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Embraer flies higher

With the delivery of its first 70-seat jet to Alitalia, the company is going to contend for space in a new segment of the air transport market

EDUARDO CESARThe 175 flew for the first time in June this year. It covers 3,319 km without refueling, and carries up to 86 passengersEDUARDO CESAR

Embraer is going to open a new phase of its history with the delivery, by the end of the year, of the first Embraer 170 aircraft to the Italian company Alitalia. The model is part of the new family of jets, with a capacity of from 70 to 108 passengers, which includes the Embraer 175, the Embraer 190 and the Embraer 195. The launch of this new generation of aircraft takes the company into a prominent position in the world air transport market, because, with them, the Brazilian manufacturer ceases to produce exclusively regional jets with 50 seats at the most, and starts to offer larger planes as well, to rival those produced by the giants Boeing and Airbus. “This is the most complex and challenging project that we have ever carried out”, said Maurício Botelho, Embraer’s president, at the presentation of the 170 model to the aeronautical community, in October 2001. “The 170-190 family is a product for airlines that are at the frontier of the regional and major categories, the latter being the name givento large companies that offer flights between capital cities, for example, and abroad”, adds engineer Acir Luz Padilha Júnior, the Embraer 170 project development manager.More than an innovation for the aeronautical sector and for the airlines, the new family of jets reaffirms Brazil’s capacity for producing aircraft.

A plane of the dimensions of the 170 is a complex project, and an integration of parts and systems that, besides the participation, in the form of partnerships, of Brazilian and in particular foreign companies, has relied on the efficiency and the experience built up by Embraer’s aeronautical engineering since its foundation as a public-sector company, in 1969. It follows, then, a sort of evolutionary path started at the Aerospace Technological Center (CTA), created in 1945, and continued at the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA), in 1950, which are the main producers of professionals capable of developing and assembling aircraft. “Having engineers qualified in Brazil for developing projects for aircraft and their systems is fundamental for a company like ours, which deals with cutting edge technology”, says Padilha. According to the engineer, the formation of specialized labor, by means of, for example, the professional masters degree course offered by ITA, has made an ample contribution tothesuccess of Embraer’s products.

Competence in projects and in assembling aircraft has led the company to break records in carrying out the project for the 170, the first member of the family to be put onto the market, with a capacity for 70 passengers. It was officially launched in June 1999. It took a little more than two years to get it ready – the first prototype flew for the first time in February 2002 -, a short time for developing an airplane. “With the support of our partners, we managed to design and manufacturethe Embraer 170 in the record time of 28 months. Our aircraft offers exceptional quality and performance, and low operating costs, besides plenty of comfort for the passengers”, declared Maurício Botelho. The other members of the 170-190 family are to be found at various stages of conception, development and production.

The 175 model, for 78 passengers, is now being submitted to flight testing, and the 190, equipped with 98 seats, started to be assembled this year. The 195, with 108 seats, is at the final stage of the project (see the table on page 70 for more about these aircraft). From the company’s timetable, the first models of the Embraer 175 should be delivered in the second half of 2004, followed by the 190 model at the end of 2005, and the 195 only in 2006. Even without any plane in commercial flight, the new family can already be considered a success. By September, the company had on its order books 245 firm orders, or planes with their delivery confirmed, and 308 purchase options, a situation in which the airline has made a reservation for the aircraft, but not yet confirmed it. Among the main customers for the new aircraft are the American companies US Airways and Jet Blue, Swiss, from Switzerland, Lot, from Poland, and Alitalia.

Right size
For the first prototype to take off in February 2002, a long journey had been undertaken. “The project for the 170, as well as for the whole family, was born following the identification of a favorable market niche”, says Antonio Campello, the development manager for the Embraer 175 product. “Researches indicated a window of opportunity for aircraft in this category, from 70 to 110 seats, and talks with consultants for airlines confirmed this trend”, he says. Amongst other things, these studies revealed airlines in need of equipment with a greater seating capacity than the traditional regional jets. They also needed smaller and more economical aircraft than the jets used by the big companies, with over 100 places. As the study detected, many of these planes are flying with spare capacity.

