Embraer’s KC-390 programme has presented the airframer with multiple challenges – as would be expected with a sophisticated, advanced design and development programme. As well as the issues of making the aircraft a true multi-mission platform, there have been challenges arising from decisions such as that to develop the advanced cargo handling system in-house.
“For sure we faced challenges in developing the system – but it was the right thing to do,” Embraer’s VP for Defence Programmes, Walter Pinto, told MON at the company’s Gaviao Peixoto plant – the home of the programme – on 28 May. “The Brazilian Air Force requirements to operate in a very broad range of climatic and operational conditions – from the jungles of the Amazon to the snow and ice of the southern part of the country, meant that we decided to design and develop a brand new system ourselves to address all those requirements. There just wasn’t one available off the shelf to cater to the mix of environmental conditions and mission requirements, ranging from airlift through gravity and extraction drops to medical evacuation. A system would have to be designed and developed – so we did it ourselves.”
Typical of the Embraer philosophy – which might best be described to an external observer as “never say never.” The cargo handling system offers loadmasters and rear crew an immense amount of flexibility, as has been proven in the 2,200 hours of flight testing so far conducted on the initial aircraft. The system has proven to be robust and – in line with what Pinto describes as the “build the aircraft from the inside out” decision that dominates the continuing programme – enables standard containers, for example, to be mounted side by side in a transverse orientation, as well as the more traditional longitudinal one espoused by its competitors. That is a key factor in achieving the aircraft’s impressive 26t maximum concentrated payload.
Some may question the validity of sinking significant R&D funds and effort into developing an advanced system such as this for such a small programme (in terms of current orders): one which Embraer is unlikely to be able to exploit in another platform. However, given the complexity of the customer’s operational requirement and the fact that wherever the cargo handling system was sourced it would have to be designed and developed, it appears a perfectly sensible decision. The Brazilian Air Force thinks so. Recognising the complex nature of the requirement and the potential benefits stemming from a focused, tailored development programme, they funded the development and thus own he intellectual property.