Embraer had the first flight of its E-190 E2 aircraft last week in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil. The fact that the flight was earlier than initially scheduled is a good sign for the program, in that things have gone well during the design and engineering phase. But what happened on the flight was quite unusual, as has stronger postive implications.
Most first flights of new aircraft don’t go very high, don’t fly for very long, and often don’t even cycle the landing gear up to ensure that they can come back down without any unforeseen problems. But this is exactly the opposite of what happened at Embraer last week.
The E2 first flight explored virtually all elements of the flight envelope. The aircraft climbed to 41,000 feet on its first flight, ran at maximum Mach, flew low-level passes over the assembled crowd for the event, and looked, for all practical purposes, like an more mature aircraft much further along in the program. The flight over the crowd was airshow-like we are told.
Some would say that Embraer is starting this new aircraft with an advantage over its competitors in that it is using a well proven airframe and systems that are well known. But the E-2 has a new wing, new landing gear, new horizontal and vertical stabilizers, a new fly by wire system, and a new cockpit, not to mention new engines. That’s a lot of potential changes to go wrong on a first flight. Having everything work perfectly and being able to fly the full flight envelope, including high altitude and high speed, is very unusual. Perhaps unique.
To accomplish what the E-190 E2 accomplished on its first flight bodes well for the potential that the E2 could actually beat its target date for entry into service. They beat their target for first flight, and are currently ahead of schedule. Of course, Embraer won’t commit to an earlier date, citing Murphy’s law and the famous “unknown-unknowns” that have caused difficulties with other programs. The Embraer version of the PW GTF is the fourth to fly (CSeries, A320neo and MRJ) and has matured to the point that it has the confidence of both the test pilots and airframe OEMs.
The Bottom Line: To accomplish a full flight envelope on a first flight is very rare, especially for an aircraft with a new wing, new generation fly-by-wire system, new landing gear, and new engines. The initial development of this aircraft has been smooth, and if that continues, we might see an ahead of schedule arrival for the E-190 E2.