““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Embraer's Phenom 100
Until now, Cessna's Citation Mustang "entry level" twinjet was seen as the unequivocal best of breed. While the Mustang is a fine airplane, its market dominance was not particularly difficult as every other competitor failed to gain FAA certification, slid into bankruptcy, or both. Now, however, the Mustang faces a bona fide challenger: Just three years after it was announced and only 18 months after its first flight, Embraer's all-aluminum very light jet, the Phenom 100, received FAA certification late last year. Customer deliveries already have commenced.
At $3.18 million, the Phenom and the Mustang have virtually identical pricing and both can be flown single-pilot. But the Phenom is 50 knots faster, topping out at 390 knots, thanks to more powerful engines and a more aerodynamically efficient wing. Unlike the Mustang, this is not an airplane for a rookie jet pilot flying alone.
The 100 also weighs 1,000 pounds more than the Mustang (maximum takeoff weight). At 1,178 nautical miles, it has about the same range. It holds slightly more luggage (71 cubic feet) and has a larger, more flexible cabin. It can be configured to seat four or six, while the Mustang is limited to four. In the four-seat configuration, the Phenom also has a true aft lavatory, while the Mustang offers a flip-up padded lid over a chemical bowl aft of the pilots' seats and opposite the entry door. A pull-out curtain provides a veneer of privacy. It's handy, especially for pilots, but not exactly private.
For interior design on the 100, Embraer turned to BMW DesignWorksUSA in Newbury Park, Calif., an independent company owned by the famous German automaker. BMW's Gerhard Steinle directed the project and faced the main challenge of making the 100's four-foot-11-inch-tall and five-foot-one-inch-diameter cabin look "bigger, more comfortable and more relaxing."
To create the illusion and an overall clean and spacious look, BMW used upscale automotive-style accents, LED lighting and single-piece sidewalls and headliners. It also employed a few visual tricks on the floor-specifically, a pair of chrome strips that run the length of the cabin into the cockpit and that "make the cabin look longer and emphasize the extended space into the cockpit," Steinle said. The chrome continues into the cockpit and is used on the rudder pedals and the signature "ram-horn" control yokes.
The cabin side-ledges host hidden, retractable cup holders and are wide enough to hold personal electronic devices and cellphones. Storage nooks, AC power outlets, headset jackpoints, cabin lighting and temperature controls, MP3 plugs and speakers are also integrated into the side-ledge. Audio on-demand and satellite radio are available on the aircraft. There are separate cabin and cockpit temperature controls.
A modestly sized refreshment center can be installed in the forward cabin. It is adequate for small beverage containers, a limited amount of glassware, ice and snacks.
The 100's cabin also features enclosed, pleated window shades; Ultraleather upper sidewalls; carpet or wood floors; laminate, gloss or veneer cabinet finishes; and carpet or fabric lower sidewalls. A diverse choice of color palettes is available, including agate, citrine, obsidian, onyx, quartz, topaz and tourmaline.
The optional wooden floor is perhaps the 100's most unusual feature. "It's a new approach," Steinle said. "With carpet, well, all kinds of animals live in there." A sound-dampening layer under the floor mitigates any increased cabin noise from the wood.
The seats are unusual as well. The headrests are offset from center slightly, designed in a way that provides support when a passenger naturally tilts his head toward the sidewall while napping or looking out the window. The seat cushions are 18 inches wide, have longitudinal tracking, recline from eight to 20 degrees and have integral three-point seatbelts and inboard armrests. For an aircraft this size, they are very comfortable.
The 100's engines and avionics are designed for ease of maintenance and are made by tried-and-true manufacturers. Power comes from a pair of Pratt & Whitney PW617F-E engines rated at 1,695 pounds of thrust each. This is the most powerful variant of the same family of engine that is used on the Citation Mustang and the Eclipse 500. The PW600 series incorporates numerous engineering and manufacturing advances that make it cheaper to build and easier to fix than engines on older light jets such as Cessna's CJ series. For example, a mid-life inspection can be performed on a PW600 without removing the engine from the wing, which means it can be done in a single eight-hour shift rather than over several days.
The 100's "Prodigy" glass-panel avionics system is built around the Garmin G1000 suite, which is quickly becoming the standard for everything from piston singles to turboprops to light jets. It features three interchangeable 12-inch flat-panel displays-two primary displays for each pilot position and a center multifunction display. The system integrates all primary flight, navigation, communication, terrain, weather, engine-instrumentation and crew-alerting data.
Embraer, while not revealing exact numbers, claims a robust order book for the 100 and says production is sold out into 2012. (The Brazilian manufacturer does report that total orders for the 100 and its larger sibling, the Phenom 300, top 850.) Embraer is building a second production plant for the aircraft in Melbourne, Fla., which it expects to open in 2010. The 150,000-square-foot facility will feature a final assembly line for the Phenom 100 as well as a customer design and delivery acceptance center. Embraer says it has received numerous fleet orders for the aircraft. While some of those may not survive the current economy, the 100's combination of speed, space, range and economy suggest that it will remain popular for many years.
At a Glance
Price (early 2009): $3.18 million
Passengers: 4 to 6
Pilots: 1 or 2
Range: 1,178 nm
Maximum cruising speed: 390 kt
Maximum takeoff weight: 10,472 lb
Fuel capacity: 2,804 lb
Cabin Volume: 208 cu ft
Cabin Width (centerline): 5 ft 1 in
Cabin Height: 4 ft 11 in
Cabin Length: 11 ft