The Airbus A400M & EMBRAER KC-390

v1.0.0 / 01 nov 19 / greg goebel

* During the Cold War, the Lockheed C-130 transport became a standard cargolifter for NATO nations. With the end of the Cold War, European nations began to consider development of a more capable cargolift aircraft, forming a consortium to that end. Progress wasn't rapid, but the Airbus "A400M" finally performed its first flight in 2009, with the type now in full service with a number of nations. Following the turn of the century, the EMBRAER company of Brazil began work on a follow-on to the C-130, with the "KC-390" performing its first flight in 2015; it is now going into service. This document provides a history and description of the A400M and the KC-390. A list of illustrations credits is provided at the end.

Airbus A400M

[3] EMBRAER KC-390


* In the early 1980s, a group of aerospace companies -- including Aerospatiale of France, British Aerospace (BAE) of the UK, Lockheed of the USA, and Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm (MBB) of West Germany -- began consideration of the "Future International Military Airlifter (FIMA)", a tactical transport aircraft to replace the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the Franco-German Transall C-160. Lockheed dropped out of the FIMA Group in 1989 to pursue development of the advanced C-130J Super Hercules, while Alenia of Italy and CASA of Spain joined up with the European group, which became "Euroflag".

From the outset, the program was politically complex, involving a bewildering set of nations and industrial partners. By 1992, the "Future Large Aircraft (FLA)" program, as it had been dubbed, had acquired backing from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey, with the UK signing up later; by 1995, Euroflag had become linked with the European Airbus Industries group. Early concepts for the aircraft had envisioned turbofan propulsion, but as development progressed, turboprops became the preferred powerplant. At that time, initial service deliveries were slated for 2003, with initial production orders expected to total 300; the ultimate build was expected to be on the order of twice that.

However, it wasn't until 2003 that the partner nations committed to buy a total of 212 "A400M Atlas" cargolifters, the aircraft to be built by the European Aerospace & Defense Systems (EADS) Airbus firm, at the EADS plant in Seville, Spain. The program was to be under the general direction of the European Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR). That wasn't the end of the complications, Italy deciding to drop out, production totals being reduced to 180 machines, with initial flight in 2008 and first deliveries in 2009. Construction of the first prototype had begun in early 2007.

As it turned out, first flight of a prototype, designated MSN1, from Seville, was not until 11 December 2009; the prototypes were given the nickname of "Grizzly", the first machine of course being "Grizzly 1". By that time, the program was in considerable difficulty, with initial deliveries not slated until 2012, plus technical difficulties and cost overruns. South Africa, which had placed orders for the A400M, canceled them at that time. The RAF, as mentioned above, obtained C-17s to handle the gap in airlift capability to delivery of the A400M, while Lockheed Martin promoted the C-130J to A400M member nations.

Airbus A400M

The program survived, thanks to an infusion of billions of euros after negotiations. The second A400M prototype, MSN2, performed its initial flight on 8 April 2010. Four more flight prototypes followed, with serial production of the A400M finally beginning in early 2011. Certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency was on 14 March 2013. Initial delivery of the first production aircraft, MSN7, to the French Armee de l'Air, was in August 2013, with a second following before the end of the year. At last count, there were 166 deliveries and firm orders for the A400M, including:

Deliveries of these aircraft are expected to be completed by 2025. Of course, other orders are likely to materialize. However, the program suffered a setback on 9 May 2015, when an A400M, the third to be delivered to Turkey, crashed in Seville during a pre-delivery flight test, four of the six crew being killed, the other two being badly injured. Some delays were to be expected in such a big program.



* The A400M has a fairly typical cargolifter configuration, featuring a voluminous fuselage for cargo hauling, a rear loading ramp, main gear in sponsons alongside the fuselage, a high wing, and a tee tail. It features considerable use of carbon-composite assemblies. All flight surfaces are swept. Its capabilities between those of the C-130 and the C-17, with more cargo capacity and range than the C-130, but not as fast as the C-17.

The A400M is powered by four TP400-D6 turboprops, produced by EuroProp International (EPI), a consortium of Rolls-Royce of the UK, ITP of Spain, MTU of Germany, and Snecma of France. Each engine has an output of more than 8,205 kW (11,000 SHP), making the TP400-D6 the most powerful production turboprop ever made in the West. The engines feature full-authority digital engine controls (FADEC), and drive eight-bladed composite scimitar propellers with a diameter of 5.33 meters (17 feet 6 inches). The two props on each wing rotate in opposite directions to cancel torque; the engines are not "handed", which would complicate maintenance and logistics, the direction of rotation instead being determined by a gearbox setting. The props are variable and fully reversible, capable of backing a fully-loaded A400M up a 2% slope.

