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There are currently two prototypes in the flight test program of the Embraer KC-390, the first flight (shown) of which took place in February 2015. It is flying with two 31,330-lb thrust IAE V2500-E5 turbofans. The aircraft will have a maximum concentrated payload of 26 t. (Embraer)

Boeing and Embraer take relationship to next level

The hookup between Boeing and Embraer has been played out in public for at least four years, when it was first announced that the two companies would “collaborate on the KC-390 aircraft program.” At the time, it was suggested that Boeing would take the Brazil-based Embraer under its wing and offer “specific technical knowledge” and market assessment for the medium-lift military transport and aerial refueling aircraft. (To read more about the program, click here.)

However that partnership played out behind the scenes, it appears to have been at least somewhat fruitful, with flight testing having started in early 2015 (about a year behind schedule). Two prototypes currently flying have accumulated over 350 hours. Flights have been successful and hours are increasing, as indicated by the aircraft’s journey this year from São Paolo to the Farnborough Air Show, from where it was scheduled to embark on a European tour. The company hopes the tour will increase interest in the aircraft: there are currently only 28 firms orders for the Brazilian Air Force, which initially pulled Embraer in for the aircraft’s development in 2009. (There is "intent to purchase" for roughly 30 additional aircraft.)

Paulo Gastao Silva, Director of the KC-390 program, said at Farnborough that certification for the aircraft is expected in the second half of 2017, with deliveries expected in early 2018. He cited several advantages of the aircraft including “reduced crew workload and increased mission efficiency,” and emphasized that the KC-390 will be “very, very cost competitive with the [Airbus] A400M.”

Taking advantage of the energies of Farnborough, the companies announced the next natural progression of their KC-390 relationship, which will entail the pursuit of “new business opportunities, both for the aircraft itself and for aircraft support and sustainment. Embraer will provide the aircraft while Boeing will be responsible for in-service support.”

Beyond the rear-loading KC-390, the two companies work together on several projects, including the development of safety tools to reduce runway excursions. Also, in 2015 Boeing and Embraer opened a joint biofuel research center in São José dos Campos to perform biofuel research and coordinate research with Brazilian universities and other institutions.

Then in the week prior to Farnborough, Boeing and Embraer released some details on the next, and most recent, phase of the Boeing ecoDemonstrator program, which will test technologies to improve airplane environmental performance and accelerate their introduction into the marketplace. An Embraer E170 will serve as the flying testbed and will feature advanced environmental technologies that will undergo operational testing in Brazil during August and September. The ecoDemonstrator flights this time around will test technologies designed to reduce carbon emissions, fuel use, and noise including:

•    LIDAR (light detection and ranging), which uses lasers to measure air data parameters such as true airspeed, angle of attack, and outside air temperature. LIDAR is expected to complement sensors already being used to increase air data reliability, which could lead to further innovations that improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

•    An “ice phobic” paint designed to reduce icing and help prevent accumulation of dirt and bugs due to its low adhesive property. The paint also has the potential to help operators save water by reducing the need for frequent aircraft washing.

•    A new wing design with improved slats to reduce noise on takeoff and approach.

•    Special sensors and air visualization techniques near the wing surface to better understand in-flight aerodynamics.

This is the first non-Boeing airplane used in the ecoDemonstrator program, which to date has tested more than 50 technologies using a Next-Generation 737-800 (2012), 787 (2014), and 757 (2015) as flying testbeds. The flights this time around will also be using a Brazilian-produced biofuel blend made up of 10% bio-kerosene and 90% fossil kerosene, the maximum mixture according to international standards. Sustainably produced aviation biofuel is said to emit 50 to 80% lower carbon emissions through its life cycle than fossil jet fuel.

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