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Exclusive Interview: Embraer KC-390 Poised To Revolutionize Military Air Transport

Photo by Embraer

Development and flight tests of a next generation medium transport jet for the world’s military is nearing completion as Brazilian aerospace company Embraer’s new KC-390 prepares to enter the world market.

Brazil’s Embraer Defense and Security unveiled it’s first KC-390 prototype in 2015 as the company prepares to compete with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics KC-130. Following a two year delay with test flight certification by two prototypes, the KC-390 made it’s public debut recently as it went on static display at the 2017 Paris Airshow.

The aerospace company this summer promoted their KC-390 during a ten country tour. The green and gray camouflage test aircraft also visited Auckland, New Zealand in July to demonstrate its capabilities for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The RNZAF is expected to replace their aging C-130’s with five new KC-390’s. Meanwhile, Portugal has already authorized the purchase of up to six of the new transport aircraft.

Priced at about $87 million (USD) a copy, Embraer’s twin-engine jet is going after the hulking, four-prop KC-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin. The world’s third largest jet manufacturer is currently scheduled to deliver 28 KC-390’s to the Brazilian Air Force around March 2018 for cargo and personnel deliveries, and for air-to-air refueling operations.’s Charles A Atkeison sat down with Valtécio Alencar, lead communications spokesperson with Embraer Defense and Security, for an exclusive discussion on their new medium transport jet.

Photo by Embraer

Do you see the KC-390 as a game changer in the medium lift aircraft industry?

Yes. Some of the strong aspects of the KC-390 are increased mobility, rugged design, higher flexibility, state-of-the-art proven technology and easier maintenance. Another important characteristic is that the same aircraft platform can perform a variety of missions, such as cargo and troop transport, cargo and paratroopers airdrop, aerial refueling.

In this sense, the aircraft is a true force multiplier for any nation. It is also important to emphasize that this category of aircraft can be used to perform several humanitarian missions such as search and rescue, medical evacuation, humanitarian aid and aerial firefighting.

Discuss the role of the KC-390 for the Brazilian Air Force and the global market?

The KC-390 is a project of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) that, in 2009, hired Embraer to perform the aircraft development, certification and production of two flying prototypes according to its stringent requirements. A production contract for 28 KC-390 aircraft was then signed in 2014, the first of which is to be delivered by mid-2018.

The KC-390 is a tactical transport aircraft designed to set new standards in its category while presenting the lowest life-cycle cost of the market. It can perform a variety of missions such as cargo and troop transport, troop and cargo air delivery, aerial refueling, search and rescue and forest fire fighting. Under this program, industrial partnerships were also established with Argentina, Portugal and Czech Republic. Embraer expects to reach the initial operational capability declaration (IOC) in the second half of 2017 and the certification of the final operational capability (FOC) one year later.

Please expand on the handling characteristics of the aircraft.

The KC-390 is capable of carrying up to 26 metric tons of cargo at a maximum speed of 470 knots (870 km/h), with the ability to operate in austere environments, including unpaved or damaged runways.

 … and the cost per aircraft?

The price of a KC-390 is very competitive in its class.

The demand is there …?

Clearly, there is a persistent global demand for medium lift aircraft, including countries seeking to replace older C-160, C-130, An-12, among others. There are several hundred aircraft worldwide that will reach the replacement age in the near future.

You mentioned Portugal earlier …

Portugal has recently announced its intention to buy the KC-390. The Portuguese Council of Ministers authorized the Ministry of National Defense to open negotiations with Embraer for the acquisition of five KC-390, plus a sixth optional aircraft, as well as logistic support and a Level-D full-flight simulator.

Thank-you, Valtécio Alencar, for your time.

The KC-390 has the lifting capability to carry 26 metric tonnes and can carry it a distance of 1,500 nautical miles, and a range of 2,700 n.m. with a load of 14 metric tonnes. Compare these numbers with that of Lockheed Martin’s KC-130, and KC-390 numbers look very competitive.

Photo by Embraer

The newest C-130 model J is also a multi-role aircraft sold at about $70 million USD a copy. And, according to Lockheed, it has a maximum cargo weight capability of nearly 22 metric tonnes, or 47,900 pounds, across a max range of 4,275 n.m. The C-130T’s numbers are slightly lower with a max cargo weight of about 44,000 pounds and just over 2,000 n.m. range.

In contrast, Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III is a far different cargo and personnel transport altogether. The heavy-lift military transport aircraft is cable of ferrying 75 metric tonnes across an area of over 4,000 n.m. It’s Four Pratt & Whitney PW2040 jet engines provide a combined thrust of 180,000 pounds. A favorite of the U.S. Air Force, the C-17 has a trusted rich history and can accommodate seating 100 servicemen on a long voyage.

As the third decade of the 21st century dawns, Embraer’s KC-390 is poised to begin making its first service flight’s for Brazil’s Air Force. And, with it the beginning of a new legacy of military transport aircraft.

(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)

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Charles Atkeison

Written by Charles Atkeison

Charles A Atkeison is a long time aerospace journalist having covered both military and civilian aviation, plus 30 space shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral. He has produced multimedia aerospace content for CNN, London's Sky News, radio, print, and the web for twenty years. From flying with his father at age 5 to soaring as a VIP recently with the Navy's Blue Angels and USAF Thunderbirds, Charles continues to enjoy all aspects of flight.

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