Aviation News Journal
Westfield International Air Show 2023
Text and photography by Claude La Frenière
The Great New England Westfield-Barnes International Air Show is Back in 2023.
After nearly 6 years (August 2017) the Massachusetts Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Wing opened its doors to the public on May 13 and 14, 2023 for an airshow weekend. The two-day show had more than 70,000 people attending the event which included an impressive programme of 18 aerial demonstrations and more than 25 static displays.
The 2023 edition of the air show lacked a large aerobatic squadron, such as the famous USAF Thunderbirds. After the cancellation of the 2021 edition due to the pandemic, they planned to add another major US military aerobatic team to the 2023 programme, however, that proved impossible.
The air show was still of high quality despite this, and American military aircraft provided impressive demonstrations both on the ground and in the air. A special feature of this edition was the exceptional participation of a large number of imposing aircraft from the U.S. Air Force Mobility Command. These included a C-130J Hercules, a C-130H3 Hercules, two C-17 Globemaster IIIs, two KC-46A Pegasus and a KC-135 Stratotanker. The presence of these aviation behemoths added a spectacular dimension to the air show.
The air show was also enhanced by the presence of civilian aerobatic planes, Warbirds and a large number of combat jets, such as the F-15C Eagle, the EA-18G Growler, the A-10C Thunderbolt II, the F-22 Raptor and the F-35A Lightning II. Additionally, the US Coast Guard participated with an HC-144A Ocean Sentry, as well as eight helicopters, including the massive Sikorsky CH-53E USMC Super Stallion and two AH-64 Apache & Longbow.
The static part of the air show impressed visitors with themed arrangements of aircraft on the tarmac. In "Helicopter Alley", various US military helicopters were on display, while "Fighter Alley" featured most US fighter jets except for the F-16 Falcon. The "Air Force Mobility Command" zone featured the giant planes of the US Air Force.
Many months of planning went into preparing for the air show, and the wing's goal was to strengthen ties between the local community and the military while showcasing the capabilities of U.S. military and civilian aviation. Massachusetts Law Enforcement and Highway Authorities had implemented measures to facilitate access to and from the air base.
Entrance to the site was free, but VIP tickets at US$180 were available for access to the VIP chalet, this included meals, front row seats and reserved parking. Parking costed $20 and there was a $50 VIP option as well.
The 104th Fighter Wing, based out of Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport since 1946, is a unit of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. She flew successively on various aircraft, including the P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang, F-94 Starfire, F-86H Saber, F-84F Thunderstreak, F-100D Super Saber, A- 10 Thunderbolt II and currently the F-15C Eagle.
It ensures air sovereignty, identifies unknown aircraft and protects American skies. Its F-15C Eagles were the first military response after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New-York. The wing is ready to deploy domestically, as well as fly humanitarian and combat operations around the world. It is made up of the 104th Operations Group, 131st Fighter Squadron, 104th Maintenance Group, 104th Mission Support Group and 104th Medical Group.
Last April, the Pentagon announced that the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes would receive 18 brand new F-35A Lightning II fighters to replace its F-15C Eagles starting in late 2025 or early 2026. This news secures the future of the Westfield base for the next 40 years.
Interestingly, the 104th Fighter Wing trains regularly with CF-18s from RCAF Base Bagotville, simulating interception scenarios. Colonel David ‘Moon’ Halasi-Kun, commander of the 104th Wing, is delighted with the future equipment of the two wings: F-35As.
The site of the static displays was very large and extended over two main islands. On one side of the exhibition it featured two themes of the US Air Force, the helicopters and giant planes of the Air Force Mobility Command and the other island the fighter jets.
The Wing's hangars were opened to accommodate numerous aviation technology kiosks and showcased organizations that support service members and veterans. Visitors were also able to access the armaments section, where soldiers practiced arming an F-15C with inert training ammunition. The demonstration of reloading the F-15C's rotary cannon was particularly impressive.
The Helicopter Alley
The Helicopter Alley was visually impressive, they had lined up 6 helicopters from the largest to the smallest.
Sikorsky CH-53E USMC Super Stallion
The Sikorsky CH-53E USMC Super Stallion is operated by Marine Heavy Helicopter Training Squadron 302 (HMHT-302), based at Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina. Along with its cousin, the MH-53E, it is the largest helicopter in the western world, and the CH-53K, currently in development, will be even larger. This model is designed for heavy transport, carrying up to 55 soldiers and loads up to 36,000 lbs (16,330 kg), with a speed of 173 mph (278 km/h) and a range of 621 miles (1,000 km).
