LOS ANGELES – Embraer successfully completed the first flight of the KC-390 tanker-transport from its Gavião Peixoto facility in Brazil on Feb. 3, marking the start of an intensive two-year flight test and certification program.

The twin-jet, T-tail transport is the largest aircraft ever built in South America, and has been developed as a C-130/KC-130 replacement for the Brazilian air force on missions ranging from air refueling and search and rescue to the nation’s Antarctic research support mission. Powered by International Aero Engines V2500-E5 turbofans, the 115.5-ft.-long KC-390 was flown for 1 hr. 25 min. by test pilots Mozart Louzada and Marcos Salgado de Oliveira Lima.

Following the flight, the test crew reported the fly-by-wire airlifter aircraft handled well during initial an assessment of flying qualities. "The KC-390 behaved in a docile and predictable manner," Louzada says. "The advanced fly-by-wire flight control system and the latest-generation avionics make flying easy and render a smooth and precise flight." Avionics and flight controls were validated in an "iron bird" test rig at Embraer’s Eugênio de Melo engineering facility in São José dos Campos. The rig also validated electric and hydraulic systems.

Embraer originally hoped to begin test flights before the end of last year, but took longer than expected to complete a final series of avionics integration tests following the aircraft’s rollout in October. The manufacturer has targeted initial deliveries to the Brazilian air force around the end of 2016, though this looks more likely to slide into 2017 given the ambitious flight test effort ahead of it. A second KC-390 has also been assembled and is set to join the program shortly.

Embraer has so far taken firm orders for 28 aircraft from Brazil, but is confident the fly-by-wire transport could clinch up to 20% of the C-130 replacement market, which it estimates is around 728 aircraft in 77 countries. Another five nations have signed letters of intent to purchase up to 32 additional KC-390s. Designed to combine short-field takeoff and landing capability with a jet-powered cruise speed of 465 kt. (Mach 0.8) at an operational ceiling of 36,000 ft., the KC-390 will have a maximum payload of 57,320 lb. (26 tons) and a range with a distributed load of 50,700 lb. of 1,200 nm.