The Phenom(enal) 300

Rudi van der Zwaal presents a pilot report on the Embraer Phenom 300, which he flew when it visited New Zealand on a demonstration tour recently.

Access restricted:

Access to this article is restricted to AHSNZ Members. Memberships start at $60 NZD and you can Join online

Full Article


When asked by the editor recently if I was interested in a flight in the new Embraer Phenom 300, I did not have to think very long. Embraer is the third-largest aircraft manufacturer in the world after the giant two, Boeing and Airbus, and has a solid reputation in the business aviation market. I knew I would be in for an enjoyable experience. Yes—I was interested in flying the Phenom 300!

Graeme Mollison and I met Christophe Chicandard—Embraer’s senior sales director for the company’s executive jets in the Asia-Pacific region—at Air Center One, the FBO hosting the Phenom during its visit to Auckland. Christophe briefed us about the Phenom, the different market segments Embraer is focusing on and some of Embraer’s strategy for the introduction of this aeroplane.

Following his briefing, Christophe introduced us to the aircraft’s demonstration flight crew—Captain Savio Zamboni and Captain Charles Eduardo Savadori—before we were introduced to the star of the day, the Embraer Phenom 300.

As Savio guided us through a comprehensive walk around, I was impressed with the sophisticated look and 21st-century lines of the jet. The Phenom 300 is a solid-looking aeroplane that looks more like a midsized aircraft than a light business jet. We had been blessed with a beautiful morning for our flight and the sunlight reflecting from the chrome leading edges of the wing, the horizontal stabiliser and the engine nacelles gave the aircraft an almost futuristic military look.

The aircraft has two fuel tanks—one in each wing—with a combined capacity of 2,450 kg. Both tanks are filled via an easily operated single refuelling point conveniently located at waist height within the forward right wingroot fairing. The tanks can be completely filled from this refuelling point within 12 minutes from empty.

There is an 8-ft3 forward baggage compartment in the nose with a capacity of 110 lb (49.8 kg). Behind the panel of this baggage compartment lies Battery 1. One of two aircraft batteries, this one is dedicated to powering the systems and avionics, and is capable of providing 45 minutes’ power for emergency loads. The two-battery design eliminates avionic transitions during power-up and minimises the chance of hot starts.

A 66-ft3 (1.86-m3)baggage compartment in the aft fuselage can carry 463 lb (210 kg). It is equipped with a courtesy light (which incorporates a five-minute timer) and includes a dedicated space for oil storage. Neither of the baggage compartments is pressurised but an optional baggage heating system is available.

The Phenom 300 is powered by two Pratt and Whitney PW535E high bypass turbofans, each producing 3,200 lbs thrust flat rated at ISA+15. The engines have a time between overhaul (TBO) of 5,000 hours and feature redundant full authority digital electronic control (FADEC) control.

The rudder is split into two different units: a larger rudder unit with a conventional yaw damper set-up and, below it, the so-called ventral rudder. This fully independent rudder is not commanded by the pilot and works automatically in all phases of flight to improve dynamic stability characteristics.

The wings incorporate four-position, four-panel trailing-edge Fowler flaps. All primary flight controls are manually operated with electrical trim, and the left aileron and rudder have conventional trim tabs for roll and yaw trim. The large fly-by-wire multi-function spoilers provide roll augmentation, and work as speed brakes in flight and operate as automatic spoilers on the ground.

Like all other Embraer aircraft with T-tails, the Phenom 300 has a stall-barrier stick pusher. With 120 pounds of system pressure, it will push the stick forward to avoid those corners of the flight envelope you want to stay well clear of, like wing roll-off at high angles of attack.

Access to the Phenom’s cabin is via a sturdy air stair equipped with a handrail and torsion bar for easy closing of the door. At 1.47 m high and 0.74 m wide, the air stair door is significantly larger than those any other jet in its class.

When the time came to board the Phenom, Graeme had to leave us and I made myself comfortable in the cockpit for the demo flight to selfishly enjoy the flying all by myself.

The Phenom’s reasonably spacious cockpit is well arranged and is separated from the cabin by a curtain. The professional-looking flight deck features the Garmin Prodigy Flight Deck 300 avionics suite, which incorporates three 12-inch displays with integral bezel buttons. As expected, it comes with all the bells and whistles like synthetic vision, weather radar with vertical scanning, EICAS (engine-indicating and crew-alerting system) messages, electronic checklist, and support for WAAS/LPV (wide area augmentation system/localiser performance with vertical guidance) and RNP (required navigation performance) approaches.

