Green shoots finally are popping up in the entry-level light jet market, after the segment entered a nosedive six years ago. Now, Textron Aviation, Embraer and HondaJet, the Big Three of the light jet manufacturers, are gearing up to take advantage of better times ahead with three distinctively different models, all priced at close to $4.5 million when comparably equipped.

The competition in the entry-level jet segment never has been tougher. New models from the Big Three not only vie with each other, but they also potentially compete against hundreds of used light jets on the market that boast higher cruise speeds, longer ranges and larger cabins.

Embraer, though, has created a special niche with its Phenom 100, as it has the largest cabin cross-section, best fuel efficiency and lowest price of any entry-level light jet in current production at a Big Three manufacturer.

The Phenom 100E, starting at serial number 325, is the latest iteration. It has been refreshed with several upgrades, including multifunction spoilers, 11 standard interior motifs, wood veneers for the cabinets and many more options, to make it more attractive to buyers. It also has Embraer’s latest upgrades to the Prodigy flight deck, using Garmin G1000 avionics, and the most capable brake-by-wire software yet developed for the aircraft.

Most entry-level light jets are designed primarily for owner operators. This one is just as nice for the passengers. The aircraft sits relatively high on its landing gear. It’s the only jet in this class, other than the out-of-production Premier IA, to have a fold-down air stair door, giving the appearance of a much larger business aircraft. The cabin cross-section is nearly as large as that of the Premier I, giving it the roomy feel of a midsize jet.

The oval shape of the fuselage provides more usable head and shoulder room for seated passengers than similar-sized aircraft with round fuselages. The cabin windows are the largest of any current production light jet, flooding the main cabin seating area with ambient light. There also are left- and right-side windows in the aft lavatory, providing bright daylight illumination that makes the compartment feel larger than its measurements.

The Phenom 100E retains all the jetliner-like utility of the original model, including a 35,000-cycle basic design life, 600-hr. scheduled inspection intervals and MSG-3 technician-friendly maintenance access. A single technician, for instance, can change a glass windshield in about 2 hr. using standard tools.

Rugged Construction, Simple Systems

Embraer’s conservative airframe design philosophy dictated the use of conventional high-strength aluminum alloys for the primary airframe. But that didn’t limit the freedom of the firm’s aero engineers in optimizing the Phenom 100E’s external shape for low drag.

At its Botucatu manufacturing facility, the firm invested heavily in computer numerically controlled manufacturing mills and metal forming tools, enabling it to fabricate large, single-piece components, many with compound curves so vital to drag reduction. Robotic riveters and other automated processes cut the number of assembly hours required to build the aircraft.

The Phenom 100E, as a result, has both a slippery shape and relatively low labor content compared to some other entry-level jets.

The fuselage cross-section has an Embraer-original “Oval Lite” shape to optimize available room for seated passengers while minimizing external wetted area. The aft fuselage has many complex curves, including shallow wells adjacent to the nacelles, intended to reduce high-speed drag “hot spots.” Transonic flow in such areas otherwise would create wave drag.

The Phenom 100 has an original design wing, one that doesn’t reach its critical Mach number below its 0.70 Mmo redline, so drag rise is relatively flat from long-range to high-speed cruise. The airfoil also has excellent high-lift characteristics at slow speeds, particularly when its wide-span, large-area trailing-edge flaps are extended. Moreover, a 2% higher lift coefficient at high angles of attack was achieved when the wing fences were added early in the flight test development campaign.

However, the jet’s T-tail configuration can result in some horizontal tail blanking near stalling angle of attack, especially at aft c.g., that can cause insufficient aerodynamic nose-down pitch at stall to meet certification requirements. So, the Phenom 100, similar to Embraer’s Brasilia, Xingu and EMB 145 regional jetliner, has a stick pusher that fires precisely when the wing reaches maximum lift coefficient to assure stall recovery.

Embraer engineers claim the stick pusher provides better defined and more-consistent stall recognition for pilots than the anhedral tail fins fitted to some T-tail light jets.

The wing structure passes entirely below the fuselage, so it doesn’t intrude into the passenger cabin. The internal structure, a classic ladder design, has two main spars and chord-wise ribs that are attached to upper and lower stressed skins, reinforced by span-wise longerons. The forward attach point of the main landing gear is supported by a third sub spar in between the forward and aft main spars.

Most of the primary semi-monocoque airframe structure is built from conventional, high-strength alloy aluminum, using stretch-formed skins, chemically milled to reduce weight, mechanically fastened to machined or extruded hoop frames and longerons, plus some forged and milled components.

