KC-390 rollout triggers global competition
With the launch of the multinational programme, Embraer has signalled to the world that it is a formidable force in the air transport segment
Brazil’s aerospace and defence behemoth Embraer Defense & Security recently rolled out the first prototype of the KC-390 programme, thus heating up global competition in the 20-tonne transport category. With the launch of the multinational programme, Embraer has signalled to the world that it is a formidable competitor in the air transport segment.
Embraer KC-390 is a tactical transport aircraft designed to set new standards in its category, while presenting the lowest life-cycle cost of the market. It can perform a variety of missions, such as cargo and troop transport, troop and cargo air delivery, aerial refuelling, search and rescue and forest firefighting. It is the heaviest aircraft the company is making.
Brazilian Air Force backing
It is a project of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB). In 2009, FAB hired Embraer to perform the aircraft development. Under the programme, industrial partnerships were also established with Argentina, Portugal and the Czech Republic. Currently, the programme is in the testing phase prior to the first flight, scheduled to take place
in late 2014. After the first flight, Embraer will begin the development and certification flight test campaign. The first delivery of the KC-390 is scheduled for the second half of 2016. In May 2014, Embraer opened the hangar where the final assembly of the KC-390 military transport jet was installed, in Gavião Peixoto. On the occasion, Embraer and the Brazilian Air Force signed the contract for serial production of the KC-390, which provides for the acquisition of 28 aircraft, marking the beginning of a new phase of the project. Besides the order by the Brazilian Air Force, there are currently intentions to purchase 32 aircraft by Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Portugal and the Czech Republic.
Equipped with two V2500 turbofan engines produced by International Aero Engines, next-generation avionics, rear ramp and an advanced cargo handling and aerial delivery system, the KC-390 will have an excellent operational productivity.
The aircraft will be produced at the plant in Gavião Peixoto, São Paulo state, in facilities of over 30,000 square metres of hangars to house parts, components and assembly lines of the KC-390. The development of the KC-390 project takes place in Eugênio de Melo, a district of São José dos Campos, and about 1,500 Embraer employees are directly involved in the programme, which also means the creation of approximately 7,500 indirect jobs. When series production has stabilised, the KC-390 programme will generate another 1,100 direct jobs and 5,500 indirect jobs. More than 50 Brazilian companies are participating in the development and production of the KC-390.
The KC-390 is capable of carrying up to 26 tonnes of cargo at a maximum speed of 470 knots (870 kmph), with ability to operate in austere environments, including unpaved or damaged runways. The fuselage can accommodate large loads, with access through a rear ramp. The modern cargo handling system allows to quickly reconfigure the aircraft using retractable rollers for moving cargo on pallets or flat floor for transporting troops or vehicles. Different types of loads can be transported, such as pallets, vehicles, helicopters, troops (up to 80 equipped troops), paratroops (up to 66 equipped paratroops, which can jump using the lateral doors or the rear ramp), stretchers for medical evacuation (up 74 standard NATO stretchers) or mixed configurations.
The aircraft can further be used as a tanker using two removable inner tanks, and has great flexibility to refuel both helicopters at low altitudes and speeds as high performance fighter aircraft at high altitudes and speeds. Piloting the aircraft is facilitated by a modern integrated avionics system and a fly-by-wire control system, which reduces the workload of pilots and increases mission efficiency.
Replacement market of C-130
Embraer has estimated that the replacement market of the C-130 to be around 700 and that it was well placed with the KC-390 to take on the likes of the C-130J of Lockheed Martin, A400M of Airbus, An-12 of Russia and the MRTA project of Irkut and HAL.
“This significant milestone of the KC-390 programme demonstrates Embraer’s ability to manage such a complex and high-technology project and to perform it on track,” said Jackson Schneider, President and CEO, Embraer Defense & Security. “It paves the way for the beginning of the ground tests to prepare for the first flight.”
“The KC-390 will be the backbone of the FAB’s air transportation network. It will be able to operate in both the Amazon and Antarctica. The jet engines give the aircraft enormous agility in fulfilling all of its missions, faster and better,” stated Aeronautics Commander, Lieutenant-Brigadier General Juniti Saito.
Replacement of about 700 units
It was in 2006 that Embraer started looking at military tactical transport design of size similar to the C-130 Hercules and the following year it announced a medium-size airlifter with the designation C-390. The aircraft is said to incorporate many of the technological solutions from the Embraer E-Jets series. It features a rear ramp for loading and unloading a wide range of cargo. The unit price is estimated to be around $50 million, while the competition sells similar models up to $62 million.
The Vice President of Embraer, Luís Carlos Aguilar, said that according to their estimates, some 695 military transport aircraft in the world will need to be replaced during the next decade, and that there is potential market for this kind of plane. Potential powerplant options have been studied in the 75.6 to 98 kN (17,000–22,000 lb) thrust range, including engines such as Pratt & Whitney’s PW6000 and Rolls-Royce’s BR715.
Partnerships and manufacturing
The multinational programme has announced partnerships with Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Portugal, besides Boeing sharing technical knowledge and market information. Several multinational companies are part of the programme and they include Czech company Aero Vodochody which was selected to build the rear fuselage section, etc; Argenitina’s Fabrica Argentina de Aviones the spoilers, nose landing gear doors, ramp floors, etc; DRS Defense Solutions the tanker/transport’s cargo handling and aerial delivery system; Rockwell Collins the Pro Line Fusion Avionics Systems; Esterline Corporation supplying the autothrottle system; Messier Bugatti Dowty (Safran Group) the wheels, carbon brakes, etc; Liebherr Aerospace the environmental and cabin pressure control system; BAE Systems the hardware, embedded software, system design and integration support of the flight control electronics; Goodrich Corporation the contract to design and produce a fully integrated fly-by-wire primary flight control system, etc; Selex Galileo’s Gabbiano Tactical radar; Elbit System’s subsidiary AEL to develop the self-protection suite, etc; Hispano Suiza (Safran Group) to supply electrical power distribution systems; LMI Aerospace to build the complete wing slat system; Eaton Corporation to supply airframe fuel system components; Cobham plc to supply refuelling receiver probes; Hamilton Sundstrand to supply electric power generating system and the auxiliary power unit; Thales Group to provide inertial navigation system; Sagem (Safran Group) the actuator system; L-3 Avionics systems to supply GH-3900 electronic standby instrument system; Honeywell Aerospace to provide eNfusion AMT-3800 inmarsat high gain antenna system; Northrop Grumman to supply hybrid global positioning system, etc; and IAE V2500-E5 turbofan engine for the KC-390.