The next three helicopters were all from the multi-purpose 10th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) at Fort Drum, NY which uses a combination of helicopters; attack/reconnaissance (AH-64 Apache), medium transport (UH-60 Black Hawk), and heavy transport (CH-47 Chinook) with MEDEVAC capabilities.
The CH-47F Chinook is a heavy lift tandem rotor helicopter capable of a top speed of 170 knots (200 mph; 310 km/h) and it is still one of the fastest helicopters in the US forces. Along with the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, it is one of the few aircraft developed in the early 1960s to still be in production and used in front-line service for more than 60 years.
AH-64 Apache and Longbow 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry
The H-64 Apache helicopter is a powerful combat aircraft with an aggressive design, it is equipped with advanced weapons (missiles, rockets, 30mm cannon) and can effectively engage ground and air targets. Its "Apache Longbow" version is distinguished by an improved fire control radar, reinforced rotor blades and an advanced communication system, which enhances reconnaissance, targeting and precise strike capabilities.
Sikorsky UH-60M - Black Hawk
The HH-60M Blackhawk is designed to provide medical support and ambulatory patient transport (11 troops) in all weather conditions, with a crew that includes a flight medic.
Eurocopter UH-72A - Lakota
The Lakota is a light helicopter that operates worldwide to meet homeland defense and security needs. They were acquired to replace the UH-1H Iroquois and OH-58A helicopters Kiowa. The UH-72A Lakota is a military version of the Eurocopter EC145 and the US military has over 465 of them.
McDonnell Douglas 369E Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Derived from the Hughes MD 500 family of civilian and military light utility helicopters, the 369E model has a distinctive teardrop-shaped fuselage that provides excellent outward visibility. Its fully articulated main rotor made it particularly agile and it was suitable for personnel transport, escort missions and observation.
The Fighter Alley
McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle
(85-108, 85-121, 84-016, 86-168 and 85-104)
The F-15C Eagle is an air superiority fighter aircraft that plays a vital role in American aviation. It provides protection for US and allied forces, ensuring dominance of the skies with its speed, exceptional maneuverability and advanced arsenal. During the exhibition, five copies of the F-15C Eagle were accessible bearing the colours of the squadron with the tailplane lettering "MA" for Massachusetts, except for one plane emblazoned with the letters "ZZ" for Kadena AB, Japan, a new jet assigned to the base that had not yet been repainted.
Two MIG-23 Killers proudly wore the green star
Two F-15Cs carried the green star which identified them as Mig Killers having each shot down an Iraqi MIG-23 "Flogger" in combat. The two aircraft (85-104 and 85-108) each shot down a MiG-23 on January 17 and 26, 1991 using an AIM-7 "Sparrow" missile.
Boeing EA-18G “Growler”
of Marine VAQ-129 Vikings Electronic Attack Training Squadron NAS Whidbey Island, Puget Sound, Washington
Sometimes known as the EA-18G "Growler" is of vital importance as a specialized electronic warfare aircraft. It disrupts enemy communications and air defense systems, ensuring electronic superiority and protecting U.S. forces by neutralizing radar threats and ensuring safer offensive operations.
Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, 158Th FS Green Mountain Boy VT
The F-35A Lightning II is a fifth-generation multipurpose combat aircraft, designed for a variety of missions. It stands out for its advanced stealth, network integration and state-of-the-art avionics. Featuring air-to-ground capabilities and advanced connectivity, it offers high maneuverability and multi-role versatility. Although not considered superior to the F-22 Raptor, it is complementary to it. To reduce noise pollution, particularly in Burlington VT, the F-35As avoid the use of the afterburner on takeoff, which is a major concern for citizens.
Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, Langley Air Force base, 1st Fighter Wing
The F-22 Raptor is a highly advanced stealth fighter aircraft widely recognized as one of the best in the world. It is distinguished by its advanced stealth, speed, exceptional agility, ability to fly at very high altitudes and advanced electronic suite. Its sophisticated armament and advanced technology make it a world-class fighter, surpassing other fighter jets.
