The autopilot is the staggeringly scalable GFC 700, and it has a number of features that give it remarkable powers, including something I haven't seen on other G1000-based systems — radio tuning capability. Located right below the multifunction display, the keypad makes it easy to enter data or make changes to a flight plan while looking at the MFD directly above it.
The autopilot controller is located, as it should be, directly above the displays. (The only other instrument occupying the space is the fully digital standby primary display.) In addition to the usual functions, the autoflight system in the Phenom 300 has airspeed control, which controls engine N1 to maintain a selected cruise speed for a given altitude.
There's also synthetic vision, XM Weather for North American-based airplanes and onboard vertical-scan color radar. The Phenom 300, it goes without saying, comes from the factory RVSM-approved.
Amazon Adventures and Beyond
After spending a few days in São José dos Campos, I was ready for my flight in the Phenom 300, and this was going to be a special opportunity. The plan was to fly from Embraer headquarters in São José dos Campos (near São Paulo) to the Amazon city of Manaus, from there on to Montego Bay, Jamaica, and then to Houston, a trip that spans two continents, all in one day.
It was barely light on the ramp when I met my companions for the flight, Tarcisio Brandão and José Filiho. Both are instructor pilots with many thousands of hours of experience flying jets both big and small, though neither one of them had a ton of time in the 300.
That would change. After dropping me in Houston, they were scheduled to take the airplane on a demo tour, with stops after Texas in Salt Lake City, Teterboro, New Jersey, and South Florida, then go to Europe with the airplane for a couple of weeks before heading home to Brazil.
As I mentioned, the 300 is a single-pilot airplane, and as José, sitting in the right seat, talked me through the pre-start checklist — a very short talk, as I mentioned — he pointed out how everything is arranged to be easily reachable by the left seat pilot, though it's still possible, if less convenient, for the right-seater to fly it too. José demonstrated the pre-takeoff check button, which had nothing to complain about, and I started the taxi out to the active runway.
José handled the radios and made changes to the flight plan — just about all of the radio communications for the next several hours would be in Portuguese — and left the flying to me.
On the ground, the 300 feels like an airplane as big as it is. At our takeoff weight of 17,200 pounds, with full fuel, we had nearly 1,000 pounds of additional capacity. Control on the ground is easy, though the carbon brakes get plenty of work keeping the speed down to a minimum while taxiing.
The PW535Es are fadec engines, but they don't have detents. Instead, you set the power by lining up the levers with the bright white lines on the quadrant. The fadec synchronizes the engines for you. It's just one more single-pilot convenience, and at a critical phase of flight.
With a push of the takeoff/go-around button, we were ready to go. I advanced the throttles and off we went. Directional control was smooth, and I had no trouble keeping the centerline. Our V1 speed of 109 knots came quickly with rotation a blink of an eye after that. Gear up, flaps up. Initial rate of climb was eye-popping, around 4,000 fpm even at our relatively heavy weight. For climb you simply reduce power to the climb setting on the levers — it really is that easy — and watch as the airplane goes up. Going out I hand-flew, following the flight director to guide us on our way.
We were given a climb to 12,000 feet and then to 20,000 right off the bat with no intermediate level-offs. That rarely happens in the States. Soon thereafter, we were given a climb to 40,000 and then our final altitude of 43,000 feet. It took us just 20 minutes to get to FL 400 and another four minutes to reach 43,000. Up through 36,000 feet, we were still climbing at better than 1,500 fpm, and from there we maintained at least 1,200 fpm. For a light jet, the 300 is a strong climber.
I leveled the airplane off, reduced power to the long-range cruise setting of Mach .65 and looked at the numbers. At FL 430 we were doing 365 knots true, burning around 112 gph, or around 750 pounds per hour total. In smooth air and all by ourselves, we slipped past the capitol of Brasilia and cruised along toward our first stop, the Amazonian outpost of Manaus, where we needed to stop for customs even though we had the range to continue on to Venezuela. High-speed cruise is a lot faster, better than 450 knots, and with the nearly 2,000 nm range of the 300, that is a speed that many pilots will get to use when they fly shorter legs than we were flying that day.
The pressurization system on the 300 is another strong selling point. At its ceiling of 45,000 feet, the system can maintain a cabin altitude of 6,600 feet, nearly 1,500 feet lower than most airplanes at their ceiling. At FL 430, we were even a little lower than that.
As we got closer to Manaus, we began the descent, and the weather was looking promising. A storm had just passed the airport, and the ceiling and visibility were slightly above minimums. I loaded the approach and the autopilot began the descent. The vertical navigation (VNAV) functions on the GFC 700 make descent planning simple.
The spoilers help too. They can be deployed at up to 250 knots, and they make fast descents while keeping the airspeed under control a lot easier. They go away automatically when flaps are deployed, so there's no fear of forgetting to stow them when the time comes to land.