IDEX 2017

Brazilian airlifter on schedule [IDEX17D3]

21 February 2017

Embraer’s KC-390 advanced jet air-lifter is on schedule to achieve first delivery in the first half of next year.

The wing assembly for the first of 28 on order for the Brazilian air force is in progress at the Gavião Peixoto plant and the fuselage is also under construction. Building of the second serial aircraft has also begun, and it is scheduled to be delivered before the end of the year. Embraer (Stand 07-B45) expects to ramp up production after the delivery of the two aircraft, planned for 2018.

Having visited Abu Dhabi and Egypt as part of its Europe/ Middle East sales tour in July last year, the KC-390 has generated significant interest in the region. As well as conducting demonstrations for a number of regional air forces, the KC-390 tested its ability to operate in sandy conditions in temperatures above 45°C. A follow-up visit for further demonstrations and hot-weather testing is planned for this summer after the aircraft’s participation at the Paris Air Show.

Following the Middle East leg of the tour, the KC-390 will continue to southeast Asia, where a number of countries have shown interest in the type. This year Embraer hopes to firm up interest from a number of nations, including that from the KC-390 industrial partner nations: Argentina, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

While Embraer has begun serial production, the company continues to clear the aircraft with an aim of achieving an initial operating capability at the end of 2017. The two flight-test prototypes are flying on a daily basis and demonstrating impressive availability rates. The aircraft are approaching a combined total of 900 flying hours.

As well as ongoing aircraft and system evaluation tests, the aircraft are flying trials to validate the KC-390’s suitability for air force mission requirements. The aircraft has tested para-dropping troops, cargo bundles and containers, including drops from the side doors and rear ramp. The delivery of large loads is facilitated by the aircraft’s fly-by-wire system, which automatically compensates for the rapid change in centre of gravity when large container loads are dropped. Inflight refuelling is a key mission for the KC-390, and its wing pods have been tested for hose/drogue stability across a range of speeds, from the 120 knots at which helicopters can be refuelled, to Mach 0.78.

On Sunday, the team achieved a significant milestone when the first dry contact was made with a receiver, in this case a Northrop F-5 fighter of the Brazilian air force, which tested both port and starboard pods during the trial. Throughout the trials process, test results have closely matched the predictions based on wind tunnel and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis.

Next for the KC-390 test fleet are continuing fuel, pressurisation and avionics tests, along with artificial icing assessment and crosswind operations; the latter are to be conducted at Punta Arenas in Chile.

For the initial stage of icing/cold weather trials, the aircraft will be placed in the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin AFB in Florida.

Testing will then continue with capabilities such as rough-field and wet runway operations being assessed. Full operating clearance is planned for the end of 2018.

In the meantime, Embraer is due to start construction of a training centre this spring, with simulators and other advanced systems provided by training partner Rheinmetall.

(548 words)