The Air Force Mobility Command Zone: A Walk Among Giants
Lockheed C-130H3 Hercules, Connecticut ANG Flying Yankees 103rd Airlift Wing
The C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. It is widely used as a tactical transport aircraft by many military forces around the world. The C-130 exists in more than 40 variants, including civilian versions. The C-130H3 offers a slightly higher payload capacity and lower operating costs. Its upgrades include an improved electronics suite, with an integrated radar and missile warning system.
Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker, Maine ANG
The KC-135R, is an aerial refueling aircraft based on the Boeing 707. It is widely used by the United States Air Force and other air forces to refuel aircraft in flight, thus extending their range and endurance. The KC-135R is equipped with refueling booms and advanced systems for efficient and safe operations.
Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, McConnell AFB, 22nd Air Refueling Wing
The KC-46A, also known as the Pegasus, is an aerial refueling aircraft based on the Boeing 767. It was specifically designed to replace the older KC-135 Stratotankers. The KC-46A offers advanced refueling capabilities, as well as the ability to carry cargo and passengers. It is equipped with modern avionics and sophisticated communication systems. With its enhanced functionality, it meets today's aerial refueling requirements and provides better operational efficiency.
Boeing C-17 Globe Master III, Dover AFB, 3rd Airlift Squadron
The C-17 Globemaster III is a wide-body multipurpose military transport aircraft. It measures approximately 51.75 meters in wingspan, 53.04 meters in length and 16.79 meters in height. It is powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbojet engines, and its cruising speed is approximately 830 km/h. The maximum takeoff weight of the C-17 is approximately 265 tons. It is equipped with a spacious cargo hold that can carry up to 77 tonnes of payloads.
The Planes of the American Airpower Museum
The American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, New York, which showcased the history of American military aviation, presented us with some historic aircraft from its collection.
North American B-25 - Mitchell “Miss Hap”
The North American B-25 Mitchell is an iconic medium bomber of World War II. With a crew of six to seven members, it was used for strategic bombing, tactical support and reconnaissance missions. The B-25 was appreciated for its versatility, its robustness and its ability to operate from land bases or aircraft carriers (Doolittle Raid).
Beechcraft D18S Twin Beech
The Beechcraft D18S Twin Beech is a light and versatile transport aircraft. It has two engines and can accommodate up to nine passengers. The D18S is renowned for its reliability, maneuverability and ability to operate on short runways, making it a popular choice for passenger, cargo and medical evacuation transport. Its polished metal finish makes it a superb aircraft.
North American Texan SNJ-5
The North American Texan SNJ-5, also known as the T-6 Texan, was an advanced trainer aircraft used during World War II. It was widely used to train fighter and bomber pilots. The SNJ-5 was valued for its maneuverability, reliability, and ability to simulate fighter aircraft flight characteristics.
North American P-51D Mustang, “Jacqueline"
The P-51D Mustang "Jacqueline» has a fascinating history. During World War II it was manufactured for the US Army Air Forces and used in combat missions. It was named "Jacqueline" in honour of the pilot's sister who flew it. After the war, the aircraft was sold to civilian owners and changed hands several times. In 2018 it was donated to the American Airpower Museum, where it is displayed to represent the heroism and airpower of the era. This P-51D, decommissioned in 1958, is considered one of the best-preserved aircraft in the world, with an impeccable appearance.
North American P-51D Mustang, “Bald Eagle”
Built as a P-51D-25-NA by North American and assigned to the 335th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group in February 1945. Now privately owned (James E. Beasley, Philadelphia, PA) and painted to represent Lt Robert Eckfeld's "Bald Eagle", a P-51B of the 374th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group from RAF in 1944. Today, he takes part in numerous Heritage Flights with modern aircraft.
Airbus Defense and Space HC-144A Ocean Sentry US Coast Guard 2303 Cape Cod
The US Coast Guard has eighteen HC-144A Ocean Sentry maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft. They are used for surveillance, search and rescue missions. They offer low-altitude flight capability, extended endurance of more than 10 hours and advanced equipment for maritime operations.
Aero Vodochody L-39ZA Albatross
The L-39ZA Albatros is a light attack and trainer aircraft manufactured by Aero Vodochody. It is widely used by many air forces for pilot training and close air support missions. The L-39ZA is equipped with hardpoints for light armaments and offers good maneuverability and proven reliability. It is still in active service in several countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Thailand, Angola and other countries around the world.
