The Brazilian air force's requirement that KC-390 tanker/transports serve civil and military markets is underscoring prime contractor Embraer's approach to the airplane's product strategy.

Embraer is emphasizing the use of proven systems and components, many adapted from its own commercial programs, in keeping with the service's goal that the tanker will have broad appeal as a lower-cost competitor to the Lockheed Martin C-130J. It is slightly larger than the venerable U.S. transport, with a top payload capacity of 23 tons over a 1,400-nm range, and will feature such cockpit features as dual head-up displays and sidestick controllers.

The Brazilian air force (FAB) has ordered 28 of the twin-engine transports and identified a requirement for 10 more in the long term. In addition, Embraer has gathered declarations of intent-to-order for an additional 32: two for the Czech Republic and six for Portugal—both NATO members—plus six for Argentina, six for Chile and 12 for Colombia.

First flight is set for 2014. In keeping with the 2009 contract it signed with the FAB, Embraer will seek civilian certification from the FAA first, in 2015, and then move on to military certification a year later. The same approach was followed for the Tucano/Super Tucano advanced trainer/light attack aircraft, notes Paulo Gastao Silva, Embraer vice president and KC-390 program manager. Military certification is more easily accomplished after an aircraft has passed through the hands of civil regulators.

With a wingspan of 115 ft., length of 111 ft. and maximum takeoff weight of 178,574 lb., the KC-390 is Embraer's most ambitious military aircraft project.

“This is Brazil's biggest military program and biggest aircraft program ever,” says Silva, whose KC-390 project office became a separate business unit within Embraer in January 2010 because of the tanker's importance. The KC-390 will permit the FAB to expand its transport fleet and replace its 22 C-130Hs, two of which are operated as KC-130s.

Embraer is aiming the KC-390 at the medium-lift military transport market, for which the company sees a requirement for 728 replacements over the next 10 years, according to a 2011 company study. Many of those are C-130s.

“We decided to limit the initial forecast to 10 years and to reassess it after getting the first market feedback once we start promoting and selling the airplane,” says Silva.

The manufacturer's market studies show that stretching the fuselage to provide room for a side cargo door could add another 200-250 potential sales.

The program has emerged from its initial definition phase, and agreements have been reached on supplier interfaces, says Silva. The company expects to freeze the definition by year-end.

“It's the first time Embraer called in suppliers to help with the [aircraft's] conception,” says Kenzo Takatori of Akaer Engineering in Sao Jose dos Campos. Akaer has provided engineering for numerous Embraer programs during the past 20 years. Once the definition is complete, Takatori expects Akaer's designers to work from Embraer's campus here on its fuselage, wing and landing-gear-door engineering.

The majority of Embraer's contractor support is coming from outside Brazil, but not all of it. For example, the airplane's mission computer will be produced by the Aeroelectronica-Embraer joint venture AEL Sistemas that it formed with Elbit for the Super Tucano.

Still, Embraer is reducing its program risk as much as possible by assembling a supply team with wide experience and proven equipment, particularly from civil programs. Prominent in this strategy is its choice of powerplants, the V2500-E5 from International Aero Engines.

In the cockpit, Embraer selected Rockwell Collins's Pro Line Fusion flight deck and mission systems avionics, which it already is employing on the Legacy 450/500. The installation includes twin head-up displays from Elbit.

Rockwell Collins Vice President Thierry Tosi says Brazil is one of his company's key priorities among emerging markets. Rockwell Collins do Brazil, which has been established near Embraer, is adding engineers to support its commercial and military programs, particularly the KC-390. The company plans to use third parties in Brazil to build the transport's displays and control panels.

Goodrich will design and build the primary flight-control system in the U.S., and BAE Systems will supply the flight-control electronics and active sidestick controllers. BAE will work from its Rochester, England, facility.

Embraer will integrate the mission systems and avionics and develop mission software, drawing on experience it gained on similar work for the FAB's F-5 fighter modernization program and a revamp of A-4s for the Brazilian navy.

Hamilton Sundstrand is providing the auxiliary power unit and electric power-generating system from the U.S.

Risk-sharing partners with specialized skills and track records with Embraer have been chosen to broaden the KC-390's overseas customer base:

•Portugal Engineering Manufacturing (OGMA) will build composite landing-gear sponsons, doors and elevators. The company, in which Embraer holds a 65% stake, also will make composite parts, while Embraer will produce aluminum parts.

•Aero Vodochody of the Czech Republic, which produces door assemblies for the Embraer 170/190, will design and build the KC-390's fixed leading edge and provide other packages, including the cargo ramp, crew doors, emergency doors and hatches. All are metallic. Embraer will make the Segment 2 aft fuselage behind the ramp that joins with the empennage. It will also build center fuselage sections fore and aft of the wing, and the rear door to the center fuselage.

•Argentina's FAdeA (Fabrica Argentina de Aviones) is to manufacture the tail cone, cargo ramp door, spoilers and nose-wheel landing-gear door from composites at its Cordoba factory. The government-owned FAdeA was formerly managed by Lockheed Martin when it was building the Pampa jet trainer, but has more recently returned to being a government-managed enterprise as it emphasizes maintenance and overhaul services.

“So this puts FAdeA back into the aerostructures business,” Silva says. “I think it will be a good partnership.”

The tail cone is metallic and composite; the cargo doors are all metallic. FAdeA also will produce a flap fairing, the electronics rack and composite nose-wheel landing-gear doors.

Three nonrisk-sharing partners have been named. Brazil's Aceturri will provide the wing-to-fuselage fairing. LMI Aerospace, headquartered in St. Charles, Mo., will provide metallic slats. Spain's Aernnova, a longtime Embraer supplier that has a plant in Sao Jose, will produce composite flaps, ailerons and the rudder. Aceturri and LMI are new suppliers. All of their operations will be collocated in the KC-390 factory in Sao Jose.

Additionally, ELEB, a wholly owned Embraer subsidiary, will design and produce the landing gear, and DRS Defense Solutions of Rockville, Md., will build the cargo handling and delivery system. Numerous other specialty contractors are involved with the -390, including Cobham for refueling receiver probes and Safran's Hispano-Suiza for electric power distribution.

The KC-390 represents a further evolution in Embraer's relationship both with risk-sharing partners and suppliers. With the ERJ 145 program, the company had six partners and hundreds of suppliers, Silva recalls. By the time it reached the E-Jet series, its involvement with risk-sharing was more intense— there are 15 partners— but its supplier count had been winnowed to 20.

KC-390 Specifications
Length: 111.25 ft.
Height: 33.6 ft.
Wingspan: 115 ft.
Max Takeoff Weights: Tactical 67 tons Normal 74.4 tons Logistical 81 tons
Payloads: Tactical 16 tons Normal/Logistical 23.6 tons
Cargo Compartment: 41.6 ft. long 11 ft. wide 9.64-10.5 ft. high
Sources: Embraer and Aviation Week research