There is no better way to assess the performance of a business jet than flying it on a long trip, in this case a delivery flight from Embraer’s manufacturing plant in São José dos Campos, Brazil, to the U.S. AIN senior editor Matt Thurber joined Executive AirShare (EAS) chief pilot Alex Franz during the delivery of the company’s last Phenom 300 from Brazil in mid-December. This was also EAS’s 30th Phenom; the remaining Phenoms that EAS has ordered will be assembled at Embraer’s plant in Melbourne, Fla. Also on the trip were EAS chairman emeritus and founder Bob Taylor and his wife, Kathie; Keith Plumb, president and CEO; and director of marketing and corporate communications Jill Plumb.
The original plan was for me to fly all the way to the Phenom 300’s final destination, EAS’s headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., but I left the group in Fort Lauderdale because of some scheduling challenges, stemming in part from a delay caused by a faulty component. This also illustrated the extraordinary efforts that Embraer’s customer support organization put forth to get us back in the air as quickly as possible.
The trip from São José dos Campos to Kansas City took two days and about 12.5 flight hours, or 9.5 hours from Brazil to Fort Lauderdale. This included an unscheduled overnight in Belem, Brazil, instead of the planned overnight in St. Maarten.
Because this was the final delivery trip for an EAS-purchased airplane from Brazil, Embraer held a ceremony on December 17 to celebrate the two companies’ long collaboration. This Phenom 300 is EAS’s ninth, and the company also operates 14 Phenom 100s, four CJ2+s, four King Air 350s and two 90s and two Learjet 45XRs.
The remainder of EAS’s Phenom orders will be assembled and delivered at Embraer’s factory in Melbourne, Fla. During the delivery ceremony, Embraer president and CEO Marco Túlio Pellegrini praised EAS for its confidence in selecting the Phenom 100 and 300 for the company’s fractional-share and charter fleet. “We will always be behind you. Anytime, any moment you can call me,” he said. “We are always available. Don’t hesitate a second if you need anything, it doesn’t matter if it’s an airplane, support, technical, anything, we are here to assist you.”
We were all set for an early start the next morning; EAS’s newest Phenom 300–N368AS, featuring Brazilian flag colors and U.S. and Brazilian flags on the tail–was sitting outside the Embraer delivery hangar, which was full of sparkling new E-Jet airliners and a Legacy 500 awaiting delivery. With six occupants and fuel tanks nearly full with 5,245 pounds of jet-A, the Phenom 300 weighed about 18,300 pounds, near the optional design weight increase maximum takeoff weight (mtow) of 18,387 pounds. Franz flew left seat; the Phenom 300 is a single-pilot jet certified under Part 23, and although he flew most of the trip, I took off and flew during the climb after the stop in Belem and then flew the descent and approach and then landed in Fort Lauderdale. I was able to get a feel for the Phenom 300’s handling and also plenty of time to observe its performance capabilities.
In the light jet arena, the $8.995 million Phenom 300 is the fastest of the new-build jets available, just slightly outpacing its main competitor, the Williams FJ44-4A-powered Citation CJ4. At mid-cruise weight, the Phenom 300 is capable of 453 ktas; it is powered by the 3,360-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada PW535E.
The Phenom 300 is equipped with a Garmin G1000-based Prodigy flight deck, currently still available in two versions, the original system with an alphanumeric keyboard for data entry and the newer Prodigy Touch G2000-type system with two touchscreen GTC 570 controllers mounted on the forward center console. This EAS Phenom 300 has the basic Prodigy setup, and it isn’t equipped with the synthetic vision system, which was optional at the time of the sale.
We took off at 8:53 a.m. in light wind and relatively clear skies. Takeoff speeds were 111 knots for rotation and V1, with V2 at 120 knots, and the Phenom’s Fadec-operated PW535s gave us a firm push as Franz advanced the power.
The tower controller cleared us to fly a downwind leg after takeoff and to fly back over the runway to pay tribute to our Embraer friends, a bittersweet moment for the EAS folks in the cabin as it will probably be their last trip to São Paolo for a while.
Climbing at 250 kias, we were cleared to FL400. At FL240 and Mach 0.548, rate of climb was 1,750 fpm and fuel burn 930 pounds per side. As we passed through FL340 some 29 minutes after takeoff, the speed increased to Mach 0.622. We arrived at FL400 thirty six minutes after takeoff, and at ISA conditions and with power set to the normally used max cruise setting, speed settled at Mach 0.751 with fuel flow of 518 pph per side and a cabin altitude of 5,700 feet. At the maximum altitude of FL450, cabin altitude would be 6,600 feet, thanks to the 9.4-psi pressurization differential. About an hour later, speed climbed to Mach 0.764 (437 ktas) at ISA -1 degree C with the same fuel-flow numbers.
The 1,328-nm leg to Belem took 3:18 (including the departure pass over the runway), and the Phenom 300 burned about 3,700 pounds of fuel. We needed to clear customs in Belem, so after landing we were directed to an older terminal building now used for international GA traffic. We brought all of our luggage inside and were cleared through quickly while the Phenom was being fueled and provisioned, then we reloaded and reboarded for the next leg to St. Maarten.