Ground Support Vehicle
The 104th Wing displayed a series of essential service vehicles on base.
Top Gun Maverick Mock-up Photo Souvenir
The company "DreamBIG Entertainment" presented on site an authentic cockpit section of a fully restored F-18A, with a painting inspired by the movie "TOPGUN Maverick". Visitors had the opportunity to have their picture taken in the cockpit, wearing a flight suit and an authentic pilot's helmet, after being given a detailed explanation of the equipment present in the cockpit.
A Captivating Air Show Despite The Lack of a Demonstration Squad
The air show started early, at 10:30 a.m, with a full 18-act lineup. Unlike many other air shows, spectators at Barnes ANG Base were quite close to the action. The runway was about 250 meters from the spectator area, and the taxiway where jets like the F-15Cs taxied after their flight was less than 15-20 meters from the spectators.
The F-15C Eagle of the 131th Fighter Squadron Barnstormers
The show began with a spotlight on the Wing's jets, with the participation of four of them (85-0115 (ZZ), 85-0134, 86-0154, 88-0154, 86-0163) who flew out for a demonstration. They began with several passes in two- and four-plane formations, then each performed solo maneuvers, showcasing the agility and power of the F-15C Eagles. They performed high-speed passes at low altitude, followed by high G-force maneuvers, with sharp turns over 90 degrees and full-power altitude climbs with the afterburner activated.
Thirty minutes later, two of them returned to simulate landings with go-arounds and full-power altitude climbs. According to Colonel David "Moon" Halasi-Kun, commanding officer of the 104FW, it had been more than a decade since any pilot from the squadron had performed at an air show.
The US Army Golden Knights Parachute Team and Rob Holland
The US Army Golden Knights are the US ARMY's elite parachute team and consist of 26 members. They are recognized for their impressive acrobatic performances and their precision during demonstrations. They performed three series of parabatic type jumps with smoke and giant flags. Their most impressive trick was when Rob Holland made a spiral descent with his “MXS-RH” around a paratrooper who descended with smoke.
Sikorsky CH-53E USMC Super Stallion
A second Super Stallion from HMHT-302 in New River, NC performed a series of low-level passes with steep turns, then a hover and sideways flight to demonstrate the maneuverability and stability of this giant helicopter.
Lockheed Martin C-130J-Hercules
A Hercules from the nearby Rhode Island ANG base performed a tactical take off and several patterns around the runway at low altitude accentuated by steep turns to finally perform a short tactical landing followed by a long reverse on the runway to demonstrate the aircraft's capability in a hostile environment.
Boeing KC-46A Boeing Pegasus, 157th Air Refueling Wing, from Pease ANG, Air refueling Demo Pass
Joining the show was a massive Boeing KC-46A Pegasus from the 157th Air Refueling Wing, from Pease ANG Base in Portsmouth, NH. The aircraft conducted a formation flyby with two F-15C Eagles, at an altitude of approximately 300 meters above the runway. The KC-46A's refueling boom was deployed, highlighting its important role in aerial refueling operations.
F-15C Eagle High – High-G Maneuvers
A few minutes later the last two F-15C Eagles that had flown in formation with the KC-46A returned to perform some high-speed agility maneuvers with full-power afterburner altitude climb and high G-force turns.
KC-46A - Boeing Pegasus Ultra Low Pass
About 30 minutes later, the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus from the 157th Air Refueling Wing returned to perform a spectacular maneuver. The aircraft made a pass over the runway at an extremely low altitude, its wheels about 7 meters above the ground, before climbing back up in altitude at full power. This unusual maneuver in an air show caused a considerable impression, even with the official announcer was left speechless. The imposing size of this giant aircraft added to the visual impact of the performance.
North American B-25 Mitchel - “HAP” US Army Air Force
and P-51D Mustang “Jacqueline”
Two magnificent vintage aircraft from the American Air Power Museum flew over the base both in formation and solo, providing a striking sight. The B-25 Mitchell "HAP", a medium bomber aircraft, has a fascinating history. Used by the US Army Air Forces during World War II, it was later used for civilian purposes before being preserved and restored by the museum. Today, it symbolizes the importance of military aviation and the historical legacy of the United States Armed Forces.
