Pilot Report: Embraer Phenom 300E Enhanced
Embraer’s engineers are putting the hammer down to keep the Phenom 300 in its position as the best-selling light jet for the last decade. More than 500 units have been delivered since its entry into service in 2009. This is due in large part to sizable orders from all three major fractional ownership business jet operators: Flight Options, NetJets and Executive Air Share. No other light jet has been endorsed by these big three.
Embraer introduced the Phenom 300E, a second-generation model, in 2017 and it entered service a year later. It features improved acoustical insulation, an Embraer-designed interior with a 3-in.-wider dropped aisle, an inch more headroom, a Lufthansa Techniks Nice HD infotainment system and passenger chairs designed and manufactured by Embraer Aero Seating Technologies in Titusville, Florida.
In response to customer feedback, several new interior completion options were added to the Phenom 300E, including choices of stitching styles, chair-back insert patterns, leathers, fabrics, carpets and furniture finishes. All this boosted empty weight. Add in 250 lb. of typical customer upgrades and available payload with full tanks shrank to 1,110 lb. for a two-pilot Phenom 300E.
The third and latest version, the Phenom 300E Enhanced, is due for introduction in May 2020 at Serial No. 560. This newest version gets increased operating weights for more loading flexibility with the goal of enabling two-crew aircraft to carry six passengers with full fuel. A software throttle push inside the full-authority digital engine control (FADEC) increases engine thrust to offset the higher operating weights, thereby preserving takeoff performance and improving climb and cruise performance. Pratt & Whitney’s Eagle Service Plan hourly maintenance rates, though, remain unchanged. There’s also a slight increase in published range performance, mainly due to fine-tuning flight test data.
A high-style Bossa Nova Edition interior, created by Embraer design guru Jay Beever and adapted from the Praetor 600 cabin, now is an option for the Phenom 300E Enhanced. It features chair-back inserts with an Ipanema Beach boardwalk-like tile pattern, high-tech carbon-fiber panels and subtle bright-red accents. Improved acoustical insulation sops up more N1 fan noise, especially during climb. A trio of bleed-air system check valves have been redesigned for quieter operations. The air-conditioning system gets a new muffler to reduce sound, and a new noise barrier for the cabin door quashes high-frequency sound. Passengers perceive considerably lower interior noise levels as a result of these changes.
The cabin gets an optional 4G Gogo Avance L5 air-to-ground internet box, capable of peak 9.8-mpbs speeds and upgradable to 5G connectivity when the ground station network is complete. Video and audio streaming is supported. Gogo’s Talk & Text feature provides Wi-Fi calling for mobile phones. Avance L5 includes an upgraded inflight-entertainment (IFE) storage system that holds dozens of movie and music selections.
The forward cabin galley and storage compartments have been reconfigured to provide a much needed 3.5-in. increase in pilot legroom. That may not seem like a large improvement, but the crew seats now track back 40% farther.
This newest version of the category-leading aircraft carries a base price of $9.65 million, but with popular options we estimate the final tally at $10.15 million.
G3000 Integration and Improved Functionality
The Prodigy flight deck, powered by Garmin G3000 avionics, has 10 times faster, more powerful processors, higher resolution displays and new features that boost safety margins and reduce pilot workload. The avionics are better integrated with almost all controls available through the touch-screen panels. The flight management system (FMS) initialization process has been streamlined for quicker time to taxi for takeoff. The FMS is now capable of computing advisory takeoff/landing distance data as well as climb/cruise/descent performance projections.
Embraer has become the first aircraft manufacturer to earn certification of a runway overrun awareness and alerting system (ROAAS) whose goal is to reduce the risk of overrun during landing rollout. This virtual copilot function evaluates landing approach speed, predicted touchdown point and computed stopping distance, including adjustments for contaminated runway surfaces, in comparison to landing distance available. It also warns pilots if they are at risk of an overrun due to excessive float in the flare.
The Garmin system’s baseline features also include an automatic emergency descent mode, graphic entry and display of weight and balance loading, ADS-B In and digital VOR bearing indication on the PFD, plus autopilot coupled go-around, synthetic azimuth and glidepath for VFR approach guidance, VNAV for non-precision approaches and enhanced HSI symbology, along with support for QFE (baro pressure setting for height above field elevation) and stabilized approach advisories.
New options include predictive wind-shear from the optional turbulence detection radar, FAA data comm for digital clearance delivery and en route CPDLC in the future, and electronic IFR and VFR en route charts. An optional third VHF transceiver is required for FAA data comm functions.
The twin G3000 backbone chassis are upgraded to support new functions. The latest versions of the G3000 have many G1000 NXi features, including faster processors. HF transceiver and SELCAL control, CVR/FDR test and several maintenance data logging functions now are accomplished through upgraded touch-screen panels. The glareshield flight guidance panel has been modified to support new functions, including FMS speed command and additional VNAV functions.