Shooting Some Trouble
After starting the engines, a CAS message popped up on the center display, indicating a No. 1 bleed-air system failure. Franz went through the few steps in the quick-reference handbook, but nothing, including shutdowns and restarts, would fix the problem. We could see on the synoptics diagram that the left-side pressure shut-off valve wouldn’t remain open. After consulting with EAS maintenance and Embraer, we taxied to the other side of the airport to the Signature Flight Support/Lider Aviação FBO. While not a typical sumptuous U.S.-style FBO, the Lider facility features a comfortable lounge, and the people who ran the facility–especially manager Elias Junior–were most hospitable and did everything they could to help us.
Calls to Embraer’s customer support team ensued, and the first order of business became downloading data from the Phenom’s central maintenance computer (CMC). This was a good lesson in modern aircraft maintenance; instead of trying to troubleshoot the problem from the sparse available data from the CAS message, it is essential to find out the root cause before opening panels and digging into the airplane’s guts. All newer aircraft capture fault data, and on the Phenom 300 it was just a matter of formatting an SD memory card using Franz’s PC laptop, downloading the CMC data, then emailing it to Embraer.
The problem turned out to be a failed fan-air valve on the left engine. This valve modulates the flow of cooling bypass air from the fan section of the engine and helps cool bleed air by removing heat from the pre-cooler. In any case, this was an excellent demonstration of the CMC’s ability to drill down to the root cause of a problem without having to rely on someone’s tribal knowledge or by shotgun replacing parts in an expensive troubleshooting effort.
Obviously, there was no replacement fan-air valve locally, so Embraer quickly put together a flight crew and a mechanic, pulled a new fan-air valve off the Phenom production line and launched them to Belem in another Phenom 300. They arrived that evening and Juan, the tireless and talented mechanic, stayed up late replacing and testing the new fan-air valve, finishing at about 11 p.m. Being a careful and forward-thinking mechanic, Juan also brought a spare bleed-air valve and some other parts, just in case. The speed with which Embraer responded to the problem was impressive.
We spent the night in downtown Belem, a lively city with a fascinating history as the capital of Pará state and a key player in the Amazon region’s rubber-making history. The weather was typically hot and humid near the Equator, and gigantic afternoon thunderstorms reminded us why we had planned our trip to pass through in the morning.
Leg Two: St. Maarten
The second day would be longer, because of the previous day’s delay, so we left the hotel early for the airport. We had to taxi the Phenom back across the airport to the old terminal to clear customs again, but this was a quick formality. We topped off the tanks as we had burned some fuel during the restarts when we were trying to reboot the failed valve.
The leg from Belem to St. Maarten is 1,451 nm, and we lined up on Belem’s Runway 06 in ISA +12 degree C conditions. This was my takeoff, and Franz explained that the Phenom 300 requires a strong pull at rotation, past the 10 degrees shown by the flight director cue right up to 15 degrees nose up, then holding that until the gear and flaps are stowed to keep the speed from building too quickly, then lowering the nose back to meet the flight director. Franz said that new Phenom 300 pilots often hesitate to pull the nose up to the 15-degree point, and he was right. The jet accelerated quickly even at the high temperature, and at rotation speed I gave the Phenom’s ram’s horn yoke a hefty pull, but even then I found that more pull was needed to muscle the nose past the 10-degree mark.
During the climb, temperatures remained elevated through the high thirties, at ISA +13, and this slowed our climb for a bit, to about 500 fpm. As we sped up through FL400, the temperature dropped to near ISA, and the climb rate bounced back; we were still making 1,000 fpm at FL400 on our way up to FL430, where we leveled off about 33 minutes after takeoff. At the higher altitude, compared to the previous day’s flight, the Phenom 300 settled down at Mach 0.729 and 413 ktas, while the engines each burned about 460 pph. The cabin was pressurized to 6,300 feet.
As we flew off the coast of Brazil and eventually worked our way north along the southern Caribbean islands, the outside temperature dropped a few degrees and we picked up some speed, topping out at Mach 0.750 and 425 ktas before beginning our descent to St. Maarten. This leg took about the same time as the first flight, 3:17, and even with headwinds of more than 40 knots for much of the flight, we made better time. ATC was helpful and from fairly far out cleared us direct to Antigua.
Descending into the airspace near St. Maarten, we were treated to the delightful island cadence of the extremely busy lone controller handling approach, tower and ground frequencies all at the same time. The approach over famous Maho Beach, where tourists crowd near the edge of the fence on the end of Runway 10, looks intimidating, but there is no need to fly anything other than a normal 3-deg glideslope down to the 7,500-foot runway, and Franz landed smoothly with minimum fuss.