Joining the B-25 Mitchell in flight, the P-51D Mustang “Jacqueline” (463542) added its grace and power to the display. This iconic WWII fighter aircraft was used for bomber escort and air superiority missions. Equipped with a powerful engine and high speed, the pilot showcased the outstanding capabilities of the P-51D Mustang during his solo flight.
Both aircraft also performed close formation maneuvers, demonstrating the agility and coordination needed to fly in sync. These aerial performances offered a spectacle that was both captivating and filled with nostalgia, allowing spectators to appreciate the history and elegance of military aviation.
A-10C Thunderbolt II, Close Air Support (CAS) Demo, 74Th FS The Flying Tigers, Moody AFB GA
Two talented pilots from the 74th Fighter Squadron captivated the audience with a close air support (CAS) demonstration featuring two A-10s flying in formation. They faked attacks and made passes to support ground forces. The planes' powerful engines rumbled as they made sharp turns and rapid descents, positioning themselves to effectively support the troops in action. In real combat missions, these pilots coordinate precise attacks and use their guns and ammunition to provide precise close support to ground forces. Their skills and expertise are essential to ensure the safety and success of military operations.
The member squadrons of the 23rd Fighter Group pay tribute to the Flying Tigers of the famous "1st American Volunteer Group" of World War II By keeping the emblems and the famous "Shark Mouth" on their planes. They preserve the legacy of these brave pilots. The 23rd Fighter Group is the only U.S. Air Force unit authorized to wear this historic distinction, demonstrating their respect for aviation traditions.
Lockheed CT-133 Silver Star, Ace Maker III
The Lockheed CT-133 Silver Star, known as the Canadair CT-133, is a jet trainer aircraft developed in Canada in the early 1950s from Lockheed's T-33 Shooting Star. The nicknamed "Ace Maker III", is a modified CT-133 used for aerial demonstrations. It was acquired by Ace Maker Aviation, a team of enthusiasts who promote the history and flight capabilities of this iconic aircraft.
Aftershock Jet Truck Driver Mark Smith
The 1940 Ford fire engine was a scorching attraction at the site, with its twin Rolls-Royce Bristol Viper jet engines, developing a total output of over 24,000 horsepower. Its incredible speed record reaches 655 km/h (407 mph). Mark Smith, the veteran driver of this truck, is known for his precision, control and courage when driving it at high speed, creating spectacular flames in the rear. He has become an iconic figure in the world of air shows thanks to his impressive performances.
Boeing C-17 - Globemaster III McGuire AFB
Another Boeing C-17 Globemaster III joined the Air Show from Joint AFB McGuire, located in the state of New Jersey. He made a low-altitude flyby of about 300 meters. This remarkable sight highlights the capability and impressive presence of this military transport aircraft. Spectators were able to closely admire the power and performance of this C-17 Globemaster III during its flight.
Kyle Franklin's Flying Circus - Piper PA-18A
Kyle Franklin's Flying Circus is a fun air show featuring renowned aerobatic pilot Kyle Franklin. With his Piper PA-18A, he performs impressive aerial stunts, such as loops, barrel rolls and aerobatic tricks. His expertise and precision in the air captivated audiences and provided a fun experience of aerobatic aviation.
Jason Flood Pitts S-2C Special
Jason Flood is a talented pilot who braves the skies with incredible control of his aerobatic plane, he performs impressive aerial tricks during his demonstrations. His agile and powerful aircraft allows him to string together impressive tricks and his precision, his dynamic flying style and his passion for aviation make him a top aerial artist.
Rob Holland and his MXS-RH
Rob Holland, entered this world as a fan of air shows as a child. Today, with his one-of-a-kind carbon fiber aircraft, the MXS-RH, powered by a 380 horsepower Lycoming engine, he pushes the limits of aerobatics. Thanks to his 18 years of experience, he has developed innovative and unparalleled maneuvers, offering exceptional performance during air shows.
Two Genuine Original WWII Veterans C-47 SkyTrain, Placid Lassie and Second Chance and Liberty Jump Team
"Placid Lassie", a renowned participant in operations: "D-Day", "Market Garden" (Netherlands), "Repulse" (liberation of Bastogne) and "Varsity", is a C-47 built in 1943 by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Now owned by the “Tunison Foundation”, this aircraft has been fully restored and is currently used in air shows and commemorations, such as the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings in 2019.