During normal operations, the two outboard displays are the primary displays, while the central one operates as a multi-functional display showing system synoptic pages and the electronic checklist.

Because the Phenom 300 is designed and certified for single pilot operation, there are no system panels located anywhere beyond the right-hand control column.

The autopilot control panel (these days called the mode control panel) is just below the glare shield, together with the IESI (integrated electronic standby instrument)—a standby horizon with its own pitot static and attitude and heading reference system.

Despite its “single pilot” capability, the Phenom 300 is a highly sophisticated piece of equipment. Accordingly, one of the primary aims of its designers was to reduce pilot workload to a minimum by incorporating a high degree of system automation. It was evident that the plane’s designers had put a lot of thought into making systems as simple as possible to operate; something that is vitally important in order to prevent the workload becoming too high in the event of a malfunction.

The control column, which looks more like a motorcycle handlebar than a typical aircraft control column (a common Embraer design feature) is well positioned and allows for a very comfortable seating position.

After completing the straightforward “before engine start” checklist, the engine start was even more straightforward—it was a simple matter of turning the engine start switch to “start” and letting the FADEC take care of the rest, starting both engines very quickly. With the advent of FADEC, things like hot starts or hung starts are no longer the subjects of pilots’ and engineers’ nightmares, as the FADEC monitors and keeps everything within limits automatically.

Following the “after start” checklist—another model of simplicity—we taxied out to Runway 23L. The nosewheel steering is controlled through the rudder pedals; combined with differential braking, this makes it easy to manoeuvre in tight spots and to stay on the centreline. The Phenom 300 has a brake-by-wire system and I was surprised to find it felt identical to the Airbus braking system I was used to. It does not take long to get used to the brief time lag between applying the brakes and the actual braking.

Savio performed the “before takeoff” checklist by pushing the takeoff configuration button. This assured us with an aural advisory message that we were in the right takeoff configuration; once again, simplicity itself.

With a zero-fuel weight of 5,560 kg, three of us on board and 1,100 kg of fuel in the tanks, our takeoff weight of 6,660 kg was well below the maximum takeoff weight of 8,150 kg. At our weight and an almost standard day at sea level, we had a V1/VR of 103/103 knots and a V2 of 116 knots.

Cleared to maintain runway heading and climb straight ahead to FL250 (well below the Phenom 300’s maximum operating altitude of 45,000 feet), we set TOGA (takeoff/go-around) thrust and accelerated quickly with a short ground run to rotation speed. In order to maintain V2 +10, the final rotation, at around 20 degrees nose up, was higher than this widebody airliner pilot was used to and we had already reached 3,000 feet by the time we crossed the end of the runway. While this might not have been the kind of relaxed climb seasoned business-class travellers would be used to, it was a very impressive performance from a pilot’s point of view. While we accelerated to 230 knots as the flaps were retracted, only small pitch changes were required, which were easily neutralised with the pitch trim.

I flew the aeroplane manually throughout the flight—not only because our time was limited, but also because I wanted to get a feel of the aeroplane and the flight controls. Pitch control proved to be light and quite sensitive, while roll control was a little heavier on the controls. As the roll rate increases, the effect of the fly-by-wire spoilers is noticeable and provides very good control in the turn. Rolling out precisely onto pre-determined headings is easy to do. To me, the Phenom 300 feels like a much heavier aeroplane—which I feel is a good thing, as it makes it easier to hand-fly, even at higher altitudes.

With its wings slightly swept and with a higher wing loading than the smaller Embraer 100, it is obvious that the Phenom 300 is designed for higher cruise speeds and the greater fuel load of the bigger aircraft makes it a good midrange aircraft.

We made some steep turns over Great Barrier at 25,000 feet and 240 knots. The yaw damper did a fantastic job of correcting any opposite yaw and it was possible to ignore the rudder pedals completely.

In level flight, I accelerated to VMO, which produced an aural “high speed” warning and an over-speed indication on the speed tape. I closed the throttles to idle power and selected the speed brakes to decelerate. The speed brake switch on the pedestal has only two positions: up or down. Selecting the speed brakes produces a very slight nose-up tendency, which is easy to control with a light forward pressure on the controls.