Garmin’s own GTS 8000 TCAS II and GTX 3000 Mode S ES transponders replace similar ACSS units. The swap allows the Garmin data loader to be used for software updates, and the new units integrate and filter traffic information provided by the ADS-B In and TCAS II systems.
The all-digital 40-watt GWX 75 weather radar replaces the GWX 70 in first- and second-generation aircraft. Doppler turbulence detection and ground-clutter suppression are optional features.
This version of Prodigy Touch, however, lacks some features found in other aircraft equipped with G3000 avionics. Autothrottles, full integration of ADS-B In weather for computing TOLD data, cross-functional data sharing and Flightstream 510 Bluetooth/Wi-Fi connectivity for tablet computers are not included.
We strapped into the left seat of s.n. 505-537 with engineering test pilot Steve Baerst in the right seat and instructor and demo pilot Sebastian Arrazola on the jump seat as safety pilot. Loaded with more than 400 lb. of options, including the Bossa Nova interior, HF transceiver and Gogo Avance L5 system, plus LHT Nice enhanced cabin management system, radio altimeter, dual transponders and DME, the aircraft’s two-pilot BOW was 12,232 lb. In this configuration, the aircraft can carry five passengers with full tanks. Final weight limits for the new model are pending certification.
The day we flew the aircraft, zero fuel weight was 12,432 lb., with only three of us aboard, and there was 4,050 lb. of fuel in the wings. Ramp weight was 16,482 lb. at Orlando Melbourne International Airport (KMLB), Embraer’s Florida headquarters facility. The new graphic weight and balance feature provided a complete CG map on the MFD from engine start to tanks dry, confirming that the aircraft would remain well within the loading envelope.
Airport elevation was 33 ft., barometer was 30.19 and OAT was 17C. Using flaps 1, computed takeoff distance was 2,959 ft.; Runway 27L has 10,181 ft. available for departure. Takeoff speeds were 104 KIAS for V1, 113 KIAS for rotation, 116 KIAS for the V2 one-engine-inoperative (OEI) takeoff safety speed and 131 KIAS for VFS flap retraction/final segment.
Already connected to ground power, the aircraft’s electrically powered vapor-cycle air-conditioner and cabin air circulation fans were available as needed. While the OAT was uncharacteristically cool for Florida, we’ve previously noted that the Phenom 300’s cabin cooling works impressively well in hot weather.
Checklists are short for this aircraft and preflight chores are simpler aboard the Phenom 300E because of better integration of FMS initialization procedures, including the new graphic weight and balance and TOLD data computer functions. Embraer is one of the few light-jet manufacturers that requires the flight crew to enter OAT for the FADECs to compute takeoff-rated thrust. We first entered the 17C for the engines and then had to enter it a second time for FMS TOLD computation because the data is not shared between these FMS functions.
Embraer has yet to certify Garmin’s Flightstream 510 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth link that allows flight plans to be uploaded to the aircraft from tablets running either Foreflight or Garmin Pilot. That shortcoming wasn’t an issue because Baerst already had created and stored a flight plan that would take us on the preferred route to the W-139E and F warning areas east of Jacksonville, Florida, where we would check cruise performance and perform a few basic air-work maneuvers. But for everyday operations, we find the ability to perform preflight planning on a tablet, file the desired flight plan with the FAA and then upload to the aircraft to be a useful, time-saving feature.
We started the first engine using the ground power unit, then the second using the aircraft battery and generator-assisted cross-start. We noted that the FADEC on the engine furnishing supplemental power for the cross-start automatically increases idle rpm to boost generator output.
Taxiing out of the chocks, we used a healthy throttle push to accelerate quickly straight ahead before chopping power to make a tight turn with the tail sweeping in front of Embraer’s headquarters building. Nosewheel steering through the rudder pedals is soft, so it takes differential braking and thrust to maintain tight turns.
The carbon brakes are quite effective, but response is not immediate and braking action is grabby when cold. It takes a light touch on the pedals and patience to provide a smooth taxi experience for the passengers.
We departed from Runway 27L and then received ATC vectors toward the oceanic warning areas off Florida’s east coast. The aircraft is easy to fly, with well-harmonized control forces in pitch, roll and yaw. It’s quite stable in pitch and the substantial increase in stick-force-per-G prevents overcontrol. En route to the warning areas, we switched range several times on the displays. Image change response to these inputs was noticeably and appreciably faster thanks to the more powerful G3000 enhanced processors. Now, zoom-in and zoom-out functions are nearly instantaneous.