After the Phenom 100 airframe parts are fabricated at Botucatu, they’re transported about 100 mi. north to Embraer’s final assembly plant at Gaviao Peixoto, also home to its new flight test center.

Use of composites is limited mainly to secondary structures. Carbon fiber, for instance, is used to build the vertical and horizontal tail boxes, including internal spars and stressed skins. The vertical tail also has upper and lower chord-wise aluminum ribs. The front of the vertical tail has a radio-wave transparent fiberglass fairing to accommodate an optional HF transceiver antenna. Carbon fiber and other composites are used for secondary structures, including aerodynamic fairings, the nose radome and some non-pressurized access doors.

Most airframe systems are simple and well-proven. The primary flight control surfaces, built from carbon fiber, are mechanically actuated. The horizontal tail is fixed in one position atop the vertical tail. Electrically actuated trim tabs are provided for the left aileron, rudder and both elevators. The airplane is fitted with redundant pitch trim actuators. The electrically controlled and actuated trailing-edge wing flaps are the only secondary flight controls. Notably, the flaps use a control-by-wire system that synchronizes separate left and right DC-powered integrated drive flap jack screw actuators. There are no flex shafts or mechanical interlocks connecting the two flaps.

All fuel is contained in left and right wet-wing tanks refilled through over-wing ports. Electrically powered boost pumps in left and right collector tanks, housed in dry sump canisters for easy removal and replacement, supply fuel for engine starting. During normal operations, fuel is supplied by jet pumps powered by excessive fuel from the engine-driven fuel pumps. An inter-tank transfer valve is used to equalize fuel quantity between the left and right wing tanks, if needed.

The 28 VDC split-bus electrical system features separate forward and aft 24 VDC lead-acid batteries for system/avionics power and for engine start. Isolating the start and systems batteries assures “no break” power transfer to the avionics during engine start and when the generators come on line. Each engine has a starter/generator that powers the left or right side buses. Automatic bus tie and automatic load shedding functions are incorporated to ease pilot workload. A solid-state inverter provides 117 VAC, 60 Hz power for outlets in the cockpit and cabin. All circuit breakers are conventional magnetic or thermal mechanical devices. The batteries provide 45 min. of emergency power for essential equipment.

The trailing-link main landing gear have single wheels, as does the nose gear. Mechanical linkages through the rudder pedals provide nosewheel steering, augmented by differential braking. The landing gear actuators, wheel brakes and multifunction spoilers are powered by an on-demand, electric pump that supplies 3,000 psi pressure to the systems. The 100E is fitted with a higher capacity power pack to handle the increased hydraulic loads of the spoilers.

The spoilers are controlled by a simple extend/retract switch on the center console. In flight, they may be extended above 188 KIAS and with a thrust lever angle of less than 39 deg. Below that threshold speed or when the thrust levers are advanced, the spoilers automatically retract. Acting as ground spoilers, the panels also automatically extend on landing with weight on wheels and with thrust lever angle less than 39 deg. They automatically retract after 30 sec. regardless of thrust lever angle.

To expedite certification of the modification, Embraer elected not to take credit for the effectiveness of the ground spoilers in improving aircraft stopping performance. An additional round of flight tests would have been required, a substantial cost that would have been passed through to customers.

The multifunction spoiler system also will be available as a retrofit kit for older aircraft. But parts cost will be $100,000 to $200,000, downtime in the shop will be 45 days and labor time will be 800 to 900 hr.

The Phenom 100 has a brake-by-wire system, similar to the systems used aboard the Phenom 300, Legacy 450/500 and Embraer’s jetliners. A hydraulic accumulator provides power for six emergency brake applications. The upgraded hydraulic system now features a separate accumulator to power the parking brake. Gravity free-fall and air loads are used for emergency landing gear extension.

The brake-by-wire system has BCU (brake control unit) load 6 software that provides the most-effective stopping performance yet available for the Phenom 100.

Engine bleed air is used for the 8.3-psi pressurization system with separate sides that provide individual temperature control for cockpit and cabin. Pressurization control is fully automatic through the FMS, with provision for manual input of landing field elevation. Cabin heat is furnished by bleed air and a vapor-cycle air conditioner provides refrigeration. A 50-cu.-ft. capacity supplemental oxygen system provides full-time supply to quick donning masks in the cockpit and drop-down masks in the passenger compartment that automatically deploy if the cabin altitude exceeds 14,500 ft.

