June 2010 — Like every other aviation journalist, I've been watching the development of the Embraer Phenom 300 for a few years now, and the more I've learned about the emerging light jet, the more I've come to appreciate just what an innovative airplane it is. It is, in essence, Embraer's attempt to stretch the limits of the light jet segment by creating an airplane with best-in-class performance, comfort and utility while keeping operating costs at turboprop levels. And the airplane itself, which I'd seen but not flown, is a thing of beauty. Predictably, when I was asked if I wanted to go to Brazil to ferry the 300 up to the States, well … you can guess how long it took me to say "I'll be right down."
The bizjet world is relatively new to Embraer, which launched its executive jet program a few years back with the Legacy, a nicely reworked version of Embraer's ERJ 145 regional jet. The Legacy sold for a few million dollars less than comparable large-body jets and was a surprise hit.
One RJ conversion does not a bizjet program make, but it wasn't long before Embraer put its investment where its mouth was and launched a pair of clean-sheet airplanes, the Phenom 100 entry-level jet and the Phenom 300.
The 100 earned certification in late 2008; last year Embraer delivered more than 100 of the jets, that despite an economy that caused many cancellations. The airplane garnered rave reviews for its beefy design, predictable flying manners, very good entry-level performance and shockingly simple single-pilot operation.
The larger light jet, the Embraer Phenom 300, first flew in 2008. It earned certification late last year.
Much More Than a Stretched 100
The 300 does have many things in common with the 100, including the basic fuselage, the use of new-generation Pratt & Whitney Canada engines, the brilliant Garmin Prodigy flight deck and the same airliner-tough design philosophy.
When it was working on its design for the Phenom 300, Embraer was looking to go far beyond its success with the 100 by making the 300 a jet with very good speed and great climbing performance, a comfortable aisled cabin, excellent range and great operating economies and maintainability.
It has done all of that and a lot more.
Changes Inside and Out
Embraer designers took the basic fuselage cross-section of the 100 and ran with it. They gave the 300 a longer fuselage, an all-new wing, powerful and quiet Pratt & Whitney Canada turbofan engines, a hefty fuel capacity and solid construction.
The moderately swept wing stands in contrast to the 100's straight-leading-edge design. In fact, the wing of the 300 looks for all the world like that of a large jet. Though not related to it, the 300's wing is reminiscent of the swept wing of the Legacy 600. In addition to the effective wing flaps, the 300 features fly-by-wire spoilers that act as speed brakes or as lift dump devices. When used as spoilers, they automatically lower when flaps are extended or when the airspeed drops below 110 knots indicated. When armed, they activate on landing with weight on wheels to dump the lift and help get the airplane slowed down. The 300 doesn't need much runway.
Anti-icing for the wing (and the horizontal tail and engine inlets — no boots here) is done with bleed air. Ice lights along the fuselage are standard, and there's an easy-to-interpret icing status page in the systems section of the Prodigy multifunction display.
When it came to selecting engines in this thrust category, Embraer had several options, including the Williams FJ44s used on the CJ4, but it went with the Pratts and couldn't be happier about that choice. The engines, PW535E models, are rated at 3,360 pounds of thrust apiece and are substantially quieter than the most stringent (Stage IV) noise requirements. And with the Phenom 300 meeting or exceeding every goal Embraer has set for it, from takeoff distance to high-speed cruise, the engines get much of the credit. They also sport an industry-leading TBO (tied with Williams FJ44-4As on the CJ4) of 5,000 hours, nearly a third better than some competitors.
Passenger Centered Design
The fuselage/cabin of the 300 is stretched 14 inches — it seems like much more — from that of the 100. Both feature Embraer's Oval Lite cross-section shape that gives better legroom and headroom than does the competition. That said, the 300 is a light jet, so you won't mistake the cabin for that of a midsize jet — it has a center aisle, but with the Oval Lite concept, Embraer has cleverly maximized the comfort of the cabin. The airplane's full-size, minimalist-styled seats slide toward the center for additional room and recline almost fully for a very sleepable platform — something I tested thoroughly on one leg of our daylong trip. I will bring a pillow next time. Even the armrests retract, so you can get them out of the way when more room is needed.
The lavatory is another impressive feature. With an easy-to-operate, hard sliding door, a full-size potty and generous basin, the 300's lav is the best I've seen in a light jet. And for an airplane with nearly 2,000 nm of range, a nice lav is a big plus. Embraer is working on making the potty a certified seat and adding a side-facing couch up front as well, to increase the passenger capacity from seven to eight, not counting the copilot's seat.
At 66 cubic feet, the external rear baggage compartment is big enough to carry a reasonable number of bags for all of the passengers. And it accommodates larger items, like several golf bags, rollaway bags or pairs of skis. Up front there's an eight-cubic-foot forward baggage area, typically used to store the crew's bags.
Even the full-coverage airstair door is the best in the category. Instead of having a door that opens laterally and a ladder-type stairway that folds down, the door of the 300 is the ladder. Cables support the door, but customers can add an optional steel rail for an even more substantial feeling. Even in its standard configuration, the door is better than many that you'll see in many light midsize airplanes. At 29 inches across and 58 inches in height, the door makes it easier to get in and out while offering a kind of ramp appeal that, like many of the features on the 300, is typically associated with airplanes that cost much more.