KC-390 makes international debut

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Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer’s multi-mission jet powered tactical airlifter, the KC-390, made an international debut at the Farnborough International Air-show this week.

The company is hoping that the achievement of key certification milestones and an international tour on the journey to and from Brazil will stir potential customer interest. So far the sole order is for 28 units from the Brazilian Air Force, which requires extensive lift capabilities to cover the country’s almost continental land mass. Letters of intent to order the plane have been received from strategic partner nations. Argentina says it intends to order six, Chile also six units, Colombia, 12, the Czech Republic 12 and Portugal, six.

Delivery of the first KC-390 to the Brazilian Air Force is planned for the first half of 2018. Fiscal constraints could allow the country’s air force to give up later production slots to foreign buyers.

On its way back to Brazil next week the prototype, now in Farnborough, will stopover in an undisclosed North African country. A Embraer official said that the KC-390 would not be shown at African Aerospace and Defence, AAD 2016, at Waterkloof in mid-September, but “the South African market is very important.” When the KC-390 was under development ten years ago Denel was offered a partnership, but this was declined.

While SA is not actively considering a military air transport option, the KC-390 could at some later stage be under consideration, in part because of the political priority Pretoria has given to the BRICS initiative, which brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

En-route from Brazil to Farnborough, the plane was shown to the Portuguese Air Force. According to Flight International magazine, Portugal is expected to replace its Lockheed Martin C-130Hs, which are due for retirement in 2018 with the Brazilian made airlifter taking over.

With its use of jet engines, yet having the ability to land and take off on rough runways, might well place the Brazilian airlifter in a niche. The positioning of the jet engines well above ground level and the way in which the intake of air is designed to flow in and around the engines, mean there is little risk of gravel and similar foreign objects damaging blades, according to Embraer. The ability to use the aircraft as a tanker for fixed and rotary wing aircraft, transport certain helicopters and vehicles, and a rapidly reconfigurable cargo handling system could be among its further selling propositions.

The airlifter is powered by the V2500, designed by Swiss based company International Aero Engines.

Embraer officials say the full flight envelope has been tested and the plane has reached a cruise speed of Mach 0.8. Among the tests performed on the airlifter are aerial refuelling drogue extensions at high and low speeds, cargo airdrops, as well as paratrooper airdrops from two side doors and the rear ramp. Refuelling tests are due to take place later this year



The two KC-390 prototypes have 350 flight hours between them. While the KC-390 received considerable press attention in aviation industry media and a large number of visitors toured the plane, it was on a static rather than in an air display at Farnborough this week.