Bleed air and electrical heat is used to provide ice protection. Pneumatic boots, inflated by bleed air, provide deice protection for the leading edges of the wings and horizontal stabilizer. Bleed air heat also protects the engine inlets from ice accumulation. Electrical heat is used for windshield, pitot tube, static port and angle-of-attack probe anti-icing.

Long-life LEDs are used for most exterior and interior lighting. Cabin lighting includes reading, overhead wash and aisle lights. The exceptions are the HID landing/taxi lights and a single halogen incandescent light used to illuminate the left-wing leading edge for ice detection.

Passenger Comfort and Convenience, Baggage Capacity

Similar to a jetliner, the Phenom 100 is an airplane wrapped around clearly defined cabin specifications. The airstair entry door, for instance, is the largest in its class, measuring 4.5 ft. high by 2.1 ft. wide. Optional LED tread lights illuminate each step. There also is a Type IV over-wing emergency exit on the right side of the airplane. The cabin windows measure 1.2 ft. high by 1.0 ft. wide, the largest of any current production entry-level jet.

Glance please at the accompanying cabin cross-section and cabin length illustrations. The Phenom 100E’s 282-cu.-ft. cabin is wider, taller and more voluminous than that of the Cessna Citation M2. The Phenom 100E also has a slightly wider and taller cabin than the HondaJet, but it’s not quite as large in volume because of the HondaJet’s 1+ ft. greater cabin length.

There are three windows on each side of the main cabin, plus two more in the lavatory compartment. An abundance of natural light makes the cabin look larger than its actual dimensions.

The Phenom 100 has 62 cu. ft. of baggage capacity, including a 45-cu.-ft. aft external baggage compartment that can accommodate four roll-on bags, garment bags and four carry-on bags, plus four sets of golf clubs or four pairs of 185-mm-long skis. But some new avionics options, such as the Euro spec CPDLC kit with third VHF comm radio, occupy a small part of the compartment.

Inside the airplane, there is a 6-cu.-ft. forward wardrobe closet behind the copilot’s seat. If the optional side-facing seat is installed across from the entry door, forward closet space is much smaller and aircraft empty weight is increased by 5 lb. An optional refreshment center, adding 30 lb. to empty weight, altogether eliminates the wardrobe closet. But an optional storage locker across from the toilet in the aft lavatory offers additional luggage storage.

There is an additional 5-cu.-ft. external baggage compartment in the nose, useful for storing duct covers, crew baggage and miscellaneous stores.

The most typical interior configuration features an executive four-seat center club layout with left- and right-side foldout worktables. Many buyers are likely to order the premium chair package, providing adjustments for pitch, rake, lateral position and lateral swivel, along with retractable aisle-side armrests and storage drawers in the seat bases. Premium seats add 88 lb. to empty weight.

The upgraded seats are considerably more comfortable than the standard chairs. The worktables are sturdy and well finished, but when they’re extended, the cover door for the sidewall storage pocket remains partially open atop the table, thereby reducing available work space.

One AC power outlet, mounted below a door in the side-rail armrest, is available for each pair of facing chairs. However, when a power cord is plugged in, the door cannot be shut, thus restricting side-rail armrest area. Furthermore, the storage pockets below the side-rail compartment doors are too shallow to accommodate iPhones or other popular PDAs.

A belted potty seat, certified for full-time occupancy and adding 33 lb. to empty weight, is available as an option. The lav has an internally serviced, recirculating flush toilet with removable waste tank. Replacing the standard lavatory compartment partition curtain, solid pocket doors are a 35-lb. option.

The standard cabin package includes an XM satellite radio receiver and ATC monitoring channel that enables passengers to keep abreast of what’s happening in the cockpit. Options include a high-fidelity cabin speaker package, CD/MP3 player, MP3 input jack and master station for cabin light, audio and temperature control.

Weight control is a challenge for Phenom 100E buyers. According to Embraer, most customers load up their aircraft with options that add 160 lb. to 240 lb. to empty aircraft weight. When equipped with such gear, tanks-full payload is 362 lb. to 442 lb. — not the 602 lb. quoted by Embraer for a standard spec aircraft. Options also typically add $480,000 to $520,000 to purchase price.

Flying the Phenom 100E

On a rainy, blustery day in early February, we belted into the left seat of serial number 331 at Embraer’s Melbourne, Florida, facility, accompanied by senior demo pilot Jeremy Schneider as instructor pilot and senior demo pilot Dean Mitchell along as safety pilot.

