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Embraer’s KC-390 in Debut Public Demo Flight

Embraer’s KC-390 tactical tanker/transport aircraft, which is making its public flight demonstration debut here at the 2017 Paris Air Show, is on track for entry into service in the first semester of 2018. The Brazilian OEM “will announce the first international sales this year,” Jackson Schneider, president and CEO, Embraer Defense and Security, said on the eve of the show. Schneider also said deliveries of Phenom 100s that UK‘s Ministry of Defense ordered for multi-engine fixed-wing flight training will begin this month.

Meanwhile, regarding its EMB 314 (A-29) Super Tucano, the company expects forthcoming sales, forestalling any decisions about consolidating production lines. It’s clear though that for Embraer (Chalet 314, Static C2) the big defense story is the KC-390. The Brazilian Air Force (FAB), as launch operator, commissioned the KC-390 in 2009, seeking an aircraft capable of operating on “non-paved lanes in the Amazon Forest, and a broader range of mission capabilities in a single platform, with rugged design and outstanding cargo capacity,” Schneider recounted.

FAB signed a production contract with Embraer for 28 of the aircraft in 2014, but the program has advanced fitfully in sync with the fortunes of the Brazilian economy. Five LOIs (from identified program partners Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic and Portugal) for 32 aircraft are in hand, Schneider said, and Embraer is “working to transform them” into firm orders and has other sales in the works. We were invited to participate in some international bids, and these will be decided at the end of 2019, or the beginning of 2020, but we are very secure that in the next years we will have good announcements,” Schneider said, declining to name serious prospects “for obvious reasons.” The confidence comes in part because “we have many countries sending pilots, sending teams to our plant in Brazil to follow the certification tests and to fly the plane, and we see the interest there,” he continued. “It’s the answer to global demand for vital airlift capabilities.”

Milestones The prototype first flew in February 2015 but flight tests were interrupted by government budget cutbacks, resuming in the fall of that year after a two-year delay in deliveries was announced. Today the program “is progressing extremely well, matching aircraft performance and capability goals predicted through the use of the latest engineering tools,” the company said in a statement.

This February Embraer and FAB successfully completed the first dry contact refueling (without fuel transfer) between the KC-390 and F-5M fighters at from Santa Cruz Air Force Base (SBSC) in Rio de Janeiro. In addition to high- and low-speed tests with the refueling system, other milestones achieved include: initial cargo airdrop and paratroops assessment in a joint effort with the Brazilian Air Force and the Brazilian Army, using lateral doors and cargo ramp; test of the fly-by-wire in final mode, with sidesticks linked and active; crosswind operations campaign, performed at Punta Arenas (SCCI) in Chile and Rio Gallegos (SAWG) in Argentina, noted for their strong winds; and certification flights with Brazilian military airworthiness authorities. A video of the vehicle loading certification test that Schneider presented illustrated the close design integration of the cargo hold and the vehicles and loads it will carry.

The full flight envelope up to cruise speed of Mach 0.80 (max cruise speed is published as 470kt, or Mach 0.70) and operational ceiling of 36,000 feet has been covered, and the two prototypes (001 and 002) are flying daily. More than 1,000 flight hours had been logged as of the end of May. The fuselage and wing assemblies for FAB 001 are in progress, and production of FAB 002 and FAB 003 has started, Schneider said.

Initial Operational Capability (IOC) certification is expected in the second half of this year. Deliveries are scheduled to commence in the first half of 2018, but Embraer expects to receive the certification of the final operational capability (FOC) afterward, in the second half of 2018. Certification will be to FAA as well as military standards, via Brazil’s airworthiness authority ANAC.

