We Fly: Embraer Praetor 500

The latest evolution of the EMB-550 series offers superior control and takes fly-by-wire into a new realm.

“The tech makes you a better pilot,” says Brad McKeage, vice president of flight operations for Embraer Executive Aircraft. We were halfway through an initial briefing on the Praetor 500—my full-scale orientation to the midsize business jet—and McKeage’s statement caused me to pause my notetaking and consider the principle. Embraer has had decades to develop its proprietary fly-by-wire flight control systems (FBW FCS), the technology to which he was referring. The company launched its initial FBW FCS with the AMX International attack aircraft in 1984, saw it through two generations of regional jets—the E-Jet and the E2—and in 2015, iterated it again for the C-390 Millennium military transport.

In flight, I’ll witness its evolution and intelligence working behind the scenes—but it operates just under the pilot’s ability to sense it, as it diligently keeps the demons at bay. While most new turbine aircraft offer sophisticated layers of overspeed and underspeed protection, FBW FCS operates differently—rather than just jumping in to save you, it’s in the background making minute adjustments, trimming to match the current profile. Even if that profile involves losing an engine.

The Praetor 500, certificated in 2019, carries the same model designation (EMB-550/500) as its predecessor, the Legacy 450, which first flew in 2013 and entered the market in late 2015. With more than 210 flying, the Praetor series has logged more than 300,000 flight hours, and completed more than 195,000 cycles. AirSprint and Flexjet joined the fan club with Praetor additions to their charter fleets at 10 units and 39 units, respectively. With the longest range in the midsize segment, it can tackle true coast-to-coast U.S. city pairs without restriction.

Positions in the delivery queue stretch to late 2023 and early 2024. But with Embraer’s upgrade program, an operator could foreseeably find a Legacy 450 and “Praetorize” it, gaining most of the strengths of the newest model. These include new winglets, a new avionics load, updated fuel control unit wiring, and wing refueling ports.

Embraer Praetor 500 – Specifications

Price (as tested):$16.995 million
High cruise speed: 469 ktas
Max Mach number:0.83 MMO
NBAA IFR range (2 crew + 4 pax):3,340 nm
Takeoff distance 1,000 nm/NBAA IFR:2,875 ft.
Landing distance unfactored/NBAA IFR:2,091 ft.
Max operating altitude:45,000 ft.
Length:64 ft., 7 in.
Wing span: 70 ft., 6 in.
Height:21 ft., 1 in.
Cabin length:24 ft.
Cabin width:6 ft., 10 in.
Cabin height:6 ft.
Maximum payload:2,921 lbs.
Payload, full fuel:1,610 lbs.
Pressurized stowage: 40 cubic ft.
Aft cargo stowage:110 cubic ft.

Fusion Up Front

Commanding the flight deck, the Collins Pro Line Fusion in the Praetor uses four large flight displays and a keypad paired with a roller-ball-equipped controller on each side of the center console.

On first approach, many modern turbine cockpits look similar—the differences come to light in the details. As I sat in the left seat prior to our flight, demo pilot Jim Barnhart began a formal briefing. He walked through the preflight sequence and revealed the thoughtful layout of the control groupings for each system. On the overhead: electrical to the far left; fire protection, fuel, and pressurization in the center left; APU and cabin in the center right; and ice protection to the far right.

The fly-by-wire flight control system includes five layers of redundancy within the electrical schematic to protect the crew from a total system failure: two generators, an APU, two main batteries, and two backup batteries—and if all else heads south, a ram-air turbine (RAT) to deploy into the slipstream to generate juice for critical capabilities like controlling the airplane. [Photo: Jim Barrett]

The checklists on the Fusion have undergone an edit as well, and they only serve up the necessary steps in each phase of preflight, inflight, and after-landing regimes. This is an extension of the “dark and quiet” flight-deck concept pioneered by Boeing—if everything’s fine, the panel is dark and the only sounds are the wind rushing over the wings and the hum of the engines. Yes, they mounted the Honeywell HTF7500E turbofans a good 33 feet behind us, so we needed the engine indication system to be sure they were running when they’re near idle on the ground.

In flight it was a different story, as their 6,540 pounds of flat-rated thrust (up to +18 C to ISA) can propel the 500 forward at up to Mach 0.83/466 ktas at FL 410 (with four passengers and a moderate, mid-cruise fuel weight).

During the demo flight we spent most of our time in a range of bugged airspeeds in order to fly through several flight-envelope sequences with the FBW FCS. I hand-flew the airplane into both low-speed and highspeed excursions—but the most fun had to be the steep turns. “Put it from 45 degrees to 45 degrees, and see how fast it goes,” said Barnhart, encouraging me to test the system’s responsiveness. The FBW and other safety elements may limit your ultimate bank, but you can go back and forth with a roll rate that is truly impressive.

Into the Interior

Most Praetor 500 owners spec a seven-passenger cabin configuration with up to nine seats possible on board, in addition to the two-pilot crew.

That cabin stretches 6 feet tall and almost 7 feet wide—the widest in the class. An aft closet behind the lav section allows for 40 cubic feet of cargo to ride along inside the pressure vessel. An additional unpressurized cargo bay in the rear fuselage holds 110 more cubic fee of bags and equipment.

The main four seats amidships in the cabin articulate into a lie-flat berth for long-distance travel. An optional expanded galley up front can accommodate an oven and attractive storage for barware. [Photo: Jim Barrett]

The interior itself holds a key to the Embraer sensibility, which not only takes into account current aesthetics, but also the upgrade potential that lies ahead. When designing the latest Praetor interior, the team factored in the concept that—as connectivity and display technology evolves—owners will want to update their passenger consoles without spoiling the fine lines. Therefore, USB ports and in-flight entertainment system controls slide out of view, and they’re housed in modular components, akin to the line-replaceable units composing the integrated flight deck avionics up front.

With upgrade paths already in place, the Praetor 500 appears well positioned for long-term ownership.

This article was first published in the Q2 2022 edition of FLYING Magazine.


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