The aircraft was loaded up with virtually every option available, far more equipment than most customers order for typical aircraft. With 310 lb. of extra equipment, BOW ballooned up to 7,550 lb.

With 1,600 lb. of fuel, three occupants and other gear, ramp weight was 9,600 lb. and computed takeoff weight was 9,500 lb. There are three ways of computing takeoff and one-engine-inoperative climb data. Embraer’s OPERA (Operational PERformance Analyzer) software program, running on a laptop, provides the most accurate computations because it uses first principles flight test data. But it also is the most complex to use. Similar to using a paper AFM, flight crews must enter field elevation and OAT, available runway length, gradient and surface condition, along with flap setting, among other variables. But, once you get comfortable with using OPERA, it’s an impressively powerful operational tool.

Second, Embraer teamed with Aircraft Performance Group of Castle Rock, Colorado, to create iPreFlight, an app that runs on iPads. It’s considerably easier to use than OPERA, having a graphic user interface, full runway analysis computer, a complete airport database, a weight and balance program, flight planner and weather/NOTAMs retrieval utility, among many other features.

The quick reference handbook, or pocket checklist, provides a third method. It’s typically used in flight to compute landing data.

Using iPreFlight, Schneider entered data for flaps 1, OAT 19C, wind 240 at 11 kt. and selected wet conditions for Runway 27L. Computed speeds were 99 KIAS for the V1 takeoff decision speed, 103 KIAS for rotation, 107 KIAS for the V2 takeoff safety speed and 124 KIAS for the flaps-up, en route speed. Computed takeoff field length was 4,523 ft. on the 22-ft. elevation runway.

The Phenom 100E’s cockpit is highly ergonomic, designed by experienced jetliner pilots. Outward visibility is excellent, well suited to single-pilot operations. Embraer Prodigy’s EFIS colors are intuitive. Checklists are short and systems checks are automated.

Hands and eyes fall readily to controls, with top-notch cockpit ergonomics. Embraer’s quiet, dark cockpit philosophy, honed through several generations of airliner development, is readily apparent and it works. With lights out, aural alarms silenced and knobs at 12 o’clock, all systems are go for the applicable phase of flight. We also were impressed with the subtle use of color on the Prodigy Flight Deck 100 displays. Each colored symbol, graphic or number represents essential information. Colors are not used for aesthetics or decoration.

Engine start is simple. We used an external power cart. We turned on both batteries, positioned the generator control and fuel pump switches to auto and assured both throttles were in idle. Then, one at a time, we lifted and twisted the engine control knobs to the full right start position. The FADECs handled all other chores. As the engines started, each engine control knob automatically clicked into the normal, 12 o’clock run position, providing audible and tactile feedback of a successful engine start.

Prior to taxi, we checked the stall stick pusher and flight control movement. Out of the chocks, the brakes tended to be a little grabby. Nosewheel steering was very positive. There was some chattering of the wheel brakes during taxi to Runway 27L.

Just prior to taking the runway, we checked the MFD status page for doors, batteries, hydraulic system pressure, oxygen quantity and emergency brake accumulator pressure, along with flight data including aircraft weight, time, fuel quantity and air data.

Once cleared on the runway, we performed a rolling takeoff. Acceleration was brisk at the aircraft’s light weight, especially considering the low density altitude. Pitch force on rotation was light, with moderate roll control forces. We had several intermediate level-offs as we climbed to FL 370, using a 200 KIAS/Mach 0.55 climb schedule.

After level-off at a 9,000-lb. aircraft in ISA conditions, we set max cruise thrust and stabilized at 370 KTAS while burning 668 pph. The Phenom 100E flight-planning guide predicted 369 KTAS while burning 672 pph. We noted that the PFDs do not display true airspeed and OAT ISA deviation. However, some MFD pages can be configured to display TAS.

Then, we turned back toward Melbourne, using the flight spoilers to expedite the descent. There is a noticeable pitching moment when the spoilers extend, but panel extension and retraction in flight is relatively slow, so it’s easily controllable. Also, there is mild airframe buffet with the spoilers extended.

The Garmin GWX68 weather radar indicated moderate to heavy showers in the vicinity of the airport. We programmed the FMS with the BITHO 7 arrival and requested the RNAV GPS 27L approach so that we could take advantage of Prodigy’s WAAS LPV capability.

