With Embraer’s Legacy 500 approaching certification and customer deliveries set to begin this year, other manufacturers are likely bracing—or should be.

The Brazilian manufacturer is positioning its latest business jet as a midsize aircraft, its 3,000-nm range and $20-million base price competing on paper with the Bombardier Learjet 85, Cessna Citation Sovereign and Gulfstream G150. But the Legacy 500 actually steps up to the super-midsize class, competing in many ways with the Bombardier Challenger 300/350 and Gulfstream G280.

The comparison starts with the cabin, which is equal in height and just
3 in. shy of the length and width of the Challenger 300’s, based upon our measurements of finished cabins in both. The 12 large, well-placed windows flood the cabin with light, making it appear even larger than its actual dimensions.

As have the larger jets, the Legacy 500 has a flat floor with double-club seating for eight, a “wet” galley up front and an aft vacuum-toilet lavatory complete with emergency exit and window. The Honeywell Ovation Select cabin management system in place has features unsurpassed in the larger class of aircraft.

The 110-cu.-ft. external baggage compartment is not accessible in flight, which is a shortcoming relative to the larger jets, but passengers have access to 35 cu. ft. of storage in the aft cabin and 5 cu. ft. in the galley area. At 150 cu. ft., overall baggage capacity is far more than offered by other midsize aircraft and more than in all the super-midsize aircraft except the G280.

At face value, the Legacy 500 appears to straddle the gap between $16‑18 million midsize and $25-27 million super-midsize jets. But take a look at its technology and it moves into a class of its own.

The package starts with the fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system, a technology previously available only on the $52 million Dassault Falcon 7X and $65 million Gulfstream G650 large-cabin jets. This system is intended to be used not only on the new Legacys but also to be adapted for Embraer’s KC-390 military airlifter and E-Jet E2 second-generation regional jets.

The approach to FBW is elegant in its simplicity, providing carefree handling characteristics to minimize pilot workload most of the time, while also having a natural aerodynamic feel in the landing pattern. There are no absolute pitch or roll limits, but the normal maneuvering envelope has soft limits of +30/-15-deg. pitch and ±33-deg. bank that can be exceeded by maintaining sidestick deflection. Pilots have virtually unlimited pitch-and-roll control with the FBW system, only guarding against overspeed and overstress, stall and spin.

The system has two modes: normal and direct law. There are no alternates. If the FBW computers cannot support full envelope protection in normal mode, the system automatically downshifts to direct law. But if the system does not go to direct law when it should, pilots can manually select the backup mode at any time at the touch of a button. Envelope protection is disabled in direct mode, but stall warning and yaw damper functions remain active. The aircraft also has full-authority autothrottles and auto-brakes, features currently found only on the G280 and larger aircraft.

The Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion cockpit features four 15.1-in. flat panel displays. Synthetic vision is standard. In 2015, the Legacy 500 is set to become the first aircraft equipped with optional Rockwell Collins’s HGS-3500 head-up guidance and multispectral EVS-3000 enhanced-vision systems, which are expected to allow operators to fly down to lower minimums. The sensor will be able to detect LED runway and taxiway lights.

With a 27,500-hr. economic design life, equivalent to 50-plus years in typical corporate flight operations, the airframe is primarily aluminum, with composite front and rear pressure bulkheads, empennage, fairings, doors and control surfaces for reduced weight and maintenance. Inspection intervals are 750 hr. or 12 months. This is a rugged aircraft.

Advanced aerodynamic design tools optimized the wing for a blend of runway performance, cruise speed, range, stability and control, and Mach buffet margins, along with internal fuel capacity for the 3,000-nm mission. With 27 deg. of wing sweep, long-range speed is Mach 0.76-0.78, but there is only about a 3% range penalty for cruising at Mach 0.80. Time to the initial cruise altitude of 43,000 ft. is 22 min.

The wing has a “hard” leading edge with no slats and a sharply swept inboard leading-edge section that provides increased fuel capacity with little structural weight penalty. The four-panel trailing edge flaps are electrically actuated. Both wing and horizontal-stabilizer leading edges have bleed-air anti-icing.

