- Yes, as a tech tree vehicle
- Yes, as a premium vehicle
- Yes, as an event vehicle
- Yes, as a squadron vehicle
- No, I would not like to see the Impala Mk II in game.
- Add a “late” version with missiles only.
- Add an “early” version without missiles only.
- Add an “early” and “late” version, the early without missiles and the late with missiles.
- I don’t want this aircraft at all, and I voted no for the first question.
The South African Air Force has operated numerous different types and families of aircraft over their decades-long history, ranging from simple utility planes to the cutting edge of fighter aircraft. The Aermacchi MB.326 family is no exception, with South Africa being the largest (former) operator of the type. The Atlas Impala, based on the Aermacchi MB.326K, is exemplary of South Africa’s making the most of what was available to them, resulting in a quality light attack aircraft that served with distinction in the Bush War.
- Light attack aircraft with low speed
- Up to 3,000 lbs of suspended weaponry
- ECM suite including countermeasures, radar warning receiver, and missile approach warning system
- Powerful 30mm DEFA cannons mounted in the nose
- Maneuverable V3B air-to-air missiles
- No ballistic computer or guided air-to-ground weapons
The history of the Impala begins, of course, with the history of the MB.326. Other sources, including suggestions on this forum, have covered that in good detail, so I won’t linger on the details. The MB.326 was a light jet trainer aircraft produced by the Italian company Aermacchi in the 50’s as a private venture which soon saw success as the Italian Air Force was impressed with its characteristics. It was relatively inexpensive, but performed all the tasks required of a basic trainer.
The MB.326M, known as the Impala Mk I, was the most produced variant used by the SAAF. It was a two-seat trainer with limited weapons capability, but was also used as a communications aircraft.
In the mid-60’s, South Africa was beginning to acquire the supersonic Mirage III and needed training aircraft for pilots to comfortably make the switch. While there were trainer Mirage IIIs, these would be considered advanced trainers and were also rather expensive. Meanwhile, the Vampire trainers the South African Air Force had were too few in number. Consequently, the SAAF shopped around for a light, cheap training aircraft, and settled on the MB.326M, which was overall extremely similar to the MB.326G. In total, 151 Impala Mk Is were procured, with most of them being license built in South Africa. Their limited armament capability was soon exploited in attacks against insurgents, where it proved to be a robust platform. While the SAAF was impressed, their Impala Mk Is generally only operated with .50 caliber gunpods and rocket pods, and some more firepower was desired.
This Impala Mk II (MB.326K) is carrying a typical ground attack loadout, with four six-rocket F2 pods and two 227 liter drop tanks.
At the turn of the 70’s, a new variant of the MB.326, the K model, made its first flight. It was a single-seat light attack aircraft based on the MB.326G but with a stronger engine, reinforced airframe, integral 30mm cannons and many more improvements. The impetus for the creation of the MB.326K is unclear, but it seems to have been done at the behest of the SAAF, similar to the Mirage F1A (a story for another time). Regardless, this aircraft was exactly what South Africa wanted, and they enthusiastically acquired about 95 total Impala Mk IIs, with the majority again being license-built. The Impala Mk II would be able to deploy with bombs as well as the aforementioned cannons and rockets, which made it a heavy hitting aircraft for both counter-insurgency and light attack missions. Notably, it used the less powerful Viper 540 engine as opposed to the design spec Viper 632, resulting in less payload capability. However, it still had more power than the base MB.326.
This Impala Mk II is carrying another typical ground attack loadout, six Mk 81 low-drag 250 lb bombs.
When the Bush War broke out in the mid-70’s, the SAAF naturally began employing the Impala Mk II for ground attack and recon missions. Due to its ability to operate from rugged airfields, it was able to provide rapid relief to troops on the ground who needed it. There were wins and losses for the Impala over the course of the conflict. The worst of it came when the Angolan air defenses began to markedly improve due to Soviet support, with seven Impalas being lost within 12 months. At this time, the whole of the SAAF was struggling to navigate a new, hostile air environment. The temporary solution was to fly the Impalas at extremely low altitudes, which they did quite well. The experience gained in the conflict would lead to overhauls of most of South Africa’s air fleet as the Bush War drew to a close, but that’s a topic for a little later.
Gun camera footage from an Impala Mk II shows the destruction of an Angolan Mi-24 helicopter.