We climbed directly to FL 450 and accelerated to max cruise. In ISA-3C conditions and at a weight of 15,500 lb., the new model cruised at 433 KTAS (Mach 0.759) while burning 924 lb./hr. at max cruise thrust. The original aircraft would have flown at 409 KTAS while consuming 850 lb./hr., according to the Flight Planning Guide. Baerst commented that fuel flow for the new model is the same as the old version at equal cruise speeds. We also noted the cabin altitude was only 6,600 ft. at FL 450, a tribute to the aircraft’s 9.4-psi pressurization system.
Down at FL 330, in ISA+8C conditions and at a weight of 15,300 lb., the aircraft cruised at 469 KTAS (Mach 0.793) while burning 1,548 lb./hr. We have no equivalent cruise performance comparison data for the original aircraft at ISA+8C, but in ISA conditions, it would cruise at 440 KTAS while burning about 1,490 lb./hr., again according to the Flight Planning Guide.
We returned to Melbourne for three approaches to Runway 27L. The first two were ROAAS demonstrations. Baerst explained the system uses weight and balance, air data, GPS position and velocity, wet-versus-dry runway surface and aircraft systems status, among other factors, to compute whether the aircraft is at risk of a runway overrun. It cannot compute stopping distance for runways contaminated with frozen precipitation and it will not warn if the aircraft will touch down short of the threshold.
On the first approach, we intentionally added 20 kt. to the aircraft’s 111 KIAS Vref landing speed. Passing through 1,000 ft., the system activated. As we descended through 500 ft. AGL, we heard “Caution. Overrun. Caution. Overrun” and a visual alert popped up on the PFD. Then at 100 ft., just prior to reaching the runway threshold, we heard “Overrun, Go Around. Overrun, Go Around.”
We heeded the advisories and executed a missed approach. Notably, the overrun alerts also were logged by the aircraft’s flight data recorder for post-flight analysis. On the missed, we turned downwind to the south to remain in the VFR pattern and set up for the second ROAAS demonstration.
This time, we approached Runway 27L on speed. But at 50 ft. over the threshold, we began a long, slow flare as though we were pursuing the perfect, softest kiss of the tires on the tarmac. We floated a few feet above the runway surface, well beyond the large touchdown zone stripes, failing to touch down properly.
Using inputs from the optional radio altimeter, along with GPS position and velocity, among other variables, ROAAS triggered a “Long Flare! Long Flare!” audio alert. Had we touched down, it’s likely that we next would have heard “Overrun, Brakes! Overrun, Brakes!”.
Instead, we executed a go-around and again joined the downwind VFR pattern south of the runway in preparation for a final full-stop landing. This time, we crossed the threshold at 50 ft. AGL at Vref, stabilized on the VASI visual glidepath. At 30 ft., we slowly reduced thrust to idle and began the flare. But there was considerable ground effect just a few knots below Vref, so we floated excessively. Touchdown was long but smooth because of the long-travel, trailing-link main landing gear.
Memo to self: Anticipate plenty of ground effect; avoid the float; smartly reduce thrust at 50 ft. AGL; maintain pitch attitude and allow the aircraft to decelerate to touch down on the big stripes.
Braking action on rollout was powerful, but grabby. However, as the carbon-brake heat packs began to warm, brake response became smoother.
Opportunities for Growth
The Phenom 300E Enhanced has clear performance, comfort and technology improvements that distinguish it from its predecessor aircraft. Pilots will appreciate the 3.5-in. increase in legroom. The weight boosts that increase loading flexibility are more than offset by stronger engine performance. Perceived noise levels in the cabin are noticeably lower and the innovative style of the optional Bossa Nova interior is unmatched. The new FMS TOLD computer and graphic weight and balance functions reduce pilot workload. The optional runway overrun awareness and alerting system is a significant safety enhancement — it’s virtual must, in our opinion, especially for single-pilot operators.
However, there still are opportunities for growth. Crisper nosewheel steering through the rudder pedals would be a plus, as would smoother brake response. Buyers in upper-end light jets increasingly expect autothrottles to be optional, if not standard, equipment. Garmin’s emergency Autoland system has gained plenty of attention from single-pilot operators and some say they believe it ought to be offered as a future option on the Phenom 300E Enhanced.
And the level of integration between various Prodigy Touch FMS functions, ADS-B In weather and connectivity with tablet computers is not yet on par with best-in-class G3000 platforms, such as the HondaJet Elite.
Embraer, though, is best-in-class at listening to and learning from its customers. The Phenom 300E Enhanced is a far more capable aircraft than the version we first flew in 2009. It’s not the end state for the model. Instead, it’s an important milestone marking progress on a path of continuous improvement. It’s a convincing sign that Embraer intends to keep this light jet the best-selling model in its class. That leaves all other light jet contenders competing for second place.