Two auxiliary fuel tanks can be installed in the cargo bay, increasing the total fuel capacity by 24%. The A400M has a removeable inflight refueling probe, mounted above the cockpit on the left; it can also be kitted up with a socket for boom refueling. In the tactical tanker role, the A400M can be fitted with a hose-drogue unit (HDU) pod under each wing and a pallet-mounted HDU in the rear cargo bay, for three refueling points in all. The tanker kit was provided by Flight Refueling LTD of the UK. The A400M has tricycle landing gear, the nose gear having two wheels, each main gear having 6 wheels in triple independent two-wheel assemblies, retracting into a sponson alongside the fuselage. The landing gear can "kneel" to facilitate cargo loading.

The cargo bay is 17.71 meters (58 feet 1 inch) long excluding ramp, 4 meters (13 feet 1 inch) wide, and 3.85 meters high (12 feet 8 inches) -- 4 meters high aft of the wing. The cargo bay can be fitted for cargo, vehicle transport, troop transport, or medical evacuation. It can carry up to 20 one-tonne (2,200 pound) containers or pallets; nine standard pallets plus 58 troops, sitting in fold-down chairs along the walls of the fuselage; 120 fully equipped troops; 116 paratroops; or 66 stretchers with 25 medical personnel.

Airbus A400M with Red Arrows

The rear cargo door can be opened in flight for airdrops. A powered moving crane with a maximum load of five tonnes (5.5 tons) is fitted to the ceiling of the cargo bay for moving cargoes. Cargo loading and airdrop can be supervised by a single loadmaster, using an onboard control system workstation, linked into a mission planning system. The system also controls flight functions, including fuel management, communications, and ground collision avoidance.

   AIRBUS A400M:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                42.4 meters         139 feet 1 inch
   wing area:              221.5 sq_meters     2,383 sq_feet
   length                  45.1 meters         148 feet 
   height                  14.7 meters         48 feet 3 inches 
   empty weight            76,500 kilograms    168,700 pounds
   MTO weight              141,000 kilograms   311,000 pounds

   cruise speed            555 KPH             345 MPH / 300 KT 
   max speed               780 KPH             485 MPH / 420 KT 
   take-off length         980 meters          3,210 feet
   landing length          770 meters          2,525 feet
   service ceiling         11,300 meters       37,000 feet
   normal range            3,300 KM            2,050 MI / 1,780 NMI
   ferry range             8,700 KM            5,400 MI / 4,700 NMI

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The A400M's avionics system leverages off that developed for the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jetliner, including a fly-by-wire flight control system and a "glass cockpit", with nine color flat-panel displays and digital head-up displays. The A400M's cockpit is compatible with night vision devices. The aircraft is flown by a pilot and copilot, using sidestick controllers instead of the traditional yoke control, with a cockpit station for an optional mission equipment operator.

Other elements of the avionics system include militarized radios, including satcom transceivers; radio navigation and landing aids; a long-range navigation system including a GPS receiver and inertial navigation unit; and Northrop Grumman AN/APN-241E navigation-weather radar. German A400Ms are fitted with a low-level terrain-following system, clearly for support of special operations.

The A400M features an automated defensive countermeasures suite, including radar and missile-launch warning systems, along with chaff-flare dispensers; a directed laser countermeasures system is a future. The A400M can also be fitted with crew armor protection and bulletproof windscreens, infrared shields for the engines, plus inert-gas fire retardation in the fuel system. The wings have pylon hardpoints for carrying tanker pods or electronic warfare pods; a centerline refueling station, with greater fuel flow rate, is also available. The tanker kit wasn't qualified at the outset. Electronic warfare configurations are clearly a future for the A400M, not much having been said about specifics to this time.


[3] EMBRAER KC-390

* In 2007, the EMBRAER company of Brazil announced plans for a military cargolifter, the "KC-390", to be derived from the EMBRAER 190 jetliner. As initially envisioned, the KC-390 would use the wings, tail, engines and avionics of the E190 along with a new fuselage, providing a maximum payload of 19 tonnes (21 tons) -- placing the C-390 in the payload range of the C-130 Hercules. The primary target customer was the Brazilian Air Force (FAB).


