Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flying the Embraer Phenom 100

It’s been about a year and a half since my factory visit to Embraer in Brazil. Since then, the Phenom 100 has been certified, about 40 have shipped, and I’ve taken delivery of my Cessna Citation Mustang.

Today I finally got the opportunity to fly the real plane, N73DB, the current East Coast demo plane.

Since I’ve flown the Mustang 30 hrs in the last 20 days, I was pretty comfortable with the flows required for a G1000 / P&WC 600 light jet.

Henry Yandle, the Embraer rep was very accommodating as usual. I flew with two Embraer demo pilots. As a last minute addition, my friend Philip, his wife and infant joined us to make a full cabin. With these additional passengers I didn’t attempt to exercise the stick pusher, but did try most of the other maneuvers I wanted although no climb to altitude and cruise.

Pre-flight


The P100 is an easier plane to pre-flight than the Mustang as there are fewer fluid gauges to check. The Mustang requires manually checking the hydraulic pressure, the nitrogen gauges, and the fire bottle gauge. All of this is done automatically for you in the P100. One Mustang annoyance is the oil filter bypass especially on the left engine as it is hard to see without bumping your head. Embraer solved this problem by a physical extension which can be easily determined by touch.

A downside of the P100 is the gear pins that must be added and removed manually. The tow point is also non-standard.

There are three independent pitot static systems, instead of just two on the Mustang.

The door stair is significantly sturdier (and more expensive) than the Mustang. It has a much better ramp presence, although I do imagine it will be hard to maintain.

Cockpit


The Mustang cockpit is more ergonomic and less cluttered than the P100. There are more switches in more places on the P100, like the side panels, and the light panel above the windshield. There is less storage space for cups or paper.

The P100 has the G1000 in a 3 x 12” configuration. The Mustang has the G1000 in a 2 x 10”, plus 15” MFD configuration. The P100 / Prodigy uses more screen real estate with less empty space. For example CAS messages appear on the PFDs. The MFD has gear position and synoptic views which take up more real estate. Between more information and a smaller MFD, I found myself squinting more than in the Mustang.

Embraer has not yet certified Synthetic Vision and Jeppesen Charts (ChartView), both of which have been used in every one of my Mustang flights so far.

Startup and Taxi


Since the P100 has two batteries, startup is typically done by battery, not GPU. The startup is much nicer than the Mustang for several reasons. The FADEC is newer and smarter than the one currently in the Mustang. It has better hot start prevention. There is only a single switch instead of a starter switch and then moving the throttles above the detent to idle. There is a nice schematic view showing actual real-time battery and generator loads, which is filtered on the Mustang.

Several common items on every flight are better automated on the P100. For example, if the Mustang pitot static heat is operated for more than two minutes on the ground, it could damage the AoA indicator. The P100 has an automatic pitot static switch. The beacon is automatic. All in all, as with the pre-flight, a few steps are saved every operation compared to the Mustang.

Taxiing is easy although not quite as easy as the Mustang. The forward view is better although it isn’t as easy to see either wing tip from either pilot location. It takes more power to start rolling, but the rest of taxiing is at ground idle.

The electric brakes were a bit of a disappointment. They are “grabby” with a short travel length. The brakes feel more like a binary on/off switch than a smooth pedal motion. While it is possible to use differential braking and power for a tight turn, the turn radius is not as tight as the Mustang.

As with the Mustang, V speeds must be calculated manually or looked up in a book. With six souls on board, and moderate fuel we were over 10,000 lbs so V1 and Vr were about 10-15 kts more than the Mustang.

Takeoff, Climb and Maneuvers


We departed KBED in rain, ceilings to near minimums and light cross-wind gusts. The plane felt solid and a bit stiffer than the Mustang. The workload was near identical: gear up, autopilot on, reduce from T/O thrust and hope ATC clears you up fast enough. We quickly broke out at 6,000’ and asked for a block of airspace for some airwork.

Northwest of the CON VOR at 8,000’, we did steep turns and slow flight. Since the demo schedule was a bit behind and I would not be immediately trading my Mustang for a P100, we didn’t have as long as I would have liked in the P100.

