Embraer E190-E2 Takes Flight Ahead of Schedule

 - May 23, 2016, 12:58 PM
The first Embraer E190-E2 touches down in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil, following a three-hour, 20-minute first flight. (Photo: Embraer)

The Embraer E190-E2 flew for the first time Monday from the company’s facilities in São Jose dos Campos, Brazil, well ahead of schedule. The jet took to the air at 1:06 p.m. local time as clouds broke over the site despite forecasts for poor weather conditions. During the three-hour, 20-minute mission, Embraer captain Mozart Louzada and first officer Gerson de Oliveira retracted the landing gear, flew the airplane to its maximum altitude of 41,000 feet and its top cruise speed of Mach 0.82 and engaged its new fly-by-wire system in normal mode. The flight path took the E2 some 150 miles from São Jose dos Campos east toward Rio de Janeiro, explained director of flight operations and flight test engineer Alexandre Figueiredo. The flight came at least five weeks earlier than the second-half 2016 time frame Embraer had last reported.

We had a long test card and we were able to execute 100 percent of it,” Embraer Commercial Aviation COO Luis Carlos Affonso told AIN just after debriefing the pilots. “The message is the airplane is very mature, very robust; all the investments we made in modeling, simulation, the iron bird and all the tests we did on the ground really paid off.”

Louzada reported that the E2’s handling characteristics precisely mimic those of the E1 despite the relatively extensive changes to the wing and the new airplane’s significantly heavier Pratt & Whitney PW1900G engines. “Most important for us in terms of the pilots and crew that will be in the cockpit is that the design driver that we established from the beginning was a common type rating,” said Louzada. “A very good thing is when you sit in the cockpit, even though you see different technologies…the pilot will feel completely at home…I would say there is no difference at all [between the E1’ and E2’s flight characteristics]. By ‘tricking’ the fly-by-wire system, which is a closed-loop technology, we were able to make the E2 fly exactly like the E1.” 

Affonso attributed the ability to fly the airplane earlier than planned mainly to the proficiency of the project team and the experience the company has gained from its busy development schedules. “In this project, really we have applied everything that we have learned [from past projects],” he explained. “Yes, we had some buffer, but things went better than expected in terms of the functioning of the systems, the design, the build of the structures.”

One of the other keys to the swift progress lies not only in Embraer’s main São Jose dos Campos campus, site of final assembly and now wing assembly, but across town in the Eugenio de Melo facility, where the static/fatigue test airframe and the E190-E2 iron bird nests. The iron bird does not include an airframe, but it incorporates the E2’s components and systems, such as hydraulics, avionics and flight controls. The iron bird has so far performed 18,000 hours of tests since it began “flying” in mid-2015, and plans call for another 10,000 hours before expected certification in the first half of 2018. Meanwhile, Embraer expects to start ground testing with the static airframe “quite soon,” reported Affonso.

The program calls for the use of four flight-test airplanes, the first three of which Embraer expects to fly by the end of this year. It plans to fly the fourth—equipped with a full interior—late this year or early next year. While Embraer outfitted the first three airplanes identically to aid in schedule flexibility, plans call for the airplane it flew Monday to perform mainly low-speed testing and flight quality and the second airplane primarily high-speed testing. By the end of the campaign the first two airplanes will both participate in takeoff and landing performance testing, while the third concentrates on systems, said Figueiredo. “Sometimes [other flight test campaigns] have different instrumentation between airplanes to minimize the cost of instrumentation,” he explained. “But we changed our minds here and spent some more money on instrumentation to have more flexibility.”

Embraer Commercial Aviation CEO Paulo Cesar Silva told AIN that the early first flight won’t likely translate into earlier delivery to the E190-E2’s launch customer, the identity of which remains undecided. “I wish, but my engineers here are saying they would like to use the full time to get an even more mature aircraft at EIS,” said Silva. “I think this is a very good idea. So let’s not rush, but be sure that as it goes into EIS, it will be a terrific aircraft by all means.”

Still, the fact that the airplane already weighs less than the original target specified reflects its early maturity, added Affonso. “This is very rare, to have an airplane at this stage of a program that is not overweight,” he said. “This gives us lots of reassurance that this, indeed, will be a very efficient airplane.”

Now preparing to fly the second prototype in roughly a month and the third perhaps a month and a half later, the program as a whole remains ahead of the schedule set when Embraer launched the E2 family in 2013. “Another important goal that we had was to not put so much energy on the first airplanes, that the others would take too long or would get delayed,” said Affonso. In all, the program schedule calls for 2,000 flight test hours, roughly the same number needed to certify the recently introduced Legacy 500.