Written by Celso P. Santos exclusively for SouthFront
Embraer showed on March 14th, in Twitter, the second prototype of the KC-390 – the largest aircraft ever developed in Brazil. The new Embraer aircraft will be able to fulfill various functions. The key one will be the logistical transport and aerial refueling of other aircraft such as fighters or even other KC-390, which will also be equipment with a special probe to receive fuel during the flight. Additionally, it may carry soldiers, military vehicles such as jeeps and tanks, launched paratroopers, forest fire fighting and search and rescue missions (SAR).
According to the FAB Connection program, the first KC-390 has accumulated about 150 “flight hours”, the “mileage” of aviation. The prototype flies, on average, twice a day and the next phase involves flights to other regions in Brazil and abroad. The model has a scheduled trip to the United States, which will be tested in cold environments and ice rinks.
“We are in the phase of flight testing, which aims to complete the development and the airplane certification. All aspects that have been developed in the engineering are now tested and confirmed,” said Paul Gaston, Director of Embraer in charge of the KC-390 project, the program of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB).
According to preliminary data from the manufacturer, the KC-390 can fly at a maximum speed of 870 km/h and has a range of up to 4,800 kilometers with maximum takeoff weight of 81 tons. The aircraft is 35.2 meters long and its wingspan is 35m. As a comparison, the Boeing 737-800 is 39.5m long, with a wingspan of 34.3m.
Commander Jordan, Embraer’s test pilot, said the KC-390 is a milestone for the Brazilian industry. “It is a strategic and multi-purpose aircraft. It will greatly increase the efficiency and responsiveness of the Air Force. It is an easy to fly aircraft by using fly by wire system. Its modern equipment will reduce the cost of maintenance.”
According to the commander, the KC-390 will make great impact on the operations of the Brazilian Air Force and there are, already, many interested countries.
“A country that does not have an aircraft in this category has no reaction capacity. In terms of defense and security, it is a vital weapon. It’s meaningless to have fighters, if you don’t have transport aviation, which gives support in flight.”
President Dilma Rousseff saw the aircraft on April 5th, in a ceremony at the Brasilia Air Base. The KC-390 is manufactured by the Brazilian company Embraer in partnership with Argentina, Portugal and the Czech Republic. There is a contract between the Brazilian government and the company for acquisition of 28 aircraft, with a total investment of $1.8 billion.
KC-390 versus C-130 Hercules: A Battle of Titans
According to experts, the Embraer´s freighter is the biggest news in the military transport since the 50s, when the American C-130 Hercules was launched. In aviation jargon, ‘KC’ is all aircraft capable of supplying other in flight (function represented by the letter K) and transport troops and military equipment (represented by the letter C).
The KC-390 is called an assault aircraft, with the ability to land on the battlefield, in ill-prepared tracks, putting troops and tanks near the conflict zone. Besides being a cargo transport plane, it can refuel fighter jets in flight. “It’s a window of opportunity detected by Embraer, to develop an aircraft with these more modern features. The KC-390 comes to occupy this niche market,” says Richard Lucht, Assistant Professor of the Aeronautics Technological Institute (ITA).
For some years now, the backbone of the major air forces in the world for mid-sized cargo transportation is the C-130 Hercules, Lucht said. “Since the 50s, the aircraft manufacturers try a replacement for the Hercules and the KC-390 can take this role,” says aviation expert Paulo Bittencourt, of the Multiplan Aviation Consultants. Compared to Hercules, the KC-390 can carry 80 soldiers (to 72 of the C-130), 82 stretchers (to 72) and the same amount of parachutists (64).
The cargo bay will be wider and higher, can take loads that are not possible to be transported by the C-130. The C-130 can only take 70% of NATO’s items. This has always been one of the great weaknesses of the aircraft and was repeated by the C-141 which had the load compartment at the same height and width, just longer. This limitation of dimensions has been pressing the requirements of various military items such as armored vehicles. Shielded as Patria AMV 8×8 and LAV-25 can only be transported in the C-130 if r some items, like the cannon tower, are removed. This can be time consuming. The KC-390 armored will exit the aircraft ready for combat.
Among the KC-390 features that stand out in comparison to the C-130 Hercules is the jet engine, which allows better performance takeoffs and landings – an important quality in a plane that needs to land in the middle of a forest or in a field battle, for example. “The whole solution is more modern,” says Lucht. Another advantage would be the largest load capacity of 23 tons, while the C-130 Hercules has approximately 20 tons.
Government Delays Payments
The KC-390 program suffered several delays due to budget constraints of the Brazilian government. Now, the program is being funded by the Embraer Defense & Security in an attempt to not miss available market windows. Even so, the development program was extended with 18 months. The KC-390 project involves the construction of only two prototypes and model certification by aviation agencies must take place in the second half of 2017. This document allows the aircraft to be delivered to its first buyers. The first customer of the aircraft will be the Brazilian Air Force, which has an order 28 KC-390 to replace your old C-130 Hercules.
The first KC-390 in the final version is scheduled to be delivered in 2018. Other countries that have “purchase intent” of the aircraft are Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Portugal, Czech Republic and Sweden. The Italian and Canadian governments have also shown interest in the project.
In Bittencourt’s opinion, it is important to sell to developing countries, because they buy in small quantities, but give visibility to the product. “I believe in selling to first world countries as well. France is very interested, and if they buy, NATO could buy. NATO creates standards, and countries buy into the standard,” said Bittencourt, referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In practice, the Embraer KC-390 is a military freighter designed to be positioned above the Airbus Military C-295 and the Alenia C-27 J. It will be a direct competitor of the Lookheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules and the new Antonov AN- 178. The price of each Embraer KC-390 is estimated at about $85 million.