Embraer has publicly displayed a freshly-painted Legacy 500 for the first time as the company moves closer to a long-delayed maiden flight of the mid-size business jet by the end of the year.

The first of four flight test aircraft was rolled out in a private ceremony for Embraer employees last December. But the company kept the aircraft out of public view as problems with the jet's unique fly-by-wire system delayed first flight from October last year to the fourth quarter of 2012.

But the company is now showing more confidence as the first flight milestone finally approaches, allowing a group of journalists on 5 October to board the aircraft and even make side-stick inputs to move the flight controls of the parked aircraft.

The company is now working to validate the final software block for the flight control system, with the programme's chief test pilot on site at Parker Aerospace to finish the job.

The Legacy 500 and the smaller 450 were launched in 2007, targeting the mid-size business jet sector long dominated by such aircraft the Cessna Sovereign, Hawker 950 and Learjet 65XR. The delay of the Legacy 500 has eroded some of Embraer's first-mover advantage, as Cessna has launched the Latitude and Bombardier has revealed the Learjet 70/75 programmes during the past year.

"Back in 2008 nobody else was talking about mid light or mid-size airplanes with a stand-up cabin. Now our competitors are responding," says Ernest Edwards, Embraer's president for executive jets. "We see our competitors coming out with their products as a validation of the market we identified several years ago."

The Legacy 500 also features a three-axis fly-by-wire control system, a unique technology in the mid-size business jet sector. But Embraer's supplier -- Parker Aerospace -- struggled with the task of integrating the control devices with the fight control computer. As delays mounted, Embraer brought in engineers from BAE Systems to help Parker, and finally took over the integration task itself, Edwards says.

"That was just all a bad dream now," Edwards says. "The components are bolted in, the software was plugged in. [Parker] got into some difficulties. We and BAE had to move in and help them through those difficulties."

Embraer plans to complete the flight certification programme for the Legacy 500 by the end of 2013, with the first Embraer 450 beginning its certification testing around the same time.

The Legacy aircraft initially will be assembled at Embraer's headquarters in Sao Jose dos Campos, with the composite sections delivered from a newly-opened facility in Evora, Portugal. But company executives are open to moving the final assembly site to other locations if necessary to meet market demand.

Embraer started building the Phenom-series light jets in Gaviao Peixoto, Brazil, but is moving production to Melbourne, Florida, except for Phenoms ordered by Latin American customers. A similar strategy could be adopted for the Legacy series if demand is sufficient, Embraer says.

Source: Flight International