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Embraer KC-390

Medium-Lift Twin-Engine Tactical Military Transport Aircraft

The Embraer KC-390 transport intends to challenge the medium-lift market dominated by the aging Lockheed C-130 Hercules series since the 1960s.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 8/29/2019
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Year: 2019
Status: In-Development
Manufacturer(s): Embraer Defense and Security - Brazil / Boeing Company - USA
Production: 10
Capabilities: Aerial Refueling; Transport;
Crew: 3
Length: 111.25 ft (33.91 m)
Width: 115.03 ft (35.06 m)
Height: 33.66 ft (10.26 m)
Weight (MTOW): 178,574 lb (81,000 kg)
Power: 2 x International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500-E5 turbofan engines developing 29,000 lb of thrust each.
Speed: 528 mph (850 kph; 459 kts)
Ceiling: 36,089 feet (11,000 m; 6.84 miles)
Range: 2,983 miles (4,800 km; 2,592 nm)
Operators: Australia (possible); Argentina (possible); Brazil (ordered); Chile (possible); Colombia (possible); Czech Republic (possible); Portugal
To head off the sudden global military need for a modern medium-lift transport system estimated to come within the next ten years, the Brazilian concern of Embraer began private development of a new twin-engined 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 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 KC-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.

As the KC-390 design stands today (2014), it will be a twin-engine, high-wing transport. Its configuration will follow a conventional arrangement as found the Lockheed C-130 and the up-and-coming Airbus A400M "Grizzly" (among others) though its intended powerplant of 2 x IAE V2500-E5 turbofan jet engines will make it a more powerful hauling platform. Each engine is rated at up to 29,000lbs of thrust which will provide a maximum speed of 850kmh with a service ceiling of 36,000 feet. Range is set to reach 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 will measure at 17.75 meters long with a 3.45 meter width and 2.9 meter height, allowing it to move an expected 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 would fit in provided hold. The internal arrangement will be modular so as to carry tons of cargo pallets in place of human occupants. Minimum crew for the aircraft is expected to be two pilots and at least one flight engineer. The cockpit will be 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 will be noticeably swept back while the tail unit will comprise a conventional "T" arrangement with high-mounted horizontal planes. The cockpit will sport a dual-HUD configuration with dual-control systems for both pilots. A real-time digital mission system will be integrated into the KC-390's function as will GPS navigation. Flight controls will be assisted by a digital fly-by-wire 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 will most likely become the first customer of note with its 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 aircraft which signifies a possible partnership in the selling of the KC-390. 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-18 Hornets to the Brazilian Air Force to fulfill its "F-2X" fighter competition requirements for a modern fighter. Beyond the obvious American involvement, the KC-390 will incorporate components through a plethora of outside vendors originating from Argentina, Czech Republic, France and Israel. Other key American contributors listed include L-3 and Rockwell Collins.

For interested military parties, the KC-390 will serve as a primary medium-size hauler though it will also be available in an in-flight refueling tanker variant. Additionally, the KC-390 design will incorporate features that will allow itself to be refueled in mid-air, making its operational endurance impressive. The KC-390 is intended to go beyond use as a military transport as plans have been laid for a civilian-minded cargo hauler. The 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 fighter is selected for the aforementioned F-2X fighter competition. The US 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 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 "Grizzly", which - despite its setbacks - has finally entered limited delivery to its various local and global customers.

Program Updates

In 2012, there were a total of 120 KC-390s are on order for the Brazilian military while 36 of these will be involved in an initial production batch.

February 2015 - On February 3rd, 2015, a KC-390 aircraft completed its first flight. Series introduction is scheduled for sometime in 2016 (as of February 2015). The Brazilian Air Force has 28 total KC-390 units on order as well as two prototypes. A further 60 aircraft have been added through orders from Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Czech Republic, and Portugal.

July 2015 - It was announced that deliveries of the KC-390 to the Brazilian Air Force wold be delayed from 2016 to 2018 citing limited defense funding. Certification is now expected for sometime in 2017.

In March of 2016 it was announced that Embraer was readying the second KC-390 vehicle for its testing phase. Military mission tests regarding this unit will follow.

November 2016 - Brazilian military authorities have given Embraer type certification for its KC-390 transport aircraft. IOC (Initial Operational Capability) is scheduled for late 2017. Deliveries are set for 2018.

March 2017 - The KC-390 completed a dry run with its refueling drogues in place and extended. A Northrop F-5 of the Brazilian Air Force served in the test and accepted the drogue.

October 2017 - One of the KC-390 prototypes went on to experience a sudden loss of altitude during a scheduled stall test. This led to a grounding of prototype PT-ZNF (Aircraft 001).

November 2017 - The KC-390 has been flown to the United States to begin its flight testing phase. This will take place in the skies above Jacksonville, Florida. Deliveries to the Brazilian Air Force are still on pace for 2018.

January 2018 - Portugal-based SkyTech has signed a Letter-of-Intent for six KC-390 aircraft.

March 2018 - The KC-390 is continuing its testing phase. A set back in October 2017 grounded one of the two prototypes in existence. This example has since returned to the test program.

March 2018 - The KC-390 series remains on schedule for service entry to occur during mid-2018.

July 2018 - Embraer has moved closer to securing a KC-390 deal with Portugal. Portugal stands as the first export customer of the promising KC-390 product of Brazil. Five airframes are in focus with an option for a sixth specimen. Deliveries would begin in 2021.

July 2018 - On July 31st, Embraer announced that first-deliveries of its KC-390 tanker to the Brazilian Air Force would be delayed by up to six months. First production-quality models would not become available until early 2019.

October 2018 - The first production-quality KC-390 aircraft achieved its first-flight on October 9th, 2018 over Gaviao Peixoto, Brazil. This example will eventually be delivered to the Brazilian Air Force.

October 2018 - A third KC-390 example has completed its first-flight. This example marks a series-production model.

October 2018 - The KC-390 has received local Brazilian civilian airspace type certification.

February 2019 - Boeing and Embraer have expanded their sales support base for the KC-390 project, now in no fewer than five nations globally.

April 2019 - Production efforts for the KC-390 have begun to gain steam as the product heads towards military certification.

June 2019 - Initial deliveries of KC-390 units to the Brazilian Air Force will come sometime in 2019, a delay from the original 2018 goal.

July 2019 - Portugal has formally signed a contract to purchase five examples of the Brazilian KC-390 transport aircraft. First deliveries are slated for February 2023 and will continue into February of 2027, bringing about a highly-capable, modern element to the Portuguese air service. By this action, Portugal becomes the KC-390's first official export customer.

August 2019 - Elbit of Israel has been tapped to supply the KC-390 program with its integrated Electronic Warfare (EW) suite.


None. Hold reserved for cargo - 64 paratroopers, 84 passengers or medical litters, cargo pallets or 2-3 HMMWV-type vehicles.

Variants / Models

• KC-390 - Base Series Designation
• PT-ZNF (Aircraft 001) - Initial flyable prototype
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