Powered by International Aero Engines V2500 turbofans, and incorporating an advanced rear ramp and cargo handling system, the transport can quickly load and carry up to 26 metric tons of cargo including pallets, helicopters, armored wheeled vehicles and troops (80 soldiers or 66 paratroopers) at 870 kmh/470 kt, operating in and out of unpaved fields or damaged runways in harsh environments. Its tanker role (with two removable internal fuel tanks) and ability to be refueled in flight add to the KC-390’s versatile capabilities. On the flight deck, a fly-by-wire control system lowers crew workload and increases safety, while an advanced self-defense system increases survival capability in hostile environments.

First shown in public on static display at last year’s Farnborough International Air Show, the KC-390 has been demonstrated privately at the invitation of several governments, but the public is getting its first chance to see the aircraft perform here at Le Bourget. The routine will demonstrate “the normal envelope of flight,” Schneider said. “We are defining [the sequence of maneuvers], this is the normal flying that needs to happen in these shows. We’ll show how it performs in terms of high speed, low speed, landing and takeoff.”

Attendees who tour the KC-390 on the ground will note the long ramp, which makes it easier to get vehicles and heavy loads on and off, and the large number of tie-down rings on the floor, which require no tools for reconfiguring or pallet handling. The cabin can be quickly reconfigured for its various roles in transport, medevac, tanking, search and rescue, or fire suppression. After Farnborough last year, the KC-390 visited the Czech Republic, Malta, Egypt and the UAE, and this year a more extensive post-show tour through Europe and Asia is planned.

Meanwhile, Embraer’s defense division has a contract to deliver five Phenom 100 light jets from the company’s Executive Jets division to the UK‘s Ministry of Defence for primary multiengine turbine training. The cabins and cockpits are outfitted very much like the executive interior of any Phenom 100. First delivery is scheduled for this month, with all five delivered by early 2018.

The Defense division also offers three ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) platforms derived from the ERJ145 regional jet: Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C), Multi Intel (Remote Sensing and Surveillance) system, and Maritime Patrol (MP). Seventeen units of the EMB 145 ISR family have been delivered to four air forces, worldwide. The Brazilian Air Force (FAB) operates eight of them in the Amazon Surveillance System (SIVAM)–five EMB145 AEW&Cs and three Multi Intel EMB145s; Mexico’s National Defense Department (Secretar?a de la Defensa Nacional) operates one EMB145 AEW&C and two EMB145MPs; the Greek Air Force operates four EMB145 AEW&Cs in conjunction with NATO; and the Indian Air Force operates three EMB145 AEW&C with unique capabilities, including an in-flight refueling system, a significantly greater electrical and refrigeration capacity, and a set of structural changes that allow the installation of advanced mission systems.

Looking ahead to USAF competitions to replace AWACS and other aircraft, Schneider said, “We are following all the deals, all the possibilities, and we are totally open to participate with the right partners on programs that will come,” whether involving derivatives of Embraer’s executive or commercial platforms. SIDEBAR: A-29 Super Tucano Order Update

Providing an update on the USAF order for 26 A-29 Super Tucano single-engine turboprops for its Light Air Support (LAS) program, Schneider said 20 have been delivered, a dozen of which are being operated in Afghanistan by the Afghan Air Force, which will ultimately receive 20 or the turboprops. The six remaining are bound for Lebanon. The aircraft are being assembled in Jacksonville, Florida with program partner Sierra Nevada Corp.

Super Tucanos on order from Mali, Mauritania and an unnamed country (numbers undisclosed) are being built in Brazil. Production could be consolidated in Jacksonville, Schneider said, but the company anticipates forthcoming orders that will keep both facilities engaged, and has no current plans to shrink production capacity. Moreorders could be coming from the USAF.

The Super Tucano will participate this August in the USAF OA-X light attack aircraft demonstration, announced in March, and the A-29 is undergoing “some specific adjustments to address U.S. Air Force requirements” related to systems software, Schneider said.

More than 200 of the clean-sheet design light-attack aircraft have been delivered, and more than 10 years and 37,000 combat hours of operational history have been accumulated.

The Super Tucano has seven hard points, five under the wings and two machine guns in the wings, and configurations supporting more than 150 weapons have been certified.

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