With all the studies and information to hand, the managers and the technicians of the company from São José dos Campos laid heavy wagers and decided to construct a completely new platform for building their planes. Straight away, Embraer discarded the idea of using the same structure as the 50-seat regional jets belonging to the successful ERJ 145 family made by the company since 1995. “It was that that differentiated us from our biggest rival, the Canadian company Bombardier, which, to fight for this same market, preferred to lengthen its regional model, also one with 50 places, the CRJ-200, instead of a new family project”, says engineer Padilha.

With an indication that the aircraft would have a guaranteed market, Embraer then started to develop them. The results of the survey were taken to the preproject sector, which is responsible for conceiving the design and the configuration of the aircraft. With the document to hand, the designers from Embraer started to sketch out studies about the new jets, defining, amongst other things, the design of the aircraft, the diameter and the configuration of the fuselage, the power and position of the engines (under the wings or close to the tail), the on-board electronics, the area and the format of the wings. “At this stage, countless proposals arise”, Campello explains. Manufacturers of engines, wings and avionics have presented various proposals. “The studies kept on maturing, and, in the final phase of the preproject, which lasted one year, we designed two or three similar aircraft with different partners”, he explains.

During the stage of conceiving the new jets, Embraer used an advanced interactive technology for simulation and modeling, the Virtual Reality Center (CRV in the Portuguese acronym). By using it, the engineers and designers speeded up the process of developing the aircraft, reducing considerably the need for assembling scale models. Thanks to the three-dimensional designs of the aircraft created in the CRV, defects and incorrect assemblies could be detected, corrected and eliminated, even before producing any part or sets of components. The technology available in the CRV is generated by the Onyx-2 system, from the American company SGI, formerly known as Silicon Graphics Inc. This system projects three-dimensional images of aircraft in real time onto a screen 6 meters wide by 2.45 meters in height. “The installation of the Virtual Reality Center meant a great step forward, because it put Embraer on the same level as the largest and most important aerospace industries in the world”, claimed Satoshi Yokota,vicepresident and industrial director.

Like the jets of the 145 family, Embraer’s new aircraft were conceived to be manufactured with risk partners. For the aircraft’s structure, the participants were the Japanese company Kawasaki and Sonaca, from Belgium, responsible for making the wings, France’s Latécoère, which makes two sections of the fuselage, and Gamesa, from Spain, which supplies the tail. From the United States, General Electric is supplying the engines, Honeywell, the avionics (electronic equipment), and Hamilton Sundstrand, the auxiliary power unit (APU) and the electrical and environmental control systems. From Liebherr, of Germany, come the undercarriage, the wheels and the brakes. There are, in all, 16 partners and 22 suppliers.

It was left to Embraer, besides leading the project, the whole part of conceptions and preproject, the development and the manufacture of the forward fuselage, part of the central fuselage, and the cowlings where the wing and fuselage are joined, and, at the end, the complete integration of the aircraft. “There are few companies in the world that do this”, says Antonio Campello. “The choice of these partners was the result of an ample study of economic viability. What counts in this decision is not just the final price of the aircraft, but what its operating cost will be for the customer, in this case the airlines. Accordingly, the project is drawn up with the vision of those who operate it, and not those who produce it”, says the engineer.

Comfort in the bubble
To gain ground in an increasingly competitive market, Embraer’s new jets have been endowed with the most advanced aeronautical technologies. One great innovation was the double bubble fuselage, with different diameters in the upper section, which delimits the passenger cabin, and the lower one, which holds the cargo compartment. It is more oval than the traditional fuselages, and so increases the internal volume of the aircraft and provides more space and comfort for the passengers. This resource was adopted in accordance with the results of market research. This indicated that success for a plane in this segment is coupled with a good internal space, because the passengers would naturally compare its level of comfort with that of the big jets of the major companies. “We are pioneers in the use of the double bubble concept in aircraft of the 70 to 110 seat category. The comfort provided by our jets is much better than the competition’s. When the plane was being demonstrated, potential customers would say that the 170, from the outside, looked like a regional jet, but that it had the interior of a large plane”, explains Padilha.

