Embraer sets its sights on new military jet transport

 - June 9, 2009, 5:02 AM

Embraer has received a $1.3 billion contract to design and deliver a new military transport, called the KC-390. The Brazilian air force set the requirements and expects the aircraft to enter service in 2015, with the delivery of two prototypes.

Company president Frederico Fleury Curado has predicted that the aircraft will become “another successful export platform for both Embraer and Brazil.” At
the same time, Embraer also recently signed a contract with the Brazilian navy valued at $140 million for the renovation of 12 A-4 Skyhawk fighters.

The new KC-390 transport can carry almost 42,000 pounds of cargo or 80 soldiers, and can be refueled in flight, as well as quickly configured as a fuel tanker for in-flight or on the ground refueling. It is intended to replace the Hercules C-130s currently in use. The company estimates that there is a global market for up to 700 aircraft of this type over the next decade, a market it values at $18 billion.

Embraer is looking to increase its share of revenue from the defense market, which it believes is less vulnerable to economic downturns. Defense and government represented just 6.6 percent of the company’s income in 2007, 8.1 percent in 2008, with 10.9 percent projected for 2009–amounting to $600 million in revenues as compared to an expected $800 million from business aircraft sales.

In January the company laid off 20 percent of its work force as commercial deliveries were delayed and orders for its business jets canceled. However, in announcing first-quarter results, financial vice president Luiz Carlos Aguiar emphasized that the worst was past; that cancellations were concentrated in January and February; and that the new Phenom 100 entry-level jet has had no cancellations, only delivery deferrals.

The idea of adapting one of Embraer’s regional airliners to serve as a military transport was shelved in favor the all-new project, and the design phase of the
KC-390 program will help maintain highly qualified jobs, even with additional production and factory jobs foreseen only in 2015. The airframer is still negotiating over the selection of engines for the new aircraft.

Specifications reported by Embraer in April show a high-wing twin turbofan jet, with a wingspan of 111 feet and an overall length of 110 feet. The tail reaches a height of just over 37 feet.

The KC-390 is to have state-of-the-art avionics with dual head-up display and
an all-inclusive mission system, including precise calculation of cargo launching point. It will have a complete self-protection system and is to be compatible with night-vision systems. The fly-by-wire system will, according to Embraer, reduce workload for the crew while optimizing safety and performance.

The KC-390 will be able to cruise 1,400 nm with a logistical takeoff weight of almost 159,000 pounds. Maximum altitude is 36,000 feet, at a speed of up to 432 knots.
Embraer claims that the aircraft will have an “extraordinary short runway performance” and will be able to operate from unprepared landing strips. At max takeoff weight it will require 5,300 feet of runway to take off, while with a more typical “tactical” configuration of just 129,000 pounds just 3,600 feet will be sufficient.

Embraer’s diagrams show a cargo bay with a total length of just over 51 feet and a height of almost 10 feet. The rear 11 feet of the cargo bay include the aft ramp, with the forward area having a level floor and space for holding cargo items up to 11 feet wide. The aircraft will have the most modern systems for handling and launching cargo, according to Embraer, and will be able to handle armored vehicles among other kinds of cargo.

The installation of fuels tanks will quickly convert the aircraft into a tanker. The KC-390 will be equipped with two doors for paratroopers.

The $140 million contract to modernize the 12 fighter jets–nine single-seat AF-1s and three two-seat AF-1As–is Embraer’s first large-scale program with Brazil’s navy. The upgrades to the fighters, known globally as the A-4 Skyhawk, include restoring the aircraft and their current systems, as well as implementing new avionics, radar, power production and autonomous oxygen generating systems.

To maintain compatibility across the services, the avionics are to follow the same model used in Brazilian air force F-5M fighters, which Embraer recently worked on upgrading. The program is to take five years, with the first prototype
to fly in 2011.