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Options Expand in Heavy Lift


Jun 5, 2009




By Bill Sweetman

Seville, Spain aviationweek.com


In the airlift world, the unexpected is the rule. The U.S.—with by far the largest domestic market—has long dominated the segment, but may now be on the verge of losing leadership.


The Obama administration has announced its intention to cap production of the Boeing C-17 at 205 aircraft. Boeing, during 2008, proposed continuing the C-17A line while working on the C-17B, a substantially modified version for shorter, softer airfields. But the C-17B would have taken until 2016 to get into production, meaning that the price for 40-60 B models would include six more years of C-17As.


Many people accept that there is a tactical airlift problem in the U.S. and no agreement on how to solve it. The Army and Marines are holding out for a vertical-lift system and the Air Force is sponsoring studies for stealth aircraft that could play a role in special operations. It’s questionable whether the defense budget will support either solution, and no chance it will support both.


Lockheed Martin’s C-130J could thus soldier on as the only U.S. airlifter in production. Lockheed Martin is still working on the C-130XL study, with a larger cross section. The company expects to have defined the XL more closely by the end of 2009, and is looking to see what can be done with the existing wing and engines, or whether they will need to be changed. Even so, the XL is not seen as a replacement for the C-130J, but as a complement to it.


Lockheed Martin’s argument is that the C-130J, despite limitations in cargo box size and payload, is a good way to move palletized cargo. Many such flights operate at much less than maximum payload, so the company argues that a larger aircraft is often unnecessary. Overall, “95-97%” of typical airlift sorties can be performed by a C-130J, the company says.


In Europe, the Airbus A400M is poised on a knife-edge. Airbus Military can argue, correctly, that even if the program delivers three years late, it will have set a development speed record for a complex, all-new military aircraft. But this does little to allay the frustration of customers.


Airbus’s owner, EADS, now has to tell customers that even to get the aircraft late, they will have to spend more money. EADS and its partners are for deepening their losses to keep the program going, but cannot afford to complete it on the original terms.


The pacing item since last year has been the engine. The principal problem was a failure by Europrop International, the consortium behind the TP400-D6 engine, to recognize, until little more than a year ago, that the software in the full-authority digital engine control (Fadec) did not meet European civil aviation standards. Once the problem surfaced, there was nothing to do but start again. Fadec hardware clearance for first flight is expected in the summer, and full engine certification is due by the end of 2009.


Airbus Military is working out the details of a recovery program to be presented to the sponsoring governments. Domingo Urena-Raso, head of Airbus Military, expects talks to start in June, working toward a definitive proposal around the end of the year, with credible delivery dates, better communications and a new contract value. “I cannot imagine that we face cancellation,” Urena says, “based on the product and the capabilities we provide.”






In the process, though, two challengers are emerging, both with C-130-sized, twin-turbofan aircraft.


program is finally underway, with the setup of a joint venture. Viktor Livanov, general director of the United Aircraft Corp. (UAC) transport aircraft division and head of the Ilyushin design bureau, told DTI in May that the JV would be set up before the end of the month. Partners include HAL in India, UAC and, probably, the Rosoboronexport arms trade agency.


Russia and India agreed to jointly develop the MTA in 2004, but the intergovernment agreement on finance was signed at the end of 2007. The $600-million development cost (excluding engines) is to be split evenly between the countries.


With a 55-metric-ton takeoff weight, 18.5-metric-ton payload and a 2,500-km. (1,553-mi.) range, the fly-by-wire MTA is expected to replace the Russian air force’s aging Antonov An-12s, which will be retired in 2012-14. The Russian design team received technical requirements from both air forces. “The Indians have stricter requirements for deployment,” says Livanov.


The cabin will have the same cross section as the Ilyushin Il‑76—3.45 X 3.45 meters (11.3 X 11.3 ft.)—but will be half the length. It will enable the aircraft to carry loads as big as S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems. “We decided it’s not reasonable to make a wider compartment for a 20-ton aircraft, otherwise we could spoil the aerodynamics, as happened with the Il-112,” says Livanov.