The 11 primary flight-control surfaces, including six-panel multifunction spoilers, are electrically controlled and hydraulically actuated. There are three separate 3,000-psi hydraulic systems. The horizontal stabilizer is electrically controlled, has dual electrical actuators, and can be manually trimmed in direct law. 

Honeywell provides the 6,867-lb.-thrust HTF7500E propulsion engine and the model 36-150 auxiliary power unit (APU), which provides bleed air for engine-starting on the ground and up to 23,000 ft., air-conditioning and pressurization up to 20,000 ft. and electrical power up to 31,000 ft. All fuel, estimated at more than 12,000 lb., is carried in left and right wet wing tanks, with single-point pressure refueling.

The air-conditioning was impressive on a warm, humid summer day in Sao Jose dos Campos. The air distribution system and recirculation fan were quiet, as was the APU. Maximum cabin altitude is 6,000 ft. at the aircraft’s ceiling of 45,000 ft., the lowest of any midsize or super-midsize aircraft now in production. All exterior and interior lights are LEDs.

We belted into the left seat of EMB-550-001, Embraer’s first test aircraft, with Legacy 500 chief test pilot Eduardo Camelier in the right seat, instructor pilot Sydney Rodrigues on the jump seat, engineer Gustavo Monteiro at the flight-test console and communications manager Daniel Bachmann in the cabin.

With few exceptions, the flight deck is a model of ergonomic excellence, exuding Embraer’s regional-airliner DNA. The field of view through the large windshield and side windows is excellent, the seats comfortable and all controls intuitive. The displays are large, uncluttered and easy to interpret. Embraer’s use of color coding is clean and conventional.

Buried sub-menus are out; top-level controls and menus are in. The left- and right-side display control panels in the glareshield have dedicated buttons for specific formats. Layout of the center-mounted flight-guidance control panel (FCP) is comfortably intuitive. Two nits to pick. The FCP lacks backlighted annunciator buttons and digital readouts to confirm the selected modes and data. Also, the Legacy 500’s sidesticks are passive (as in all other civil FBW aircraft I have flown), lacking back-drive mechanisms that would move both in tandem like conventional mechanically linked yokes.

Our aircraft was loaded with test equipment and its basic operating weight was 24,640 lb. Production aircraft are expected to weigh less. Three occupants and miscellaneous stores added 822 lb., resulting in a zero fuel weight of 25,462 lb. Fuel load was 10,580 lb., so ramp weight was 36,042 lb. The field elevation here is 2,120 ft., outside air temperature was 26C and barometer 29.95 in. of mercury (Hg.).

Based on full-rated takeoff thrust and 7 deg. flaps [Flaps 1], Monteiro computed the V1 decision speed at 114 kt. indicated airspeed (KIAS), rotation at 122 KIAS, V2 takeoff safety speed of 129 KIAS, and 148 KIAS for en route one-engine-inoperative climb speed. Takeoff field length on Runway 15 was 4,920 ft. Some time after certification, the Legacy 500’s flight management systems will feature optional airport-performance-computing software that will calculate takeoff, climb and landing data.

Checklists are impressively short. After starting the APU, we turned the hydraulic and fuel pump control knobs to the 12 o’clock position. Then we successively turned each engine control knob to the 1:30 position to initiate start. Everything else pertaining to engine start is automatic.

Camelier selected Flaps 1. We checked FBW control freedom, monitoring our surface position on the display. He selected full-rated thrust for takeoff. We released the parking brake, engaged nosewheel steering and taxied out with little thrust. The aircraft turns more sharply than either of Embraer’s smaller Phenoms, providing good maneuvering in tight quarters.

Taxiing downhill from Embraer’s ramp, we occasionally used idle-thrust reverse to control speed and avoid riding the brakes. We checked brake temperature on the display, verified flap settings, parking brake and pitch trim with a “Takeoff OK” synthetic voice annunciation. We taxied to the threshold, armed the autobrake system for rejected-takeoff maximum braking, armed the autothrottles and pushed up the thrust levers to about 40% travel. Autothrottles engaged and servos advanced the throttles to the proper thrust setting.

Initial acceleration was moderate, proportionate to our relatively high takeoff weight and warm conditions. At rotation, pitch response was crisp, but well damped. The FBW’s “gamma dot,” or G-command, control law allowed me to make small inputs to the sidestick, then release it to freeze the flightpath vector. The aircraft then holds the selected pitch attitude and bank angle within the soft limits while affording envelope protection.

