Fly-By-Wire Wonders: Legacy 450 & 500

With the emergence of Embraer's two clean-sheet bizjets, the bar in the midsize world has been raised substantially.

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Legacy 500Embraer

Embraer recently revealed a number of intriguing new details on the Legacy 450 and 500, the midsize jets that it officially launched 18 months ago. The jets are still a couple of years away from first deliveries, but Embraer has already defined them in great detail.

At face value, it might seem that Embraer picked a bad time for the expensive task of developing a pair of sophisticated business jets. Times are tough, and the midsize market has been the hardest hit segment. But with the Legacy 500 and 450 heading toward 2012 and 2013 first deliveries, respectively, the timing might be just right. Assuming some kind of general economic recovery, the two jets (along with the likewise remarkable Gulfstream G250) are going to create quite a stir in the market, as well as a new set of expectations among customers looking to go midsize.

Not too long ago such a scenario seemed unlikely, to say the least. It was just in 2002 that Embraer delivered its first Legacy 600 bizjet, a product derived from the EMB 145, one of the regional jets that made Embraer a widely recognized aviation brand in the United States. With the Legacy launch, Embraer also declared that it was making a serious entry into the business jet market and planned to launch a complete lineup of bizjets, from the entry level to the ultra-large. It was big talk.

Seven years later, Embraer has delivered on that promise, and then some. It has delivered more than 150 Legacy 600 jets — an achievement that was surprising even to Embraer — and has expanded its lineup to include the entry-level Phenom 100, the light and fast Phenom 300 and the ultra-large-cabin, long-range Lineage 1000. At the same time, it has established a global network dedicated to providing support for its business aircraft, with a 24/7 call center and service centers around the world, including three in the United States.

Embraer is smart to remind potential customers of its airline heritage. With experience supporting thousands of commercial airplanes in settings around the world, and with a track record of building high-dispatch-reliability airliners, it has some real credibility on the subject.

A Solid Foundation
At first glance, the Legacy 450, which Embraer calls a "light-midsize" jet, and the Legacy 500, a true midsize, look like just another pair of midsize jets entering a market that already has its share of them, some of them very well respected and established.

But in nearly every respect, Embraer's new airplanes will give its existing competitors fits, delivering a package that's technologically revolutionary and aesthetically ambitious while delivering projected best-in-class or near-best-in-class performance and comfort across the board.

As is clear by looking at them, the two jets were developed in tandem. The 500 is a rangier, more expensive, slightly stretched version of the 450. The two will share a type rating, with differences training for pilots transitioning from one to the other.

The 500 typically will be delivered with a double-club-plus-one interior (for nine passenger seats total); the 450 will be outfitted with two fewer seats.

The cabins are identical in cross-section. Passengers get a flat-floor, 6-foot-tall cabin with a 6-foot-10-inch width, previously unheard-of room in a midsize jet. The windows are large (Embraer says the largest in their class) and are positioned in the Legacy 500 to provide a window between each facing seat and one at each headrest.

Designed in conjunction with BMW Designworks, the interiors (at least the artist's conceptions of them) are strikingly beautiful and practical. On the 500, there's a wet galley, 150 cubic feet combined of interior and exterior baggage space, and the stylish lavs in both airplanes will feature a vacuum toilet (the gold standard), a hard door and full vanity.

For the cabin, Embraer chose the Honeywell Ovation Select cabin information/entertainment system, and both the 450 and 500 will boast a 6,000-foot cabin pressure at their ceiling of 45,000 feet.

The seats themselves are wonders. In the 500, each of the four pairs of facing seats will recline to create a single flat sleeping surface, a nice feature for an airplane that will often fly long distances with fewer passengers than its maximum load. In the 450, there will be two berthable seat pairs. The 450 has a refreshment center in lieu of the wet galley.

Both airplanes will be powered by a pair of Honeywell HTF7500E engines, featuring very low noise and vibration as well as excellent fuel efficiency. Honeywell claims the engines will easily outperform future Stage Four noise requirements.

The 500 will be a true trans-United States airplane, boasting a long-range cruise of 3,000 nm with eight passengers and a high-speed cruise of 2,800 nm at Mach .80 with four passengers. Its range will also be ideal for European and Middle Eastern customers who are looking at very long trips but who don't need the legs of an ultra-long-range airplane.

While not having as long a range as the Legacy 500, the Legacy 450 will be able to fly 2,300 nm with four passengers at slightly reduced speed and 2,200 nm with seven passengers at Mach .78, making it an ideal airplane in terms of speed, comfort and range for operators looking to make long trips in comfort and high style but who seldom need the range or capacity of an airplane like the 500.

Futuristic Electronics
In an airplane that's a demonstration platform for cutting edge technology, perhaps the most exciting example is the fly-by-wire technology that will be standard in both models. In a midsize airplane, the technology is simply unheard of. And like everything else on the airplane, Embraer didn't seem content to do fly-by-wire as it's ever been done before. Indeed, this is perhaps the most advanced application of the technology in a civilian airplane.

All of the surfaces of the airplane, the elevator, ailerons, rudder and spoilers, are controlled by the fly-by-wire system, which replaces conventional mechanical links between the flight deck controls and flight control surfaces, and the system essentially reads the pilot's mind (through control inputs of the force-feedback sidesticks, of course) and interprets those commands into the safest and most efficient response.

In a CFIT alert scenario, for example, the pilot would command full power and pitch nose full up by pulling back completely on the sidestick. The fly-by-wire computer then gives the airplane the most efficient climb while keeping it within G-limits and above stall, giving the airplane escape capability that exceeds that of a mechanically controlled hand-flown airplane.

The fly-by-wire computer has a whole bag of safety, comfort and efficiency tricks, including automatic asymmetrical thrust compensation, overspeed protection, steep approach capability through spoiler control, and automatic turbulence compensation.

For avionics, Embraer went with Rockwell Collins' Pro Line Fusion, with four 15.1-inch LCDs. The cockpit has graphical flight planning, synthetic vision, electronic charts, WAAS, enhanced vision system (EVS), a head-up guidance system (another first) and the latest navigation and datalink capabilities.

Embraer plans to deliver the first Legacy 500, priced at $18.4 million, in the second half of 2012. The first customer Legacy 450 will go out the door about a year later, in the second half of 2013. Its cost is $15.25 million.

To learn more about the Legacy 450 and 500, visit embraer.com.