Another novelty incorporated into the 170/190 family was the fly-by-wire flight control system, developed by the American company Parker, which also supplied the fuel and hydraulic systems. Based on sending commands by electrical impulses managed by a computer, this technology is present in modern military aircraft and in the big commercial jets of the latest generation. “It is the first time that we are using this technology. It facilitates the control of the aircraft in flight and makes its maintenance simpler”, says Alexandre Figueiredo, the manager for flight testing integration. With the fly-by-wire system, the aircraft’s commands located on the wings and the tail, like the rudder, the elevators (the airfoils that command the movements of ascent and descent), the stabilizers (the airfoil that gives the plane stability) and the spoilers (localized aerodynamic brakes) are activated by the pilot by means of electrical impulses, and no longer by the cables and pulleys of the hydraulic system.

Digital commands
In the cockpit, the glass cockpit technology was used, in which the control panel in front of the pilots is completely digital, with liquid crystal screens and without the profusion of analog clocks or buttons common in older aircraft. Moreover, the panel is fitted with the dark and quite philosophy. “If there are not audible or visual alarms, everything is OK. Unlike the panels on old aircraft, which shows all the commands as active, in the glass cockpit of the Embraer 170 only essential information is shown to the pilot. The alarms only go off when there is a failure”, explains engineer Figueiredo.

All these technologies were developed by international partners, but Brazilian research centers are also taking part in the development of the new aircraft. “We have partnerships with several universities and technological research institutes related not only to the 170-190 family, but also to the company’s future aircraft. They are specific technologies used in localized parts of the aircraft”, explains Acir Padilha. With the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), for example, an agreement was signed up for carrying out simulations of noise and vibration in the aircraft, using mathematical models. Other partnerships, with ITA and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE in the Portuguese acronym), are also contributing for the consolidation of the company’s present and future aircraft.

There are four projects being carried out between these research institute and Embraer that deal with wind tunnel technology, computational systems for numerical simulations of air flows around the aircraft, equipment for determining, in tests, the positioning of the aircraft, and another system for determining all the flight parameters, useful in the development of future jets (see details in Pesquisa FAPESP n° 77). These projects are receiving funds from FAPESP through the Partnership for Innovation in Aerospace Science and Technology (PICTA) program. Having started in 2000, by 2004 they are going to receive a total of R$ 3.7 million and US$ 2.5 million from the Foundation, plus R$ 8.7 million and US$ 105,000 from Embraer.

Long tests
Many of the new projects carried out in partnerships with universities and research institutes aim to improve the quality of the aircraft and to reduce the testing time of the various aeronautical systems that are integrated in the aircraft. Before starting to operate commercially, an aircraft like the 170 undergoes a series of tests and a long campaign for certification. In the case of this new jet, Embraer spent over one year in countless flight and development tests to validate models and establish the parameters required by world aviation. During the conception and consolidation of the project, a period that extends from the start of the program to the presentation of the first aircraft, there were over 2,000 hours of aerodynamic tests in wind tunnels in Brazil and abroad. The same time was dedicated to tests for integrating systems, in particular those relating to the avionics and to the fly-by-wire system. The aircraft was also submitted to tests of vibration on the ground and fatigue, in which the resistance of the structure was put to the test.

General certification
The flight tests started in February 2002 and they used the seven prototypes produced. One important stage of the campaign was the phase of operational tests carried out in an environment of the harsh winter of Alaska, the American state located to the northwest of the American continent. During these tests, the aircraft was submitted to extremely low temperatures, from as much as negative 31°C, both on the ground and in flight. The tests lasted nine days, a period in which the behavior of the plane and its systems was assessed. Additional tests were also carried out at the time, to measure the performance of the jet on take-off and its climb rate (a measure that relates the space covered by the aircraft on the runway with the time spent for the this task) in a cold climate, a requirement expressed in the prerequisites for certification in Europe.

