To head off the sudden global military need for a modern medium-lift transport system estimated to come within the next decade or so, the Brazilian concern of Embraer began private development of a new twin-engined jet-powered transport in the same vein as the venerable and ubiquitous Lockheed C-130 "Hercules". The endeavor - designated as the "KC-390" - is expected become one of the most ambitious of the company's projects since operations began in 1969, especially with its intended overseas targets. As with the American C-130 before it, the KC-390 (since rebranded as 'C-390') is intended to be a multi-faceted performer and peak the interest of various possible suitors around the world - many who will be forced to move from the aged C-130 family - maintaining origins in a 1950's design initiative - to more modern medium-lift solution. Embraer marketing boasts a lower maintenance and operation cost of their newer C-390 over that of the C-130 systems currently in service.
The Embraer concern (once a state-run organization) was initially supported heavily by government contracts which help broaden its military procurement experience considerably. In the 1980s, the firm branched out to include a line of successful commercial airliners and these saw profitable sales overseas, helping to solidify the Embraer name on a global scale. Within time, many components were being produced locally which helped to keep dependence on foreign suppliers to a minimum and further strengthen the Embraer line. Embraer then became a private company through a 1994 sale which included ownership stakes to well-known firms such as EADS, Thales and Dassault Aviation. From that rebirth, the company has maintained a strong foothold in both local and foreign aviation markets to date.
The C-390 is a twin-engine, high-wing transport. Its configuration follows a conventional arrangement as found the Lockheed C-130 and the up-and-coming Airbus A400M "Grizzly" (among others) though its powerplant scheme of 2 x IAE V2500-E5 turbofan jet engines make it a more powerful hauling platform. Each engine is rated at up to 29,000lb of thrust which provides a maximum speed of 850kmh with a service ceiling of 36,000 feet. Range reaches out to 3,250 nautical miles - roughly the southern tip of Argentina to the southern edge of Canada (ferry range). Its transport functionality dictates two design qualities - high-mounted engines to clear ground activity and a rear-mounted cargo bay with raised empennage giving unfettered access to the cargo hold. The cargo compartment measures 17.75 meters long with a 3.45 meter width and 2.9 meter height, allowing it to move 84 medical litters (complete with staff), 84 passengers (with special seating installed), 64 paratroopers (with full mission gear in tow) and military vehicles such as HMMWV ("Humvees"). At least 2 such vehicles fit in the provided hold. The internal arrangement is designed from the outset to be modular so as to carry tons of cargo pallets in place of human occupants. The minimum operating crew for the aircraft is two pilots and a flight engineer.
The cockpit is set well-ahead in the fuselage with good views over the nose and to each engine nacelle (the nose assembly purposefully designed as short and sloped downwards). Wings are noticeably swept back while the tail unit comprises a conventional "T" arrangement with high-mounted horizontal planes. The cockpit sports a dual-HUD configuration with dual-control systems for both pilots. A real-time digital mission system is integrated into the C-390's function as is a GPS navigation fit. Flight controls are assisted by a digital Fly-by-Wire (FbW) system.
In April of 2009, Embraer was given $1.5 billion dollars to construct two working prototypes to which the first is scheduled for completeness in 2014. The Brazilian Air Force is, naturally, the launch customer of this aircraft with an initial order of 28 aircraft announced in July of 2010. In June of 2012, it was further announced that Boeing had teamed with Embraer to assist in further development of the platform which signifies a possible partnership in the selling of the C-390 at the global level. At any rate, the partnership certainly broadens the marketing appeal of the aircraft to a high degree and will speed up overall development through Boeing expertise. In turn, Boeing will strengthen its reach in the growing Brazilian/South American market (having opened a local office in Sao Paulo in 2011) and has an obvious desire to sell its F/A-18E/F 'Super Hornets' to the Brazilian Air Force to fulfill its "F-2X" fighter competition requirement calling for a modern fighter. Beyond the obvious American involvement, the C-390 incorporates components through a plethora of outside vendors originating from Argentina, Czech Republic, France, and Israel. Other key American contributors listed include L-3 Communications and Rockwell Collins.
For interested military parties, the C-390 is intended to serve as a primary medium-class hauler though it will also be available in an in-flight refueling tanker variant configuration. Additionally, the C-390 design incorporates features that allow itself to be refueled in mid-air, making its operational endurance rather impressive. The C-390 is intended to go beyond use as a military transport as plans have been laid for a civilian-minded cargo-hauler. This hauler will be a "stretched" fuselage version of the military form with a side-mounted loading door.
To date, possible names mentioned in the procurement of the new aircraft have included Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France, Portugal and Sweden. France has made it clear that it will purchase the C-390 in number if their Dassault 'Rafale' multirole fighter is selected for the aforementioned F-2X fighter competition. The U.S. government, however, has already cleared technical assistance for Brazil which undoubtedly gives Boeing an edge. As such, politics certainly plays a role in such matters. If the C-390 program comes to fruition, it will certainly threaten the C-130's hold on the global stage. However, it will face stiff competition from upcoming designs such as the Airbus A400M "Atlas", which - despite its setbacks - has finally entered limited delivery to its various local and global customers.