As for "Second Chance", it is a C-47 transferred to the Royal Air Force from the USAAF in 1945, before "D-Day". This aircraft took part in operations “Overlord” and “Market Garden”. It is one of the few authentic C-47s still configured in its original military version.
The “Liberty Jump Team” is a group of history-loving paratroopers specializing in commemorating World War II paratroopers. They perform historic jumps and reenactments to pay tribute to the brave soldiers of airborne operations. Unfortunately, when we were there, the jump was cancelled due to strong crosswinds.
Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Demo Team
The long-awaited demonstration by the F-35A Lightning II Demo Team was garnering a lot of attention, especially due to the imminent arrival of the F-35A as the squadron's new aircraft. Pilot Kristin Wolfe, recently promoted to Major, and team commander from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, was tasked for the third year in a row to showcase the unique aerial capabilities of this most advanced fifth-generation all-purpose stealth fighter. As a former F-22A pilot and operational F-35A pilot assigned to Hill AFB, she has over 900 flight hours. Her dynamic display of this aircraft's performance truly impressed the onlookers.
Air Force Heritage Flight USAF F-35A Lightning II and P-51 - Mustang “Bald Eagle”
The highlight of the show was the heritage flight between Major Kristin Wolfe's F-35A and the P-51D Mustang “Bald Eagle”. This flight, representing the Air Force's heritage through aerial displays involving both vintage and modern aircraft. This representation symbolizes the evolution of aviation and pays tribute to the rich heritage of the Air Force.
Special Mention to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, Langley Air Force Base, 1st Fighter Wing
The F-22 Raptor created a special sensation when it arrived at the airport and deserves a special mention, even though it was not scheduled for the weekend aerial display, but just a static display. For nearly 10 minutes, the pilot impressed onlookers and photographers by demonstrating the exceptional agility of his aircraft. With at least four mock landings, he used afterburner and full power to generate thrills. Rapid climbs and high G-force turns, thanks to the F-22's moving exhaust, it added remarkable precision to its maneuvers. This unexpected demonstration offered an impressive spectacle to all the lucky people present.
In conclusion, at the end of this great aerial demonstration, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the performances, both on the ground and in flight, despite the absence of a large aerobatic squadron.
Colonel David "Moon" Halasi-Kun, commander of the 104th Wing, could not hide his joy in the breathtaking results of this memorable weekend. This air show was undeniably a resounding success, arousing the admiration and wonder of the spectators. However, it is still too early to speak of a date for the next edition which, according to the Colonel, will now take place every five to six years. This leaves room for an even more grandiose and technologically advanced air show. Aviation enthusiasts will just have to wait before they can relive such an amazing experience.
Into the Unknown
Text by Erik Bruijns
In March 2023, the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa – FAP) took a big step forward in its pursuit to integrate its newly acquired transport aircraft.
The new KC-390 will run through its paces in Portugal for NATO certification - FAB
The first FAP Embraer KC-390 Millennium multi-mission transport aircraft landed at Beja Air Base on March 5. The KC-390 will undergo a phase of integration of NATO equipment and certifications by the Portuguese National Aeronautical Authority (AAN). The integration phase and AAN certification-related activities in Portugal will be handled by Embraer’s Portuguese subsidiary, OGMA, in collaboration with the FAP. Once equipment integration and certification work are complete, the first aircraft will be officially handed over to the FAP. This is scheduled to be formally received in 2023. The last of five aircraft is scheduled for delivery in 2027.
In August 2019, the Government of Portugal signed an 827 million Euro (894 million USD) contract with Embraer for the acquisition of five KC-390 Millennium aircraft, as part of FAP’s process to modernize capabilities and increase readiness for public interest missions. The contract included a full Rheinmetall flight simulator, maintenance of the fleet, an Elbit systems electronic warfare suite and related support, ground support equipment, maintenance of the V2500-E5 engine, medical evacuation (medevac) kits, the construction of new infrastructure and refurbishing existing infrastructure.
The KC-390 meets all FAP requirements and is capable of performing various civilian missions, including humanitarian support, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and wildfire fighting, adding superior transport and launch capabilities for cargo and troops and in-flight refueling. It also includes NATO standard equipment, such as the Link-16 datalink system, a Mode 4/5 identification friend or foe transponder and communications equipment.