We didn’t have much time to hang out in St. Maarten, but the friendly folks at the Signature Flight Support FBO assured us that we could clear customs and take a taxi to the Sunset Bar & Grill at Maho Beach for a quick snack and make it back in plenty of time while the Phenom was being fueled. Despite a strike by the customs officers’ union, we made it through the paperwork with little fuss and were soon quaffing cold drinks and watching the show as airplanes of various sizes negotiated the final approach to Runway 10. Pilots flying larger airplanes seemed to delight in passing as close to the fence line as possible, to the delight of the beachgoers lined up with their selfie sticks poised to capture the moment.
Taxiing out to line up with a few other airplanes waiting to take off, it was amazing to hear the controller issuing instructions interspersed with lengthy clearances, and also hard to believe that one person could handle the challenge of managing such a large chunk of airspace and local operations with such aplomb. From the sound of other pilots struggling with reading back their clearances, it was obvious that even highly experienced professional pilots occasionally needed this controller to slow down a bit.
Leg Three: Fort Lauderdale
It was another 1,062 nm to Fort Lauderdale International, where we would again have to clear customs and also where I would leave the group. After a delay at 15,000 feet, we climbed to FL400 where speed settled on Mach 0.747 and 430 ktas and fuel burn of 518 pph per engine.
I hand-flew the descent and ILS approach to get more used to the feel of the Phenom before the landing at Fort Lauderdale. The wind was blowing across Runway 10R and gusting past 20 knots. By this time I was more familiar with the feel of the Phenom 300’s yoke, which at first doesn’t seem to offer a comfortable place to rest an elbow while gripping one yoke of the ram’s horn. It became natural just to hold the yoke without any support, although I could understand Franz’s desire that Embraer add some kind of cockpit sidewall armrest.
Closer to the ground, the bumps grew stronger, but the Phenom plowed through the lumpy air without any trouble. I let the speed drop a little too much as the wind gusted around on short final and added a fistful of power just as Franz warned me about the diminishing airspeed. The wind kept up its antics right down to the runway, and my touchdown, aided by Franz’s sure hand, wasn’t too smooth, with a last-minute gust pushing the left wing up slightly, but the Phenom’s trailing-beam landing gear helped smooth out my inexperience with this particular airplane.
The Phenom 300 flies much like a larger jet, with zero flare during the landing; it must be flown onto the runway in what appears to be a flat attitude, then once the main gear touches, smoothly allowing the nose to drop and stepping on the brake-by-wire anti-skid carbon brakes.
Overall I found the Phenom 300’s handling fairly stiff, much more like that of a heavier Citation, for example, but this isn’t a small jet, even though it is considered to be in the light jet category. Pilots who are used to flying smaller and more nimble jets will find in the Phenom 300 an excellent introduction to heavier and more capable jets, as well as far better performance and a BMW DesignworksUSA-designed cabin that is perfectly sized for half a dozen passengers.
The EAS Phenom 300 has the standard interior configuration, with four-passenger club seating and two forward-facing seats aft, then the enclosed lavatory area with a belted seat for a total of eight occupants. Optional configurations include seating for 11 people with a two-place divan opposite the cabin door, or 10 people with a single seat instead of the divan. Large windows bring in a lot of light. Behind the cockpit is plenty of space for a coffee maker, ice drawer and various other cabinets and even a closet.
The cockpit is comfortable and well laid out for one pilot and single-pilot operation. All switches and controls are in front of the pilot seats, with no overhead panel cluttering the cockpit. While the Prodigy flight deck is capable and familiar to anyone who flies Garmin’s G1000 avionics, I prefer the touchscreen controllers, and Embraer has now made Prodigy Touch standard, along with synthetic vision.
The trip from Brazil to Florida highlighted the Phenom 300’s real-world performance. With a max-cruise range of 1,896 nm or 1,971 nm at long-range cruise (six occupants, NBAA IFR, 100-nm alternate), this light jet has a long reach while carrying a fuel-fuel payload of 1,142 pounds (or 1,561 pounds with the optional design weight increase, which boosts mtow to 18,387 pounds).
On an ISA day at the design weight increase mtow, takeoff field length is 3,254 feet. Even at the higher temperature that we encountered in Belem, field length climbs just about 225 feet. On a warm ISA +15 degree C day at 5,000 feet, takeoff field length is 4,874 feet. Time to climb to the maximum altitude FL450 is 27 minutes, but the more efficient altitudes below FL400 can be reached in 13 (FL350) to 16 minutes (FL390). Unfactored landing distance at the landing weights on our trip, about 14,000 pounds, is 2,309 feet at sea level.
The mission profile published by Embraer pretty well matched the real-world experience. For example, for the 1,328-nm first leg of the trip, we burned 3,700 pounds of fuel and flew at FL400 for a total time of 3:18, but that included a few extra minutes and pounds of fuel for the trip around the pattern to fly back over the runway before departing São José dos Campos. A 1,400-nm flight at max cruise at FL410 in the mission profile should take 3:22 and burn 3,653 pounds of fuel, according to Embraer’s flight-planning guide.
The Phenom 300 has been a bestseller for Embraer, with 320 delivered through the end of last year since production began in 2009. The delivery rate has climbed almost every year since then, topping out at 73 in 2014; delivery of 70 in 2015 represented the first year it has dropped, but that is still a significant number.