The sidestick has a softer feel and control response is rather sporty compared to most civil FBW aircraft I have flown. I soon found the aircraft can be flown smoothly with gentle fingertip pressure on the base of the sidestick.

We climbed at 280 KIAS and transitioned to 0.74 indicated Mach at Flight Level (FL) 300. During the climb, I noted FBW makes it possible to rival the smoothness and precision of a digital autopilot when hand-flying the aircraft. We reached FL450 in 36 min., despite making several turns to stay in the confines of our designated airspace.

Using the autopilot for cruise performance checks, we were unable to accelerate above Mach 0.750 or 422 kt. true airspeed (KTAS) at International Standard Atmosphere (ISA)-8C, while burning 1,500 lb./hr. at maximum cruise thrust, at a weight of 34,100 lb. We descended to FL430 in ISA-7C conditions, a density altitude better suited for cruising efficiently at the aircraft’s weight.

After several minutes, the aircraft stabilized at Mach 0.794 (449 KTAS), burning 1,665 lb./hr. at max. cruise thrust and 33,600 lb. This was 4 kt. faster than Embraer’s preliminary cruise performance predictions, all the more impressive because Serial No. -001 still has draggy telemetry antennas, external cameras, exposed rivets and other scars from the flight-test campaign.

We then began a descent to FL200 for air work and I noted the flight-level change function works both uphill and downhill, a capability not available on some other makers’ new models. On the way down, we extended and retracted the speed brakes several times with little change in the flightpath vector. There was only mild buffeting with the speed brakes fully extended.

Next we sampled the FBW overspeed and overstress protection and stall-prevention functions. We accelerated through the 320 KIAS max. operating speed, holding forward stick pressure. “High Speed,” warned the synthetic voice. As soon as the stick was released, the nose gently pitched up to return the aircraft to normal-envelope speed. If the aircraft is in a bank, overspeed protection levels the wings as it eases the nose up.

This was followed by a wind-up turn at 280 KIAS to check the 2.5g overstress protection. Exceeding the 33-deg. bank angle, though, is not easy because the FBW introduces artificial spiral stability. Once established in the turn, the aircraft stabilized at 2.5g with full aft stick

Finally came a series of low-speed protection checks, including turning and aggressively accelerated stalls in the clean configuration, with approach Flaps 3 (21 deg.) and landing Flaps 4 (37 deg.). Reference speed (VREF) with approach flaps was 127 KIAS at 32,400 lb. and 113 KIAS with landing flaps.

During these maneuvers, I performed robust left and right turns with the stick all the way aft and the aircraft just 3% above the aero-dynamic stall. The aircraft remained completely docile, responsive to roll-control inputs and rock solid in yaw damping. Repeated “Low Speed” aural warnings reminded us we were flying in the angle-of-attack (AOA) protection range.

We also performed aggressive sideslip maneuvers with the rudders at 141 KIAS to sample the FBW “P-Beta” or roll-rate/sideslip-angle protection. This function mitigates proverse roll with asymmetric thrust or rudder inputs and significantly improves aircraft controllability after an engine failure on takeoff.

To see how the aircraft handled without all the FBW magic, we turned off normal mode and flew in direct law. Camelier says direct law still provides yaw damping to augment stability. It also incorporates gain scheduling of control inputs. But all closed-loop functions, including autopilot, shaping and smoothing of manual stick inputs and envelope protection, are disabled.

Up to 35 deg. angle of bank, the control response was quite smooth. In wind-up turns, it was a little challenging to make gentle attitude changes because control surface movement varies progressively with stick displacement.

Next I flew an approach to stall. Without envelope protection and because of the aircraft’s natural aerodynamic tendency to roll off at max. lift coefficient, V speeds are increased about 3 kt. in direct mode to provide more stall margin. And stall-warning margin is increased to a lower, more conservative AOA. At stall warning, we initiated recovery by adding thrust and lowering the nose when we heard the “Stall, Stall” aural alert. The aircraft recovered immediately.

