The DINFIA IA 38, an experimental Argentine four-engine tailless transport aircraft from the 1960s, was designed under the guidance of Reimar Horten.
It was developed based on the German Horten Ho VIII project and constructed by DINFIA.
Developed in Argentina
The history of aviation is replete with remarkable aircraft that have pushed the boundaries of technology and design. While some have achieved widespread recognition and fame, others have remained in relative obscurity, known only to a select few enthusiasts and historians.
Among the latter category is the DINFIA IA 38, an experimental cargo aircraft developed in Argentina during the 1960s.
Despite its relative anonymity, the IA 38 represents a fascinating chapter in aviation history, characterised by innovative design, unique engineering challenges, and a lofty mission to transport citrus fruits across Argentina.
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In this essay, we will delve into the intriguing story of the DINFIA IA 38, exploring its origins, design, challenges, and legacy.
Origins of the IA 38
The DINFIA IA 38 owes its existence to the creative vision of Reimar Horten, a renowned German aircraft designer. Horten’s fascination with tailless aircraft and flying wings led to the inception of the IA 38 project. The genesis of this unique aircraft can be traced back to a specific requirement that arose in Argentina during the 1950s.
In 1950, Argentina faced a logistical challenge: the need to transport citrus fruits, primarily oranges, from the western regions of the country to Buenos Aires.
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The absence of viable rail links and the inadequacy of the existing road infrastructure for transporting heavy cargo prompted authorities to seek an innovative solution—a cargo aircraft that could efficiently bridge this geographical gap. It was in response to this challenge that the IA 38 project was born.
DINFIA IA 38 Design and Features
The DINFIA IA 38 was conceived as an all-metal, tailless shoulder-wing swept monoplane, a design characteristic that was typical of Horten’s innovative aircraft concepts.
What set the IA 38 apart from conventional cargo aircraft was its unconventional vertical control surfaces, which were positioned near the wingtips, contributing to its distinctive appearance.
The aircraft’s fuselage was notably short and stubby, a design feature aimed at optimizing its cargo-carrying capabilities.
The landing gear configuration was a tricycle setup, with a retractable nosewheel and fixed mainwheels, facilitating ground operations.
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One of the most notable design aspects of the IA 38 was its propulsion system. It was powered by four radial engines mounted within the wings, each driving a pusher propeller positioned clear of the wing’s trailing edges.
DINFIA IA 38 Deviation From the Initial Plan
The original design called for the use of 750 hp (560 kW) I.Ae. 19R El Indio engines. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the prototype had to be equipped with 450 hp (340 kW) I.Ae. 16 El Gaucho engines instead. This deviation from the initial plan posed significant engineering challenges, as it affected the aircraft’s performance and capabilities.
The IA 38 accommodated a two-person crew in an enclosed cockpit located above the leading edge of the wing. While the aircraft’s primary mission was cargo transport, it retained the versatility to accommodate a crew for navigation and control during flight.
The cargo compartment within the fuselage was the heart of the IA 38’s design, boasting a substantial capacity of 30 m3 (1,100 cu ft).
This impressive cargo hold was intended to carry a load of up to 6 long tons (6,100 kg; 13,000 lb), reflecting the ambitious objectives of the project. To facilitate the loading and unloading of cargo, the IA 38 featured a clamshell rear cargo door.
What made this cargo door truly exceptional was its capability to be opened during flight, allowing for air-dropping of cargo—an innovative feature that underscored the aircraft’s adaptability to different mission requirements.
Challenges and Triumphs
The development and construction of the DINFIA IA 38 were not without their share of challenges and triumphs. The project faced numerous obstacles, ranging from engine modifications to flight testing and validation.
One of the primary challenges encountered during the IA 38’s development was the need to adapt to the change in engine specifications. Originally designed to be powered by the more powerful I.Ae. 19R El Indio engines, the prototype had to be equipped with the less potent I.Ae. 16 El Gaucho engines due to their availability.
This change had a direct impact on the aircraft’s performance and capabilities, requiring significant adjustments in design and engineering. The team had to optimize the IA 38’s aerodynamics, control systems, and flight characteristics to accommodate the new engines successfully.
Flight testing played a crucial role in the IA 38’s development and validation. The aircraft underwent a rigorous testing phase to evaluate its performance, handling characteristics, and cargo-carrying capabilities.
Engineers and test pilots faced the task of fine-tuning the aircraft to ensure that it met the stringent requirements of its intended mission.
Despite the challenges, the IA 38 demonstrated its potential during flight testing. It showcased its ability to perform a wide range of maneuvers and fulfill its mission objectives.
Test pilot Drury W. Wood even executed daring maneuvers, such as intentionally flying the IA 38
Regrettably, the Remains of the Plane were Ultimately Scrapped
The development and construction of the IA 38 prototype faced significant delays, compounded by the political upheaval of the Revolución Libertadora in 1955, which ousted the government of Juan Perón. Following a restart in 1958, the prototype eventually conducted its inaugural flight on December 9, 1960.
However, the IA 38 encountered substantial challenges during its testing phase. It proved difficult to control, suffered from underpowered engines, and demonstrated poor performance. Overheating issues with the engines further exacerbated its problems.
Despite conducting three more test flights, the IA 38’s issues persisted, leading to the project’s cancellation in 1962.
Following the cancellation, the IA 38 found a new home on the grounds of the Aeronautical School, where it served as a static display. Tragically, a fire, suspected to have been an act of arson, consumed the aircraft’s exterior. Regrettably, the remains of the plane were ultimately scrapped, marking the end of the IA 38’s brief but intriguing journey in aviation history.