We hand flew the procedure in IMC to get a better feel for the aircraft’s handling characteristics. While long period pitch stability is quite good, the aircraft is short coupled, thus turbulence causes plenty of nose attitude movement. Also, there is some thrust/pitch coupling, but it, too, is easily controlled.

Using the QRH, Schneider read out 95 KIAS for VREF. The unfactored landing distance on the wet runway was about 3,600 ft. Extending the landing gear produced a little nose-up transient and extending the flaps produced a substantial increase in lift that we countered by pushing down firmly on the yoke and retrimming the elevator.

We intentionally touched down firmly in preparation for a maximum performance stop. After touchdown, we pressed down fully on the brake pedals to evaluate the brake-by-wire system. The Meggitt ABS BBW system, even with BCU 6 software, provided less than optimum anti-skid action, not confidence-inspiring for pilots new to the aircraft. The brake system indeed feels quite similar to that of the original Premier I and Cessna CJ2, two aircraft not known for best-in-class braking performance.

When landing the Phenom 100E, if directional corrections are needed, it’s important not to release pedal pressure in the direction of the swerve. Instead, pedal pressure should be increased on the opposite side to correct the yaw, a somewhat counterintuitive response. Releasing pedal pressure just causes the BBW system to reset, thus delaying braking action.

Schneider and other experienced Phenom 100 pilots later told us that extracting maximum braking performance from the aircraft takes some practice. Until a pilot masters braking technique, it’s best to pad landing distances, in our opinion.

Total fuel burn for the 1 hr. 3 min.  flight was 1,000 lb. Our overall impression was that the Phenom 100 is very easy to fly, having one of the most intuitive cockpits of any business aircraft yet produced, docile handling manners and simple, reliable systems. However, it’s a little short-coupled in pitch and the brake-by-wire system still needs fine-tuning after several upgrades.

Still the Class Champion?

When the Phenom 100 made its debut in late 2008, it swept away the competition. Priced at $500,000 more than the considerably smaller and slower Citation Mustang, and $1.3 million less than the smaller CJ1+, it had a devastating effect on the sales of both aircraft. Embraer delivered 200 units in the first and second full years of production.

The competitive landscape now has changed markedly. Cessna fought back by morphing the CJ1+ into the Citation M2, a CitationJet with upgraded Garmin G3000 touch-screen avionics, a plusher interior, peppier climb performance and higher cruise speeds, along with a considerably lower price than the CJ1+. The Citation M2 has superior hot-and-high airport performance and it can cruise up to 65 kt. faster than the Phenom 100E. But it’s up to 10% less fuel efficient at high-speed cruise. Textron Aviation, though, uses a high-speed cruise profile when it quotes range performance.

At long-range cruise, the two aircraft are closely matched regarding fuel efficiency. Embraer uses a long-range cruise profile to quote range performance, so there is a 20+ min. difference in block times on the longest missions. The Brazilian aircraft, though, has a lower purchase price and operating costs because of its 600-hr. maintenance intervals.

Soon, however, the HondaJet will be certified, making possible initial customer deliveries in second quarter 2015. The aircraft promises to be as much of a game changer as the Phenom 100 was six years ago. Its low-drag fuselage, advanced high-speed, laminar-flow wing design and new technology GE-Honda HF120 turbofans, among other features, give it potential to go to the head of the entry-level class.

Honda Aircraft has released very few actual weights and performance numbers, but it promises that the HondaJet will cruise as fast as 420 KTAS and be able to fly four occupants 1,180 nm, assuming 100-nm NBAA IFR fuel reserves. The aircraft also will have a 43,000-ft. certified maximum altitude and higher pressurization than either the M2 or Phenom 100E.

Statistical comparisons aside, Embraer Executive Jets is earning high marks for product support, now ranking second only to Gulfstream in some surveys. Owner loyalty is higher than ever and Phenom 100 operators have raved to B&CA about their aircraft and Embraer’s product support.

The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer remains committed to product improvement and customer support, having risen to prominence as a world-class airframe company after coming from humble origins 45 years ago where life’s essentials were anything but guaranteed.

Embraer’s energy, effort and focus, as well as its jetliner engineering experience, gave the Phenom 100 competitive advantages to seize the class lead when the aircraft made its debut. But Textron Aviation and Honda Aircraft now have new products that are stiff competitors. Embraer no longer can take its lead for granted. B&CA

This pilot report appears in the March 2015 issue of Business & Commercial Aviation under the title "Phenom 100E."