Returning to the airport for pattern work, we flew a first approach to Runway 15 at Flaps 3, using a bug speed of 133 KIAS, VREF + 5 kt. Descending to 5,000 ft., there was plenty of early afternoon thermal turbulence. FBW flightpath stability function smoothed out most of the perturbations, making it easy to hand-fly with precision and providing a comfortable, well-damped ride.

With gear down and Flaps 3, the FBW switched from flightpath to speed-stability mode. Pressing the button atop the sidestick reset the trim speed or stable-speed reference point, so the aircraft provided conventional control-force cues as the speed changed. The button does not trim the stabilizer directly, but changes the reference trim speed used by the flight-control computers to provide the speed-stability function. This mode feels very natural.

Embraer Legacy 500 Specifications

Wingspan (ft.) 

66.5

Length (ft.)

68.1

Height (ft.)

21.2

Cabin width (ft.)

6.83

   height (ft.)

6.0

   length (ft.)

27.5

Engines . . . 2 x 6,867-lb. thrust 

Honeywell HF7500E

High-speed cruise

Mach 0.83

Max. altitude (ft.)

45,000

Range (nm)

3,000

Takeoff distance (ft.)

4,600

Landing distance (ft.)

2,400

Over the threshold, we reduced thrust to idle, flared and touched down smoothly, largely due to the trailing-link main gear. Camelier reset to the Flaps 2 position, leaving flaps at 21 deg., but causing the FBW computers to recognize we were in a takeoff configuration.

I pushed the thrust levers to the stops, accelerated and launched again. The tower instructed us to use right traffic, climbing to 3,500 ft.—right-side visibility from the left seat was excellent, with significantly larger field of view than most midsize and super midsize aircraft I’ve flown.

Our second touch-and-go landing was at full 37-deg. flaps. Monteiro computed VREF at 113 KIAS at a weight of 32,000 lb. The third approach was a Flaps 3, balked landing simulating one engine inoperative (OEI). Monteiro calculated VREF at 127 KIAS at 31,750 lb. At minimums, we executed the missed approach with full left-engine thrust and the right engine at idle. Scant rudder pressure was needed to counter asymmetric thrust. I could level the wings with sidestick and just release it. P-Beta thrust-asymmetry compensation took the challenge out of flying the aircraft.

At the suggestion of Rodrigues, I even took my feet off the rudder pedals during the go-around. Only a mild sideslip ensued and the aircraft continued to head parallel to runway centerline. We continued our traffic pattern to a simulated OEI landing, using full flaps and a 123 KIAS VREF, 6 kt. higher than the all-engine VREF for a 31,500-lb. landing weight. Gear up and Flaps 1 in the pattern, it was easy to control the aircraft because of flightpath stability and P-Beta.

Our final approach and landing was in direct mode, so I could sample the aircraft’s natural aerodynamic handling qualities. Camelier switched off normal mode on the downwind leg. We used the manual stabilizer pitch-trim rocker switch in the center console to achieve a stable trim speed. VREF was set to 123 KIAS, 6 kt. higher than in normal law, to provide wider stall margins because of the lack of envelope protection. In direct law, the aircraft was easy to fly in the landing pattern, all the way to touchdown.

Marco Tulio Pelligrini, president/CEO of Embraer Executive Jets, calls the Legacy 500 a “game changer” and, based upon our observations, that seems understated. FBW transforms Legacy 500 into the nicest flying mid-size or super-midsize aircraft I’ve flown. I know of no other purpose-built business aircraft, at any price, that is easier to fly or more confidence-inspiring.

The Pro Line Fusion flight deck provides superb situational awareness. In keeping with Embraer’s “less is more” philosophy, the color palette on the flight displays, symbology and systems synoptics is as simple as possible, minimizing cockpit clutter and potential confusion. Most important, the cabin environment is on a par with the best offerings in the super-midsize category.

The Legacy 500 will soon be joined by the $16-million, 2,500-nm range, slightly truncated Legacy 450, which is to enter service next year, competing head on with the Citation Latitude. With Legacy 500 and 450, Embraer has declared it will set the standard that others will be forced to meet in capability, affordability, comfort and reliability or risk losing market share.

Watch Fred George, Aviation Week’s chief aircraft evaluation editor, put the Legacy 500 through its paces.