Steep turns were more challenging than the Mustang but not especially difficult. It was tricky to find just the right pitch until well until into the second turn. In slow flight, the plane was quite stable and responsive, even with 30 degrees of bank. The power needed some adjustments as it was quick to drop below the “donut”.

All in all, the plane was solid, sturdy and a little heavier than the Mustang. The Mustang feels a little more responsive, especially in turns.

As I mentioned earlier, with a very young passenger in the back, I did not attempt the stick pusher and imminent stall. Doing full gentle stalls in the Mustang, without a pusher or shaker, was a major selling point to a low time jet pilot like me.

I tried out the silver painted boots. As you may recall, Embraer painted the boots silver so it would give a “hot wing” look, even though these are really boots not bleed air. Since silver does not contrast as well with ice, a certification engineer had them put this funny looking black circle near the wing tip in order to see icing more easily. The whole thing is silly – the boots should be all black.

Return and approach


ATC gracefully gave us vectors back to KBED for the ILS 11 approach to near minimums. Slowing the plane takes a bit longer than the Mustang. There is no current option for speed brakes. Gear deployment speed is lower so they cannot be easily extended as drag either (Mustang gear can be extended at Vmo). ATC asked to slow first to 190 kts, and then again to 170 kts for spacing and each time required reducing power to idle and then waiting, whereas in the Mustang more options are available.

Adding drag is not purely academic. In the case of an emergency descent, it’s very easy to add drag to the Mustang via gear and speed brakes and get down in a hurry, at more than 8,000’/min. It would be very interesting to see how quickly the P100 can descend in an emergency. Also many large airports require keeping the speed up as late as possible. It would be equally interesting to see how much distance is required to slow from say 160 kt to 100 kt Vref in both aircraft.

When we received our final vector and were cleared for the approach, the P100 in combination with the G1000 and GFC 700 autopilot, did a terrific job to stay stabilized while we were bounced around in shifting winds and light turbulence. We stayed at flaps 2 as flaps 3 and full are not yet available due to a software issue. Apparently, when this software issue is resolved, Embraer recommends adding flaps full after the Final Approach Fix, which is very unusual. Typically, a jet is fully configured for landing at the FAF and then stable all the way down to the Missed Approach Point. When I disconnected the autopilot 100’ above minimums, there was a bit of jumping around but things stabilized quickly.

There is very little flair in the P100 – it lands even flatter than the Mustang. Again, there were no speed brakes to slow us down. With the grabby brakes, I agreed with the demo pilot’s suggestion to hold off on the brakes and roll out using more runway. When I did finally use the brakes, we were too close to the last taxiway (G) and ended up using the full runway length of 7,000’ even though I was right on Vref over the numbers. While we could have braked more aggressively, there’s no doubt the P100 soaks up more runway than the Mustang.

Taxiing back was easy. On the crowded and chaotic Jet Aviation ramp, we were able to fully utilize the minimum turn radius of the P100.

Conclusion


The P100 is a solid competitor to the Mustang. It has better automation and synoptic views making life a little easier for the pilot. It’s faster, harder to slow and less forgiving than the Mustang so a more experienced pilot or crew of two is a better fit. The cabin is better appointed and comfortable than the Mustang, especially with the door stair and rear lav. If you pay more, you get more.

I was not able to evaluate many other aspects of the P100 such as high altitude climb performance, fuel burn in cruise, emergency descent and many other critical aspects, so I feel this is an incomplete picture of a fine aircraft.

Overall, I’m happy with the Mustang for business and personal use and feel that it was the appropriate choice for a first time jet pilot. If I were more experienced, or had paying passengers, and wanted a little extra luxury, the P100 would have been the more appropriate choice.

2 comments:

f said...

David, great thorough comparison of the two jets. I trust you are having great fun with your Mustang. Thanks very much for the review. -Forrest

Ron Gruner said...

David, very useful post. I've added a link to it at JetBrief.com/forum/ which focuses on Phenom aircraft.

Incidentally, the information you received about dropping full flaps after the FAF is incorrect. Here's Embraer's recommended precision approach procedure for full flaps...

http://jetbrief.com/images/Phenom100_precision_approach.jpg