WARP test of the KC-390 seen from a Brazilian Air Force F-5M cockpit (Image © Força Aérea Brasileira)

Warp speed for Brazilian freighter/tanker KC-390

Latin America’s most exciting aviation “thing” is moving up to WARP speed. The Embraer KC-390 is looking good, flying pre-operational testing missions with Brazilian Air Force (FAB) Northrop F-5Ms.

With the first in-flight refuelling mission and the first dry Wing Air Refuelling Pod (WARP) testing done last month, the Força Aérea Brasileira is understandingly anxious to get this new aircraft into its inventory.

In the near future the FAB’s combat aircraft can be refuelled in mid-air with 90 ft (30m) long refuelling hoses, bringing outposts of Brazil’s vast space within easier striking or air defence reach if ever necessary.

Into-tanker
The country’s long reach combat capability has been crippled ever since the country retired the final of its four KC-137s in October 2013. The two KC-130s that could be used for the in-flight refuelling task are in dire need of back-up – especially as they may have to be used for basic transport duty in crisis situations. Being able to equip the 28 production KC-390s on order with WARPs will give the FAB a very nice flexibility, that will be further beefed up by three refurbished-into-tanker KC-767s the country ordered with Israel Aerospace Industries.

First flight of the new KC-390 (Image © Embraer S.A.)
The new KC-390, seen here during its first flight. (Image © Embraer S.A.)

Fast jets scenario
As a freighter the KC-390 is already quite an ambitious project for Brazil’s own Embraer, making it the companies heaviest aircraft it ever made. Adding the tanker functionality doubles – or triples – the challenge. Key is not to have turbulence caused by the tanker to mess up the refuelling of the receiving aircraft behind it, and to find a operation speed that works both for the flight performance of the tanker as well as the thirsty fast jets in an operational scenario.

Test missions
Therefore Embraer has currently two test vehicles for in-flight airborne, with a third being added to the prototype fleet soon. Plans call for the final in-flight refuelling test to be done in November or December 2018, after which at least 2,000 flight hours have been made on these missions alone.

Orders & Versions
Likely to enter service in 2019, Embraer already chalked up orders for 28 KC-390s for the Brazilian Air Force. There’s furhter interest from Argentina,  Chile,  Colombia, the Czech Republic and Portugal, with the latter two already signing a Letter of Intent (LoI) for the purchase of two and six KC-390s respectively.

Also, the Royal New Zealand Air Force seems to be very interested to buy five aircraft. Moreover, the Brazilian Postal Service is thinking about buying 15 civilian versions.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: WARP test of the KC-390 seen from a Brazilian Air Force F-5M cockpit (Image © Força Aérea Brasileira)

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