An unusual, but welcome victory came for the Impala in 1985. With Cuban and Soviet support pouring into communist Angola, the SAAF, who were supporting the rebel faction UNITA, wanted to help stave off a massive communist attack, dubbed “Second Congress”. This attack was planned with Soviet involvement and entailed a large amount of armored brigades attacking UNITA forces. With MPLA forces primarily being supplied via helicopter, UNITA hatched a plan, with the SAAF’s help, to attack and destroy the communist helicopters. After reviewing the mission, the SAAF decided to send Impala Mk IIs for a low-level intercept mission. While slow, the Impalas were maneuverable, good fliers at low level, and had powerful armament. Over the course of two days, SAAF Impalas managed to ambush and take down six helicopters: four Mi-24s and two Mi-17s. The operation was successfully kept under wraps by claiming U.S.-supplied Stinger MANPADS were responsible for downing the helicopters and ensuring no witnesses got away. Coupled with actual Stinger kills, the Impalas’ mission prompted the communists to abandon flying large helicopters over the battlefield. This led to a very swift collapse of “Second Congress” as the supply chain vanished.
This Impala Mk II, one of the few with the BRENDA upgrade, is carrying two V3B Kukri air-to-air missiles. All Impala Mk IIs received radar warning systems and countermeasures packs.
Like most of South Africa’s air fleet, Impalas received major ECM upgrades toward the end of the Bush War. A radar warning receiver system was installed with the antennae cleverly being positioned on the wingtip fuel tanks (as well as one underneath the nose) for directional and strength indication of radar threats. The CRWS, as it was known, was an upgrade applied to most Mirage F1s and a few Mirage IIIs as well. In addition, one countermeasure pack with flare/chaff capability was installed under each wing. This was known as RIMS. As part of RIMS, a rear-facing missile warning system was installed inside the tailpipe to provide automatic countermeasure dispensing for IR missiles while CRWS handled chaff for radar missiles. I’m not sure if putting your MAWS in the tailpipe adds up, but apparently it worked. (Fun fact: this was the predecessor to the Atlas Cheetah C’s MAWS, and a similar system was also installed on SAAF Mirage F1s.) Twelve of the nearly 100 Impala Mk IIs would receive an upgrade known as BRENDA, which allowed for the carriage of V3B Kukri infrared AAMs as well as V3C Darter training rounds. However, the Impala lacked the HMCS typically associated with the V3B, meaning that it would function as a traditional missile, somewhat comparable to the Matra R.550.
Two Impala Mk IIs flying as AT-26A aircraft in the Brazilian Air Force.
The Impala had a long service life, but all good things must come to an end. With the Mk Is reaching 40 years of service, and the Mk IIs not much less, it was decided to retire the Impala fleet in 2005. The aircraft ended up in various places; Brazil, an enthusiastic operator of the MB.326, acquired some Mk IIs as the AT-26A. Other planes were sold to neighboring countries. The Impala’s long life is a testament to its reliability and capability, and a few examples still fly today.
Atlas Impala Mk II
- Span: 10.85 m
- Length: 10.65 m
- Height: 3.72 m
- Wing area: 19.85 m2
- 3,123 kg empty
- 4,577 kg full fuel
- 5,897 kg MTOW
Propulsion: Rolls-Royce Viper Mk.540 (1,547 kgf thrust)
Thrust/weight ratio (full fuel, static thrust): 0.34
Maximum speed: 770 km/h
- 2 x DEFA 553 30mm cannon (150 rounds/gun, 300 rounds total)
- 2 x V3B Kukri air-to-air missile
- 6 x Mk 81 250 lb bomb
- 6 x Mk 82 500 lb bomb (4 x Mk 82 maximum with full fuel)
- Incendiary bombs:
- 2 x Mk-5 napalm bomb
- 6 x Matra F2 rocket pod (6 rockets each, 36 total)
- 2 x Matra 155 rocket pod (18 rockets each, 36 total)
- Gun pods:
- 2 x .50 caliber gun pod
- Drop tanks:
- 2 x 227 liter drop tank
- CRWS radar warning receiver
- RIMS flare/chaff packs
- RIMS missile approach warning system
Why it should be in War Thunder
With light attack planes becoming something of an aircraft class in their own right, I figured the Impala was worth suggesting due to its fun loadouts. However, it’s a bit of a hard sell. A slow aircraft such as this is difficult to place properly, especially when given air-to-air missiles, and unlike other “missile bus” planes, the Impala doesn’t really have the air-to-ground capability to justify being at a high enough BR for its air-to-air. There are two ways the aircraft can be added - either a non-BRENDA upgraded version can be added without missiles, in which case the countermeasures and RWR would just be a fun gimmick like the A-1H’s flares, or a missile-toting version can be added at a higher BR where the limited air-to-ground capabilities are markedly less potent. Either way, I think it would be a pretty neat addition at the end of the day and would expand South Africa’s air presence beyond the “cloud” of Mirages that could be expected to end up in the 10.X-11.X range.