A FAP pilot flying the KC-390 over Brazil - Embraer
506 Squadron “Rinocerontes” (Rhinos) at Beja Air Base No 11 was officially activated on May 20, 2023. This is the fourth transport squadron that will be operated by the FAP, next to 501 Squadron “Bisontes” (Bisons) flying the Lockheed C-130H, 502 Squadron “Elefantes” (Elephants) flying the CASA C-295M/MPA and 504 Squadron “Linces” (Lynxes) flying the Dassault Falcon 50/900. The KC-390 was initially acquired to replace the aging C-130H. The latter is set to be replaced in 2028, but this is currently not written in stone. Collins Aerospace is currently working on the C-130H in a modernization effort, which the first fully upgraded airframe to be ready at the end of 2023. Serving as a contractor to OGMA, Collins will provide its Flight2 aftermarket avionics solution, which delivers the most cost-effective and lowest-risk CNS/ATM upgrade solution. Flight2 transforms a federated analog system into a modern digital glass cockpit that provides commonality to commercial aircraft. Included in the avionics upgrade is a full glass cockpit with new primary flight displays, Required Navigation Performance/Area Navigation flight management system with high altitude release point, and computed air release point precision airdrop software. This upgrade would enable the C-130H to work together with the KC-390 and focus on specific missions. Major Pousa, 506 squadron commander, explained, “The KC-390 was initially acquired to be a replacement for the C-130H, but with the capabilities of the KC-390 it is more than that. With the current knowledge, the Hercules is planned to be phased out in 2028. There is, however, currently an upgrade programme ongoing on the Hercules, which is looking at the cockpit and not the engines or airframe. When we take the KC-390 into operations, it can do what two C-130s are currently doing, so the FAP will gain a lot more capabilities. With an ever-growing need to reduce cost, this will be a great advantage for the transport fleet of the FAP. We are planning for Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2024, followed by the Full Operational Capability (FOC) in 2026.”
KC-390 in production - Embraer
Major Pousa went into more detail about the KC-390 programme, “Portugal has always had a close relationship with Brazil and Embraer. We have OGMA, which is a subsidiary of Embraer, so we have close cooperation with our aviation industries. We started the program in 2017 with the procurement process, in which the FAP looked at the capabilities of the new transport plane to come to a final decision. In August 2019, the minister of defense decided to buy the KC-390 to replace the C-130. To replace the C-130 is not easy, because it is a well-proven aircraft which is operated by many other armed forces over the world. This gives advantages to the FAP, not only from a spare parts point of view, but also from pilot and crew experience point of view. Following the decision for the procurement, the FAP started the process of filling in the details. In addition to the number of aircraft and a simulator ordered, this also included how the qualification of the crews and maintenance personnel would be done. The first crew, two pilots and two loadmasters, started their training at the end of 2021. We were integrated within the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), finishing the course and maintained the qualifications in 2022. After finishing the course, we flew missions within the FAB on basic missions from Anapolis, near Brasilia.”
With the presence of the Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa, the first KC-390 Millennium was presented in October 2022 at Beja - Embraer
Major Pousa continued on the current status of the programme, “After the first production aircraft arrived at Beja in March of this year, we started a round of certifications. The aircraft is currently still owned by Embraer. On some flights we go onboard to supervise and see the certification of specific equipment that needs to be verified and confirmed by the FAP. We have a team of our own engineers that are doing these certifications, to ensure all the tests are being done as per our standards. The Embraer team, in the meantime, is working on integrating the NATO equipment as this is a completely new integration. Together with the Embraer team each flight is debriefed to check the status and discuss anything that needs to be improved for the next flight. At the moment, we are in a crucial phase. We are trying to keep up with the planning which has been set at the beginning of the programme. So, our main goal is to prevent any delays in the test phase, in order for us to not get behind with the upcoming tests. Currently, we are still aiming to have the first aircraft handed over around September / October of 2023. Pilot and crew training is currently ongoing. We have one course per year with pilots and loadmasters coming from 501 Squadron, previously flying the C-130. This includes four pilots and six loadmasters as well as twelve mechanics who are currently in Brazil. The aim is to have all these new pilots and crew completely qualified to start missions in November of 2023. For the upcoming course, in 2024, we will have six pilots and six loadmasters going to Embraer in Brazil. These upcoming courses will receive pilots that have just graduated from the academy as well as more experienced pilots that have flown on the other transport squadrons. So, we will see, more and more, a mix of pilots that will be joining 506 squadron. The training courses are providing a good learning curve to the new crew as well as Embraer. The FAP is providing the first crew of a foreign armed force, so the feedback we provide is valuable to make the course and training even better.”
