Navy) during a ceremony on April 20.
The ceremony was held at the firm’s industrial facility in Gavião Peixoto, which is located in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. During the event, AF-1B Skyhawk (serial N-1004) was redelivered to the Brazilian Navy – a milestone that marked the end of the type’s 13-year modernisation programme. In April 2009, Embraer was awarded a $106m contract by the Brazilian Ministry of Defense (MOD) to modernise and perform limited upgrade work on nine single-seat AF-1s and three two-seat AF-1As, bringing them up to AF-1B and AF-1C standard, respectively.
However, this number was later reduced to just five AF-1s and two AF-1As after it was announced that the Brazilian Navy’s Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier, NAe São Paulo (A12), would be demobilised on February 14, 2017. The vessel was decommissioned in November 2018 and has since been sold for scrapping.
As part of the modernisation effort, the seven AF-1B/C Skyhawks received both airframe and engine overhauls, along with a new ELTA Systems EL/M-2032 multi-mode airborne fire control radar and an AEL Sistemas-developed glass cockpit with hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls. The fleet was also fitted with a new on-board oxygen generation system (OBOGS); energy generation system; radar warning receiver and mission computer, as well as new weapons systems and the addition of a third VHF radio. Improvements were also made to the aircraft’s autopilot, engine and electrical systems.
Embraer states that “a high-fidelity flight simulator was developed” as part of the programme, to enable the Brazilian Navy to carry out pilot training to increase safety in its operations. The company adds that “briefing and debriefing stations used in the training and proficiency of pilots were also provided to improve their use, to reduce costs and to bring greater effectiveness to mission planning and execution.”
Brazil acquired a 23-strong fleet of second-hand Skyhawk fighters – comprising 20 single-seat A-4KUs and three two-seat TA-4KUs – from Kuwait for $70m in 1997. The first Kuwaiti aircraft arrived in Brazil in September 1998, before the type was redesignated the AF-1/AF-1A upon its entry into Brazilian Navy service.
The first modernised single-seat AF-1B was delivered to the Brazilian Navy on May 26, 2015, while the initial two-seat AF-1C was handed over on April 23, 2018. The Skyhawk fleet is solely operated by the 1º Esquadrão de Interceptação e Ataque (VF-1, 1st Interception and Attack Squadron) from Base Aérea Naval de São Pedro da Aldeia (BAeNSPA, São Pedro da Aldeia Naval Air Base) in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro.
The modernised AF-1B/Cs are slated to remain operational for at least ten years, but the type’s attrition rate has risen exponentially in recent times. AirForces Intelligence data states that the first two AF-1Bs to be redelivered were involved in a mid-air collision on July 26, 2016. One example was lost as a result of the incident, while the second aircraft was damaged and required extensive repairs. Another AF-1B was damaged in an attrition event on October 21, 2019.