Embraer KC-390 makes debut at Paris

There was no mistaking of the shape or the colours of the Embraer KC-390, as it sat on the Paris Air Show ramp.  It was making its second visit to Europe inside a year, as part of a world tour.  Last time it visited Farnborough International Air Show in July 2016, as well as OGMA in Portugal and Aero Vodochody in Czech Republic (both build parts for the jet before heading to the Middle East. This time it was making its debut at Paris Air Show having spent four days visiting Satenas and Ronneby in Sweden.  After Paris it was heading to North Africa, MIddle East and Southeast Asia but no one from the company would confirm any of the nations, except New Zealand.  With replacements required for its ageing C-130 and P-3K2s fleets, Embraer is keen to show off the Embaer KC-390’s capabilities.

Jackson Schneider, CEO of Embraer Defense & Security.

Not too surprisingly, the Brazilian Air Force is the launch customer, with 28 aircraft on order and first deliveries are expected next year.  The first aircraft serial production aircraft (FAB001) is now in final assembly, while 002 is being built as a full scale test vehicle for fatigue structural tests and 003 is also now being built.

The two prototypes (PT-ZNF and PT-ZMJ) have flown over 1,000 hours to date in the same configuration.  Testing the aircraft for future capabilities like bundles and container delivery system (CDS) air drops and parachute tests, paratroop jumping from side doors as well as rear ramp and static line jumps. In February 2017, the aircraft had its first soft contact AAR trials, with Brazilian AF F-5Ms and preparations are now underway for the second phase, real air to air refuelling. The cross-wind campaign was carried out in Puntas Arenas in Chile and Rio Allegos in Argentina as well as water spray tests at the company’s flight facility. Embraer executives are happy with how much they have packed into 1,000 hours of flight test, and the aircraft is expected to reach initial operational clearance (IOC) later this year. Full operational clearance by the end of next year.

The space between the passengers on board the KC-390 was impressive.

Embraer is pitching the aircraft as both transport, search and rescue and maritime patrol, but so far no mission equipment has been selected for the latter.  Jackson Schneider, CEO of Embraer Defense & Security was quick to say that there have been no discussions with Saab on any possible integration of its Swordfish system.

The KC-390 cockpit is fitted with the Rockwell Collins Pro-Line Fusion avionics system. Love the split screens and how large the information is on display.

During a one-hour demonstration flight, I was surprised by what seemed an incredible acceleration for a transport aircraft, but we only lifted off at 130 knots.  It manoeuvred much easier than the C-130 Hercules I’d flown in while maintaining a speed of about 240 knots in the air.  I was also surprised by the space in the rear, no knocking of knees with the person opposite as I have encountered so often. The aircraft left Paris on June 23 to Dublin-Baldonnel, where presumably the Irish air Corps looked at it as a possible CN235 replacement before heading to Nouakchott in Mauritania for a night stop and onto Windhoek in Namibia on June 25.  It left for Lisbon on June 28.

It is clear the aircraft with its glass cockpit is a good one, which is not surprising given Embraer’s experience in developing new airliners.  It performs well and there appears to have been no major hitches in the aircraft’s test programme.  But one wonders if the world is ready to plump for a Brazilian military transporter when there are so many other established ones.  But if the price is right who knows.