The first FAP Millennium touches down at the Gavião Peixoto facility in Sao Paulo region - Embraer
With the KC-390 set to be handed over at the end of 2023, the FAP is looking ahead at expanding their transport capabilities. Major Pousa provides more details; “The KC-390 will be able to carry out the same missions as we have been tasked with for many years on the C-130. This will include carrying out strategical and tactical airlift, civil and military operations, from transporting troops, vehicles and cargo, dropping paratroopers and cargo, health evacuations, and search and rescue missions. Going forward we will be able to add onto this, with the possibility to perform air to air refueling missions as both tanker and receiver. In addition to this we are even looking at adding firefighting activities to the mission envelope. At the moment, we see firefighting activities only as a possibility, but it will bring with it a whole different set of challenges. How we use an airplane during such missions will put a lot of additional stress on the airframe. It will be a difficult decision to take on whether we will use the KC-390 for this. We do, however, see that we will gain a lot from operating the KC-390. Yes, we will mainly be performing the same missions, but the biggest difference is the speed of the aircraft. This will enable us to gain a lot of time in two ways. First of all, we can get to our destination in a shorter timeframe. And secondly, we can deliver more payload, saving us a lot of time. As an example, our detachment in Lithuania or Iceland, for instance. With the C-130H we would need two aircraft and two days. We would fly out, stay there overnight due to the flying time before we can return to base. With the KC-390 we can deliver the same payload and return within the day. This will give us way more possibilities and flexibility in how we transport troops and material to places far away. On top of that, the technology is more advanced, and the aircraft will give us more fuel efficiency, which saves Portugal money.”
Inside look of the all glass cockpit of the KC-390 - Embraer
Major Pousa elaborated further on the use of the KC-390 in the air-to-air refueling role, “The possibility to refuel a plane in mid-air will provide the FAP with new possibilities for reaching places that are out of reach for our aircraft with their normal fuel load. With the current setup of the refueling system, we will not be able to provide fuel to our F-16s. Initially, the KC-390 will be configured with a drogue system, which limits the mid-air refueling capabilities to specific types of aircraft. This is being discussed with Embraer and the possibility of adding a boom operated system into the KC-390 is being explored. Our main goal with the new mid-air refueling capabilities will be to sell our service to other armed forces in Europe. Many aircraft in Europe, like the Eurofighter and Rafale, are flying with the probe system for refueling in mid-air, so this will allow us to work closer together with our allies.”
The first FAP KC-390 is still wearing its civil registration as it is still under a certification and verification process - FAP
As the FAP has been the first armed force after the Brazilian Air Force to acquire the KC-390, it is paving the way for other countries to see the advantages of the new aircraft and get onboard. Major Pousa explained, “We have been working closely together with different European armed forces in the last couple of months as there has been a lot of interest into capabilities of the KC-390. We have had a visit from representatives of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, who have a similar contract with Embraer as the FAP. So, they visited Beja to have a look at the new facilities and to get an update on the current status of the programme and what we are focusing on at the moment. In addition to this, we had a ‘C-390 Millennium Users Group’, which was held at the end of March 2023 for interested countries. During this users group, we had representatives from the Netherlands, Hungary, Czech Republic and Austria looking at presentations from ourselves as well as the Brazilian Air Force. This forum was set up to show them the specifics of the aircraft as well as share experience gained on the KC-390 so far. The amount of work we have done so far on the program has been a great achievement. We have been working hard on all the certifications and making sure the new aircraft can be integrated into the FAP and NATO standards. Other countries will benefit from our work as they can start using it with minor adjustments and improvements. When you start using a completely new aircraft it is normal to find some minor issues. These points will be resolved quickly and not be an issue for other operators at a later stage. In addition to the benefits from our initial work, other countries will also benefit from our simulator as the FAP will sell this service and make 506 squadron the main hub for KC-390 users in Europe.”
C-390 Millennium Users group enabling future and potential users of the (K)C-390 to learn more about the new aircraft - FAP