Embraer’s Legacy 500
In September, Embraer delivered its first American-built Legacy 500 from its Melbourne, Florida assembly plant. The 500, which sells for $20 million (or $22 million, typically equipped) defines a new market niche between a traditional medium business jet and a super-medium. Altogether, the Brazilian airframer has delivered more than 50 of the ships to customers in 12 countries since the FAA certified the model in October 2014.
Granted, the midsize sector of the bizjet market has been largely flying in a holding pattern amid the contrails of the last recession, but given all the value this aircraft brings to the market, more of them should be rolling off the assembly line. At least that’s the impression I came away with after flying in one last year.
There simply is no other airplane in the 500’s price range that gives you a true wide stand-up, flat-floor cabin with all the latest luxuries, a cavernous luggage hold, smooth and full fly-by-wire digital flight controls mated to glass-panel avionics, superb short-field capability, and transcontinental range. The least-expensive competitor that offers all this is the larger Gulfstream G500, which is slated for deliveries early next year and costs more than twice as much.
Jay Beever, Embraer’s vice president of interior design, led the team that developed the Legacy 500 interior. Beever started his career in the car business, and he has a deep understanding of industrial design. His mantra: “It’s ergonomics first, craftsmanship second, then design.” On the 500, he says, “We really tried to break all the rules, break all the paradigms of what the airplane should be at the price point. The idea is to give people value but offer more.”
Beever points to the optional veneer granite flooring in the entryway, the slim black-glass tech panel over the passenger seats, and the large sidewall tables between the forward club seats. “This is our flagship for technology and aesthetic DNA,” he says, pointing out the ways the cabin’s intelligent design makes it easier, faster, and cheaper to service and replace components such as lighting, cabin management, and seating.
While the 500’s computerized, side-stick fly-by-wire flight controls enhance its safety, Beever notes that they also add to passenger comfort: “Some [aircraft] owners may say, ‘I don’t care what the pilot has to deal with. I want comfort in the cabin.’ But the cabin is actually where you feel [the benefits of fly-by-wire] the most.” And, Beever emphasizes, mating side sticks to the flight control system as opposed to traditional control yokes makes for even smoother pilot inputs and therefore a smoother ride for passengers.
Embraer’s attention to detail in the cabin appears to have paid off. The seats are comfortable and articulate smoothly, the drink rail is positioned correctly, and the gaspers blow air at the right velocities. The proprietary upper technical panel provides flight-status information, ambient lighting, and access to cabin controls. The control buttons appear as the passenger’s hand approaches the panel and fade when not in use.
But the aircraft’s biggest attraction is its spacious size. Its flat-floor main cabin measures about 27 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 6 feet tall, and the 500 has 150 cubic feet of baggage space—110 in the external compartment and another 40 in a closet that you can access through the lavatory. There’s a large, well-appointed forward galley, and opposite it, you can have galley annex storage or a single, side-facing seat that is ideal for a cabin attendant. Or you can have a side-facing, two-place divan opposite a small refreshment center. The wet galley features hot and cold water, four gallons of potable water, crystal storage, an ice drawer, compartments for china and silverware, a 110V power outlet, an optional monitor, and an espresso maker.
Behind the galley is the two-zone main cabin with seating for eight to nine passengers. Possible configurations include two club-four groupings of single seats or a forward club-four followed by a half-club with a three-place, berthing divan on either the right or left side. Half-club pairs of single seats can be rotated back-to-back and then reclined together to form a comfortable sleeping surface.
With the seats positioned and folded down in this manner, the 500 provides sleeping for four passengers. Behind those accommodations is the lavatory, complete with solid door, vanity, basin, and an externally serviced vacuum toilet—a luxury not usually seen in an airplane of this size. Another atypical feature for an aircraft in this segment: the main cabin door has a pressurized seal that inflates with engine bleed air to reduce cabin noise.
Beyond the cabin, there are all kinds of other advances and thoughtful details you wouldn’t expect to find on an aircraft in this category. For example, the 500 is available with an enhanced vision system that includes a compact, optional head-up display to facilitate landings in the lowest visibilities. The multiscan weather radar adjusts automatically to remove ground clutter. The winglets are bolted on, which makes them easier to replace should wingtips encounter any “hangar rash.”
Other features make the 500 easier to manage on the ground. An access door on the nose allows ground crews to disconnect the steering for easier towing; a green light illuminates inside the door when the aircraft is safe to tow. Ramp crews no longer need to enter your aircraft to disconnect the parking brake prior to towing. The 500 has a smart-locking single-point refueling system that displays fuel volume and allows your crew to select the amount to be loaded.
What all this adds up to is an airplane that is unmatched in its category for style, comfort, technology, and attention to detail. The midsize bar has been raised.