Opening the throttles with the speed brakes still deployed retracts them automatically while simultaneously producing an EICAS message advising that they have been retracted. This is a nice feature, especially since the small speed brake switch might be overlooked and there is no big speed brake handle indicating what position the speed brakes are in. You have to reset the speed brake switch to “up” in order to extinguish the EICAS message. Failure to do so will extend the brakes again as soon as you close the throttles.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to explore the aircraft’s stall characteristics. I would have liked to experience the stick pusher—a common feature of T-tailed jets that prevents wing drop-off at critically high angles of attack—and a reminder of my F-104 days!

Nevertheless, I believe the Embraer engineers’ assertion that the Phenom 300 maintains positive pitch stability in all configurations and all cg (centres of gravity) throughout the flight envelope.

Another aspect I was unable to assess was the Phenom’s engine-out performance. However, I suspect that—in common with many aircraft of its type, having plenty of power for its size and having the engines situated relatively close to the centreline—it would present few challenges.

Upon our return to Auckland, we were vectored straight in for Runway 23L and while Savio set up the approach on the Garmin, I used the speed brakes and descended with idle power to intercept the profile from above. The Phenom 300’s manoeuvrability and flexibility with different speeds and attitudes makes it easy to accomplish non-standard approaches and intercepts, and although we were initially high and fast, we were able to intercept the glideslope and localiser without any trouble.

After extending the gear and setting “flaps 3”, we intercepted the glideslope at 2,000 feet. I found it easy to hand-fly the aircraft, maintaining 115 knots on final with minimal power changes. Once again, I felt the Phenom 300 flew like a much larger medium-sized jet with its stability in both pitch and heading making it effortless to fly the approach. Crossing the threshold, I retarded the throttles, after which the automatic height call-outs helped me judge the minimal flare, and we touched down smoothly.

The fly-by-wire spoilers deployed automatically upon touchdown and with some moderate braking, we slowed to taxi speed well before the A6 turnoff.

After the straightforward shutdown, Savio and Charles gave me a tour of the cabin and pointed out the many different seating arrangements made possible by versatile seats that can turn, slide, recline fully and swivel in any imaginable direction.

The interior was created by the BMW Group, which is shown by the quality and attention to detail throughout; the cabin is very luxurious and reminiscent of the interior of an expensive car. The cabin windows are big and offer good views; even the lavatory has two windows—a feature I saw for the first time in the A340. As expected for an aircraft like this, cabin layouts can be customised to suit a customer’s requirements.

With a price tag in the vicinity of NZ$10 million (typically equipped), the Embraer Phenom 300 represents good value for money for a buyer in this market. A good quality product will always find a customer and with the Phenom 300, that is exactly what Embraer is offering: a solid well-built airframe, good range, excellent performance—and a pleasure to fly. The Phenom 300 is an outstanding small business jet with big aspirations.


The author would like to thank Robin Leach of Air Center One for a warm welcome, and Captain Savio Zamboni, Captain Charles Eduardo Savadori and Mr Everton Dominigos Da Silva of Embraer for the opportunity to fly the Phenom 300.

Phenom 300—additional facts

The Phenom 300 is designed for high utilisation and has a design life of 35,000 hours with a scheduled maintenance plan of 600 hours or 12 months between inspections. Considering the average annual utilisation of an executive jet is measured in hundreds rather than thousands of hours, the aircraft is likely to outlast its owner.

An engine can be replaced by two engineers in 2–4 hours.

Windshield replacement can be achieved by one person from the outside.

The Phenom 300 meets ICAO Stage 4 noise regulations.

Embraer claims that the Phenom 300 can take off at its maximum takeoff weight and climb directly to its maximum operating altitude of 45,000 ft. It has an initial climb rate of 4,000 ft/min and can reach typical cruise altitudes in 15 minutes.

Phenom 300 vs rivals

The Phenom 300 has an advantage over much of the opposition in the “light jet” category by being a “clean sheet” design. Starting from scratch has allowed Embraer to take full advantage of its experience in other business jet and airliner projects. As a result, the Phenom’s modern airframe, engines and systems result in comfort and produce efficiencies that its rivals—constrained by older airframes and technology—find difficult to match. Even so, the road ahead for Embraer is a tough one; its products have to be up with the best in order to break in to a market dominated by the likes of Cessna and Bombardier. Embraer has taken this highly competitive market head-on with the Phenom 300. This is a very capable aircraft that incumbents undoubtedly see as a threat to their market-share; on paper, if the Embraer Phenom 300 does not beat the competition, it certainly matches it.