The design evolved into an effectively all-new aircraft with a maximum payload of 23 tonnes (25.3 tons), comfortably exceeding the 21.8 tonnes (24 tons) of the state-of-the-art C-130J. The KC-390 has a typical jet cargolifter configuration, with high swept wings, a high-bypass turbofan engine under each wing, a boxy fuselage with landing gear in sponsons, and a high tee tail with a tail loading ramp.

The aircraft is powered by International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500-E5 turbofans, with thrust in the range of 100 kN (10,200 kgp / 22,500 lbf); IAE is a consortium of Pratt & Whitney of the USA, Rolls-Royce of the UK, MTU of Germany, and Japan Aero Engine Corporation, with the V2500 series currently powering the Airbus A320 midsize jetliner family. The V2500-E5 engine is ruggedized, with a modified control system and an improved thrust reverser for short-field landing capability.

The cockpit features a Rockwell-Collins Pro Line Fusion system, with five large-screen displays and twin HUDs. The cockpit is compatible with night vision goggles, and the aircraft is fitted with a defensive countermeasures suite. The KC-390 incorporates a fly-by-wire flight control system implemented by BAE Systems of the UK.

The KC-390's cargo compartment is 17.75 meters (58 feet 2 inches) long, 3.45 meters (11 feet 4 inches) wide, 2.9 meters (9 feet 6 inches) high forward of the wing, and 3.2 meters (10 feet 6 inches) high aft of the wing. Maximum payload is 26 tonnes (28.6 tons). One unusual feature is a movable pressure bulkhead that retracts garage door-style into the roof, and descends to seal the cargo cabin. When lowered, this sloping bulkhead reduces compartment length to 12.78 meters (41 feet 11 inches) at the ceiling. The KC-90 can carry up to 88 equipped troops, 66 paratroops, or 74 litters with attendants. It can carry up seven standard cargo pallets, three tactical vehicles, a single LAV-25 combat vehicle, or a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.


Baseline configuration features an inflight refueling probe above the cockpit and a hose-drogue refueling pod under each wingtip. The refueling pods are being supplied by Cobham Mission Equipment of the UK, being slightly altered from a standard Cobham product. Some potential customers have asked for a boom refueling unit; EMBRAER is considering the matter. In response to customer requests, the wingspan was extended during the design phase to 35.06 meters (115 feet) to support midair refueling of helicopters, requiring the ability to refuel at speeds down to 220 KPH (140 MPH / 120 KT), and altitudes below 3,050 meters (10,000 feet).

   EMBRAER KC-390:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                35.06 meters        115 feet
   length                  33.91 meters        111 feet 4 inches
   height                  10.26 meters        33 feet 8 inches

   loaded weight           74,000 kilograms    163,140 pounds
   max takeoff weight      81,000 kilograms    178,575 pounds

   max cruise speed        Mach 0.8 
   cruise altitude         10,975 meters       36,000 feet
   range (half load)       4,815 kilometers    2,990 MI / 2,600 NMI
   range (full load)       2,590 kilometers    1,610 MI / 1,400 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

In 2011 EMBRAER announced work on a stretched commercial derivative, with fuselage plugs fore and aft of the wing as well as a side cargo door. Nothing has been said about special mission derivatives of the KC-390, such as AEW or SIGINT platforms, but obviously they are options over the long run.

KC-390 refueling AMX fighters

The first of two KC-390 prototypes was rolled out in October 2014, with initial flight on 3 February 2015. The second prototype performed its first flight on 28 April 2016, with the first production machine performing its initial flight on 9 October 2018. The first delivery to the FAB was in 2019, with 30 to be obtained to 2026 -- including the two prototypes, to be brought up to operational spec. Portugal, which is a partner in the KC-390 program, committed to buying five in 2017, with an option for one more. Other nations that plan to obtain the type include Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and the Czech Republic.



* As concerns copyrights and permissions for this document, all illustrations and images credited to me are public domain. I reserve all rights to my writings. However, if anyone does want to make use of my writings, just contact me, and we can chat about it. I'm lenient in giving permissions, usually on the basis of being properly credited.

* Illustrations details:

* This document has indirect origins. The materials on the A400M were originally partnered in a document on the Boeing C-17. The materials on the KC-390 were originally released as part of a document on EMBRAER jetliners in 2013. I split them out in 2019, and consolidated them here.

Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 nov 19 / Assembled from existing materials.