One month ago, Embraer’s suggestion that its KC-390 military airlifter would be flown before year-end seemed the height of optimism, judging by an assembly line image of its first prototype example.

While the airframer may yet not hit its target of getting the ­twinjet airborne before 2014 is out, the strongly attended roll-out of the transport/tanker last week might have changed a few minds about the prospects for Brazil’s most ambitious project. Cockpit systems have already been powered up, and flight-test instruments installed in the cargo hold.

As launch customer for the KC-390 – and also the lead source of programme funds – the Brazilian air force is putting its hopes fully on the type delivering. Indeed, its commander says the KC-390 will form the backbone of the service’s air transport fleet. Industrial partner ­nations Argentina, the Czech Republic and Portugal have their flags on the fuselage, and multiple other countries are already showing interest in the product.

But the KC-390’s toughest tests still lie ahead. While officials might describe it as a natural successor to Lockheed Martin’s ubiquitous C-130, only flight tests can prove their claim. The company also must avoid the development pitfalls met by its more experienced rivals Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed on such projects.

For Embraer and Brazil, confidence and customer interest must be matched by tactical performance.

Source: Flight International