The Phenom 300 is “large” in the light category, featuring the largest cockpit, galley and windows in its class. The volume of the Phenom 300’s main baggage compartment is more than 15% greater than the Cessna CJ4 and a whopping two and a half times that of the Hawker 400XP. It is capable of holding six golf bags or six pairs of skis, plus six garment bags, six roll-on bags and six laptop bags.

The Phenom also lays claim to the lowest cabin altitude in the category (6,600 ft), particularly important on those long days (or nights).

The cabin is 5.23 m long, 1.55 m across at its widest point and 1.50m high; not the largest in the category but is by no means the smallest either.

The Phenom 300 burns 14% less fuel and produces 14% less carbon emissions per typical flight than its closest competitor. The Phenom 300 has been assessed as being less expensive to operate than the Cessna CJ3, the Cessna CJ4, the Learjet 40XR and the Hawker 400XP with a total direct operating cost (DOC) advantage of 18% (source: Embraer/Conklin & de Decker).

Embraer Phenom 300—General data

Length:                                                                15.6m (51 ft 4 in)

Wingspan:                                                          15.9m (52 ft 2 in)

Height:                                                                 5.1m (16 ft 9 in)

Engines:                                                              Pratt & Whitney PW535-E

Thrust/flat-rating:                                              3,200 lb/ISA +15 C

Maximum operating speed:                           M0.78

High speed cruise:                                           453 KTAS (839 km/h)

Service ceiling:                                                  45,000 ft

Takeoff distance (MTOW, SL, ISA):               956 m

Landing distance (MLW, SL, ISA):                799 m

Range (6 occupants, LRC, IFR reserves):             1,971 nm

Max payload:                                                     1,096 kg

Block fuel for 1000 nm:                                    1,090 kg


Embraer—Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica

Embraer is now the third-largest aircraft manufacturer in the world—a remarkable achievement for a company that only turns 43 this year. Founded in 1969, just weeks after the Apollo 11 moon landing, Embraer’s beginnings (and budget) were rather humble. The company was initially set up and backed by the Brazilian government to manufacture an aircraft that became the workhorse of the global 15–21-seat turboprop commuter market for many years: the EMB-100 and subsequently the EMB-110 Bandeirante.

Nearly 500 “Bandits”, as the Bandeirante is affectionately known throughout the world, were produced for military and commercial operators before production ended in 1990 after 21 years. By 2009, there were still something like 320 “Bandits” operating in various places around the world.

Shortly after the successful development of the EMB-110, the company was commissioned by the Brazilian government to manufacture the EMB-326 Xavante advanced trainer and ground attack jet under licence from Aermacchi.

Other significant products in Embraer’s early history were the EMB-400 Urupema high-performance glider and the EMB-200 Ipanema agricultural aeroplane. These were followed in the 1980s by new products such as the EMB 312 Tucano turboprop military trainer and the EMB-120 Brasilia twin turboprop commuter airliner. The Brasilia was developed in response to the evolving demands of the regional air transport industry and took advantage of the most advanced technologies available at the time; it was the fastest, lightest and most economical aircraft in its category.

Embraer also built numerous Piper aircraft under licence including the EMB-712 “Tupi” (PA-28-181 Cherokee Archer II), the EMB-720C “Minuano” (PA-32-300 Cherokee Six), the EMB-721C “Sertanejo” (PA-32R-300 Cherokee Lance), the EMB-810C Seneca (PA-34-200T Seneca II) and the EMB-820C Navajo (PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain).

During the financial crisis of the early 1990s, Embraer retrenched, reducing its workforce drastically, and postponing or cancelling what were seen as “higher risk” projects. The setback was relatively short-lived and the company was privatised in 1994. In the years that followed, Embraer continued to grow, launching a range of new products in the military, executive and airline aviation markets.

Today, Embraer employs more than 17,000 staff at its headquarters in São Jose dos Campos, São Paulo, Brazil, and its offices and facilities in Brazil, China, France, Portugal, Singapore and the United States. Having produced more than 5,000 aircraft to date, the company can now lay claim to being the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial jet aircraft in the up to 120-seat category.

More like this