Embraer Promises To Deliver More for Less with Legacy 500

 - March 27, 2012, 12:45 AM
Embraer’s new Legacy 500 won’t now make its first flight until the third quarter of this year, but should still enter service by the end of 2013.

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The first flight of Embraer’s new Legacy 500 has been delayed until the third quarter of this year, due to software problems with its fly-by-wire controls. Nonetheless, the 500 and its shorter-haul, smaller sibling, the Legacy 450, are set to shine as the latest entries in the Brazilian manufacturer’s burgeoning book of business jet offerings, which range from the entry-level Phenom 100 to the uber barge Lineage 1000.

Like all of Embraer’s executive jets, the new Legacy models offer a simple value proposition: more for less. It’s a formula that already has taken a big bite out of the market shares of Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft. With the 500, Embraer is targeting other manufacturers as well, including Bombardier and Gulfstream. Along with the in-development Learjet 85, the 500 threatens to take customers from both the midsize and super-midsize sectors by creating a niche somewhere in between: Call it midsize plus.

For $18.4 million (at 2008 values) the 500 delivers the ability to carry up to 12 passengers in a cabin that is near super-midsize. With eight passengers, it has a range of 2,800 nm (5,182 km). Maximum cruise speed is Mach 0.82 (871 km/h). Passengers can bring more luggage, skis, golf clubs and anything else than they could fit in almost any other midsize or super-midsize jet: The 500 has 150 cu ft (4.2 cu m) of baggage space–110 cu ft (3.1 cu m) in the external compartment and another 40 cu ft (1.1 cu m) in the closet that can be accessed through the lavatory.

The spacious, flat-floor main cabin measures 26 ft 10 in (8.2 m) long, 6 ft 10 in (2.1 m) wide and 6 feet (1.82 m) tall. Embraer says several layouts will be available. Customers can choose between a large, well-appointed forward galley opposite galley annex storage or a single, side-facing seat ideal for a cabin attendant. Or they can have a side-facing, two-place divan opposite a small refreshment center. The wet galley features hot and cold water, four gallons of potable water, crystal storage and an ice drawer, compartments for china and silverware, 110V power outlet and optional monitor and espresso maker.

Behind that is the two-zone main cabin, with seating for an additional eight to nine passengers. Possible configurations include two club-four groupings of single seats or a forward club-four followed by a half-club with a three-place, berthing divan on either the right or left side.

Half club pairs of single seats can be rotated back-to-back and then reclined together to form a comfortable sleeping surface. With the seats positioned and folded down in this manner, the 500 provides sleeping accommodations for up to four passengers. Behind that is the lavatory, complete with solid door, vanity, basin and vacuum toilet–a luxury not usually seen in an airplane of this size.

Seats and tables were revised to better reflect buyer tastes after Embraer’s customer advisory panel saw the preliminary cabin mockup, said Ernest Edwards, president of Embraer Executive Jets. As on its smaller Phenom jets, Embraer collaborated with BMW DesignworksUSA on cabin styling on the 500.

The aircraft features Honeywell’s high-definition Ovation Select cabin-management system, which allows passengers to manage all cabin entertainment, communications, lights, temperature, galley and window-shade controls via drink-rail-mounted personal control units, wireless handheld remotes or a galley touchscreen. It can interface with high-speed satellite communications and a variety of consumer electronics, including iPods, MP3 players, Apple TV and gaming systems. Moreover, it is built on an Ethernet backbone and has extensive diagnostic and troubleshooting capability. Ovation’s media interface also hosts the optional JetMap3HD moving-map applications and the latest news, weather and sports updates. Ovation uses high-end Rosen HD monitors and Alto audio components. The pressurization system keeps cabin altitude at a comfortable 6,000 feet (1,829 m) at the 500’s maximum cruising altitude of 45,000 feet (13,716 m).

The cabin is impressive, but the cockpit is what really got my attention. Call it fighter jet meets Bentley Continental GT.

The avionics are state-of-the-art Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion. The four large active-matrix LCDs in the panel connect the pilots with synthetic enhanced vision with an optional heads-up display; electronic charts, maps, graphical weather depiction from an intuitive MultiScan weather radar system that sees up to 300 miles (555 km) out; and an airport surface-management system that minimizes the chances of making a wrong turn or colliding with another vehicle on the ground–even when visibility is limited. The system is designed to minimize pilot workload while incorporating data from just about every known safety system available. The MultiScan weather radar has the predictive capability to guide pilots not just around bad weather, but over it. Fusion can grow to accommodate future technology add-ons including voice recognition, surface guidance and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), the future of air traffic control.

The stodgy control yokes are gone, replaced by side sticks connected to a fly-by-wire (FBW) flight-control system, the first for an airplane under $40 million. FBW eliminates the mechanical linkages between the flight controls and the flight control surfaces (ailerons, rudder, elevator and spoilers). Pilot inputs are combined with sensor inputs and computerized flight control laws for crisper and faster inputs that do not deviate from the aircraft’s performance envelope. FBW first appeared on fighter jets and later modern airliners.

Embraer has extensive experience with it on its large regional jets and military aircraft. FBW systems are lighter than traditional mechanical systems and generally make flying safer and easier.

But that’s not all that is new on the 500–so are the quiet, clean and efficient Honeywell          HTF7500E engines, which should satisfy any noise curfew or emission standard that even the most creative bureaucrat can fashion. Honeywell says the engines use proprietary technologies that improve fuel burn while reducing production of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, unburned fuel emissions and smoke. If you love the smell of kerosene in the morning, the 500 may not be the airplane for you. 

However, if you want an airplane with transcontinental range, a comfortable and innovative cabin, the latest avionics and good operating economics, the 500 should make your list of finalists. “I can’t wait for this airplane to get into the hands of pilots and customers,” Embraer’s Edwards told me last summer. That should happen by the end of 2013.

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