The ATIS was calling it 400 overcast and two miles of visibility, and as I flew the approach we could see bits of ground flash by below. The autopilot intercepted the localizer and soon we were on our way down. At 500 feet agl, I switched off the autopilot and hand-flew the rest of the way. We broke out at 400 feet, and sitting there before us was Manaus, a storm having just passed through, steam rising from the drenched black asphalt and virga drifting by along the surface. Pretty.
Our approach speed was 109 knots, and I found it easy to maintain Vref within a knot or two. I had been tutored by José on the landing technique, which is, somewhat surprisingly, very similar to that used in the Phenom 100. With the speed stabilized, the airplane is already in the landing attitude, so you just continue the approach and let it land. I made just two landings — it was a ferry flight, not a flight evaluation — but both felt great.
The one thing that takes some getting used to is the brakes, and again José had great advice. The brake-by-wire design makes it easy to get stopped quickly, but you can't pump them to even out the pressure. You need, instead, to keep pressure on the one pedal while you add pressure to the other, finding that perfect balance. Whereas my stop after landing in the Phenom 100 two days earlier would have gotten me pulled over for weaving had I been cruising on I-35, I was able to keep the 300 on or very near the centerline as we got down and stopped in Manaus.
On the ground in Manaus, the single-point refueling would have come in very handy for a quick turnaround, had customs' computers not been down. I used my time, nearly two hours of it, to take some notes and snap some photographs. My Amazon adventure consisted, sadly, of those two hours spent on the ramp in Manaus. I must go back someday.
Once we were finally released by customs, we headed out. On leg two, I was riding in back and got a full appreciation of the amenities, including, as I mentioned, the fully reclining seats. There are also work desks, optional satellite communications (our airplane had an Iridium phone), great lighting options, dual-zone climate control (a lifesaver at FL 430), cup holders galore and entertainment jacks. On the way from Manaus to Montego Bay, Jamaica, I napped a bit, wrote an online column, went over my notes for this story and read. It was productive time all around, something that can seldom be said for airline flying.
After another long delay in Montego Bay, we launched for our final destination of the day, Houston. The airline pilots were complaining about the ride and the wind below us, but at 430 it was smooth and clear. The wind, however, was howling. At one point it was better than 100 knots right on the nose. We'd get there, and Customs was apparently open 24/7 at Hobby Airport.
We crossed over Cuban airspace, switched to Yucatan Center and watched the sun set behind the curve of the Mexican horizon, Venus shining like a 747's landing light in the night sky above. We descended over the Gulf of Mexico, the lights of the oil rigs far below, and made our way for Houston.
Excited to be back home, or darned close to it, at least, I hand-flew the visual arrival into Hobby. The dark night was gorgeous, and the lights of the city were sparkling. The airplane, as I'd previously discovered, is a pleasure to fly: smooth, beautifully harmonized and nicely responsive. Coming in to Runway 12R, the 10- or 12-knot crosswind proved no factor, and I had the airplane down and slowed so soon that I had to let it roll out a bit to expedite down to the taxiway that would take us to Customs and, sadly, yet another wait.
It was nearly midnight, but we'd covered 5,000 nm. And along the way I got to know the Embraer Phenom 300 quite well. It really is the ultimate expression of the light jet segment, with best-in-class performance and outstanding comfort and utility, while offering single-pilot ease of flight and airline style maintainability. And it truly is a joy to fly.
The Phenom 300 goes for around $8.5 million nicely equipped.