KC-390 Cargo Plane: A Competitive Threat to Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules

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The KC-390 Spells Intense Competition

The competition between aircraft manufacturers to build 20-ton cargo planes has intensified, thanks to the launch of Embraer’s KC-390 cargo plane program. The KC-390 is seen as a possible replacement for the Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules military transport aircraft. This jet-powered, twin-engine military cargo aircraft has the ability to transport 19 tons of cargo, including armored ground vehicles.

Embraer, or Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica, is one of the world’s top aircraft manufacturers. Founded in 1969, the Brazilian aerospace conglomerate produces military, corporate and commercial aircraft as well as other aerospace related services. The company’s headquarters, engineering and production facilities are located in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Its latest initiative, the KC-390 Jet, is the heaviest aircraft ever made by the company.

KC-390 Cargo Plane Development History

The plans for constructing the KC-390 military transport aircraft began soon after Embraer began analyzing the design of medium-sized military aircrafts in 2006. With an investment of 800 million Reais (440 million USD), the project is expected to complete and enter service in 2015.

The heaviest aircraft ever built by Embraer will integrate many technological aspects of the Embraer E-Jet, a twin-engine jet airline used for commercial and business purposes. The unit price of KC-390 aircraft is estimated to around 50 million USD, whereas the unit price of its competitor’s models are double the price of the aircraft.

Several countries including France, Sweden have expressed their interest in evaluating and buying the aircraft for tactical air transport needs. On 14 April, 2009, Embraer obtained and order from the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) for 23 KC-390 military transport planes. The contract between the aircraft manufacturing company and FAB is estimated to around 1.3 billion Reais. The transport/tanker version of the KC-390 plane will comply with the new National Defense Strategy and meet the demands of the Brazilian Air Force. The KC-390 will replace the C-130 Hercules and KC-130 models that are currently in use.

KC-390 Military Transport Aircraft Characteristics

The KC-390 aircraft is the largest and the most complicated aircraft ever built by Embraer. With its sophisticated loading and unloading systems, the twin-engine powered military cargo jet will be capable of handling a wide variety of payload, including ground armored vehicles. It will also have the capacity to carry over 80 military personnel.

Powered by two 27,000 pounds turbofans, the KC-390 will have a maximum speed of Mach 0.8 and will be able to cruise at 36,000 feet. The cargo handled by the aircraft will be 20 percent larger than current military transport aircrafts. The leveled floor and zero height restrictions qualify KC-390 to carry more payload than the existing cargo aircrafts.

The best aspects of KC-390 transport aircraft is the in-flight refueling and considerable reduction in pilot workload. The technically advanced plane reduces pilot workload through its advanced fly-by-wire technology. This advanced technology will also help the pilot to land aircraft on rustic and short airstrips.


With a payload capacity of 19 tons and state-of-the-art fly-by-wire technology the KC-390 cargo plane will give tough competition to other aircraft manufacturing companies. The modest unit price, which is half the price of a conventional cargo airplane, is another key reason for intense competition. Although, competitors say that the K-390 project development won’t be easy, Embraer is seriously looking for participation of other countries to make this a successful venture.


“Embraer Sees World Market for New KC-390 Tanker/Transport” (Aviation Week) https://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_generic.jsp?channel=awst&id=news/aw042009p2.xml&headline=Embraer

“KC-390 Military Transport Plane” (Air Force Technology) https://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/kc-390/

Flight Global.com https://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2009/04/14/325113/brazilian-air-force-signs-deal-launching-embraer-kc-390-tanker-transport.html