Embraer’s final certification, in the hands of the CTA, was forecast to be concluded this October. To operate in the United States and in Europe, the plane needs to get certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), of the United States, and from Europe’s Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). But there is no need to repeat the whole campaign of tests. “In this case, thanks to agreements between the three certifying bodies, the aircraft only has to pass some validation tests”, explains engineer Alexandre Figueiredo. In the meantime, the first planes to be delivered to the airlines are getting the finishing touches at the company’s factory in São José dos Campos.

A History of Success
our largest aircraft maker in the world, Embraer has a 45% share of the world market of regional planes. The creation of the company and its present success – 5,500 planes have been delivered up to today – were based on the competence and efficiency of the national workforce, basically made up of engineers graduated from the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA). During its first years, when the company belonged to the Brazilian government, the factory of São José dos Campos made only turboprop planes, highlighting the models Tucano, Bandeirantes and Brasília. Only after the company was sold to the private sector, did it begin to produce regional jets.

The ERJ 145, launched in 1995, is one of the most advanced transport jets of the category and is the flagship of the company. Since its launching, 502 planes have been delivered to clients around the world. Two other planes – the 35-seat ERJ 125 and the 44-seat ERJ 140 – complete the family of regional jets in operation.Presently, the company is controlled by a consortium comprised by the Bozano Company and Previ, the pension fund of the Banco do Brasil employees and also the Sistel, the pension fund of the telecommunication industry.

The consortium holds a 60% stake. The remaining shares are held by a European group formed by the companies Dassault Aviation, Thales, EADS and Sneca that has 20%, the Brazilian government with 0.8% and individuals who have 19.8%. At the end of the first semester of this year, Embraer accrued, including all the models it produces, US$10.3 billion in firm orders and US$ 16.8 billion in purchase options – 450 firm orders and 794 purchase orders. Besides the commercial planes, Embraer also produces military aircraft such as the Super Tucano and the AMX and the executive jet Legacy. In 2002, the company’s foreign sales reached US$ 2.3239 billion, accounting for 89.5% of total revenues in the year and 3.97% of the overall Brazilian exports. In the same period, imports totaled US$ 1.221 billion.

The exports volume made Embraer reach the second position in the ranking of the largest Brazilian exporting companies – from 1999 to 2001, it was the leader of this segment. According to the company, the export potential of the 170/190 family is estimated to be US$15 billion in the next eight years.

Look -alike sisters
The overall budget of the 170-190 program, including investments from Embraer and its partners, is US$ 850 million. One of the great advantages of jets of this family is the high degree of parts and systems in common between them. This interaction comes to as much as 87%. “This is an excellent level”, comments engineer Antonio Campello, the product development manager for the Embraer 175. “The common project between the aircraft gives us a great competitive advantage, since it makes it easier to operate the aircraft and brings savings in training the flight and maintenance teams.”

The Embraer 170, with its length of 29.9 meters, is the smallest of them all the other models are lengthened versions of it. The Embraer 175 measures 31.6 meters, the190, 36.2 meters, and the195, 38.6 meters. The first two are equipped with General Electric CF34-8E engines, with a thrust of 13,800 pounds (the Boeing 737-800, with a capacity for 189 passengers, has 27,300 pounds of thrust), and the other two with the CF34-10E model (18,500 pounds). The range – the distance the aircraft can fly without needing to refuel – of the Embraer 170 is 3,797 kilometers, sufficient, for example, for a trip from Porto Alegre (RS) to Fortaleza (CE), and the 175′s, 3,319 kilometers. Fitted out with more powerful engines, the 190 flies up to 4,260 kilometers non-stop, equivalent to a journey, with ease, between Recife (PE) and Buenos Aires, in Argentina, and the 195, 3,704 kilometers.

All the four jets have a maximum operating speed of Mach 0.82 (equivalent to 82% of the speed of sound), or 870 km/h, equivalent to a Boeing 737-800. In the internal configuration of the 170-190 family, the seats are set out two by two, separated by a central aisle.