The partners haven’t selected an engine, but the baseline choice is the 16,000-kg. (35,275-lb.)-thrust Perm PS-90A-76 turbofan. “This engine is a bit oversized, so we are discussing an alternative, the PS-14, and reviewing Western options,” he says. The 14,000-kg.-thrust PS-14 is being developed by Perm Motors for Russia’s future MS-21 airliner. But Livanov believes that the Indian air force will be interested in the PS-90 on the grounds of commonality with its A-50 airborne early warning aircraft and planned reengined Il-76s.



Russia and India have agreed to jointly develop the Medium Transport Aircraft.Credit: IRKUT CONCEPT



The first MTA could fly as soon as 2014, with development completed by 2015-16. According to preliminary plans, UAC will be responsible for the nose section, wings, engine nacelles and landing gear, while HAL will produce the vertical fin and central and rear fuselage. UAC will establish an assembly line at its Aviastar facility in Ulyanovsk, which will also produce the Il-476—a reengined, modernized Il-76 variant—and HAL will open an assembly line in India. The Russian air force will reportedly buy up to 100 MTAs. The Indian commitment is for 45 aircraft.


Meanwhile, Brazil’s Embraer announced the launch of the KC‑390 tanker/transport for the Brazilian air force. At $1.3 billion, it is the largest program undertaken by the company, and when it flies in 2013, the KC-390 will be Embraer’s largest aircraft.


The program launched in April with the signing of a seven-year development contract is not the one envisioned in 2007, when Embraer revealed it was studying the C-390, a “quick and simple” military transport derivative of its E-190 large regional jet. Borrowing the latter’s wing, tail, engines and systems, the C-390 was projected to cost $600 million to develop—with $400 million from the government and the rest from Embraer and commercial risk-sharing partners.


“It was not a realistic aircraft,” says CEO Frederico ­Fleury Curado. But the C-390 concept provoked discussion with potential customers and their input changed the design. The KC-390 is all-new and funded by the Brazilian air force.


The KC-390 is much larger than the C-390. Takeoff gross weight is 72 metric tons, with 22 tons of fuel in the wing and a 19-ton payload. The aircraft will be equipped as receiver and tanker, carrying 9.5 tons of additional fuel in palletized tanks. Powered by two 27,000-lb.-thrust turbofans, the fly-by-wire KC-390 will take off in 1,100 meters and cruise at 36,000 ft. at a maximum Mach 0.8, and fly 1,500 naut. mi. fully loaded. It is intended to compete with the C-130. The cargo hold will be 20-25% larger.


Decisions involving other companies or countries as risk-sharing partners will be made by the Brazilian air force and government as a national strategy. Talks with other countries on participation will take place in the first two years of the program.


The initial 12-month study phase will define the basic configuration, with the final design frozen by the end of the second 12-month period, at which point suppliers and partners will be selected so a year-long joint definition phase can begin.


The final phase involves detailed design, construction and flight test of two prototypes, certification to U.S. FAR Part 25 transport-category regulations, and tooling-up for production. The airlifter is scheduled to enter service in 2015. The Brazilian air force is expected to place an initial order for 22 aircraft.


Where the airlift business will be by 2015 is anyone’s guess. At one extreme, much of the world could still be flying and buying C-130Js. At the other, the growing market for lift could feed assembly lines in Spain, Brazil, India and Russia, and have U.S. airlift operators casting covetous looks at their coalition partners’ modern equipment.



With Maxim Pyadushkin in Moscow and Graham Warwick in Washington.

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Mamma mia lo Spartan neanche menzionato? Eppure è il punto di riferimento per il suo segmento... Vabè. Comunque il settore si sta movimentando, anche Embraer promette bene, di sicuro le quote di mercato che andrà ad erodere sono quelle appannaggio di EADS e Alenia.

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Se hai fatto caso, si parla solo di macchine dal 130 in su.

Ah ok, non avevo fatto caso al fatto che il C-390 è un po' più pesantuccio dello Spartan.

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