Earlier this month, a new shape took to the skies, in the form of Embraer’s KC-390 tanker-transport. The aircraft made its maiden flight from the company’s Gavião Peixoto facility in Brazil on 3 February, in the hands of test pilots Mozart Louzada and Marcos Salgado de Oliveira Lima.
Embraer Defense and Security (Stand C2-022) had originally hoped to begin test-flights before the end of last year, but final avionics integration testing took longer than expected following the aircraft’s rollout at Gavião Peixoto on 21 October. The maiden flight marks the start of an intensive two-year flight-test and certification programme, which is expected to lead to initial deliveries to the Brazilian air force in late 2016 or early 2017.
The twin-engined, T-tailed tactical transport is the largest aircraft ever built in South America, and was developed as a C-130/KC-130 replacement for the Brazilian air force for use in the transport, air-to-air refuelling, and search and rescue roles.
The aircraft combines short-field and semi-prepared runway capabilities with a cruising speed of 465kts (Mach 0.8) at an operational ceiling of 36,000ft, and a range of 1,200nm (2,222km) with a maximum payload of 26 tonnes (57,320 lb), making it faster and higher-flying than the Hercules, as well as offering a greater payload and a lower price.
Over the next 10 years, Embraer believes that its new fly-by-wire transport could take up to 15-20 per cent of the C-130 replacement market, which has been calculated as being for more than 700 aircraft.
The company is focusing on frontier markets in Latin America, Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, and has signed an agreement with Boeing, who will assist with sales, support and training in the North American and European markets. Embraer has already taken firm orders for 28 aircraft from Brazil (the two development prototypes will be converted to production standard and delivered as the 29th and 30th FAB aircraft), while five nations have signed letters of intent to purchase up to 32 additional KC-390s.
These customers are Argentina (six), Colombia (12), Chile (six), Portugal (six) and the Czech Republic (two), which will keep the line busy for about four years. Companies from these nations are industrial partners in the KC-390 programme. At the aircraft’s rollout ceremony, 32 countries were represented, including Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which may be potential customers for the aircraft.
Embraer has studied a number of possible civilian versions of the aircraft, including a stretched version for the Brazilian postal service.