Embraer's delivery of its 800th ERJ involved an 8,880km journey from southern Brazil to the USA's midwest. Flight International was on board

Two boys in a dugout canoe barely give the Embraer ERJ-145 a second glance as the regional jet skims over the dense rainforest and brown backwaters of the Rio Do Para, on final approach to runway 06 at Belem in northern Brazil.

That the brand-new, Chautauqua Airlines-operated ERJ-145 is in Delta Connection livery seems to be of equally little significance. Belem is routinely the last Brazilian staging point for Embraer's regional jet deliveries to North America and, as most of the ERJ-145 family deliveries have passed this way, the locals have seen many colour schemes flying in the skies of this Amazonian port.

"It is 26¡C [78¼F] and the winds are calm...that's great and pretty unusual," says Andrea Chiappe, the captain of N568RP - the 800th ERJ to be delivered. "There's usually heavy rainshowers and thunderstorms with it being so close to the equator - it's normally terrible."

Delivery veteran

Chiappe, a former Italian air force pilot and professional soccer player, is a veteran of the delivery run, having steered more than 40 aircraft - almost half Chautauqua's entire fleet - to their new careers in the USA. This is set to be his last ERJ-145 run for a time as he has already started flight training for the Embraer 170, the first of which he will delivering in July.

Chiappe leads a delivery crew that includes first officer Neil Davies and aircraft acceptance inspector David Rathbun. They arrived at Embraer's San Jose dos Campos main site near Sƒo Paulo three days before to prepare for the two-day, 8,880km (4,800nm) flight from southern Brazil to Chautauqua's Indianapolis base in Indiana. Rathbun, like Chiappe, is a delivery veteran having helped bring 26 aircraft to the USA. "I have to check for scratches, minor dents, any cracks in interior panels, seatbacks not adjusted correctly - issues like that. I never have airworthiness issues, as the Brazilian CTA has already carried out its inspection before I arrive," he adds.

Following Embraer's recommended inspection guide, Rathbun first conducts a flight line check, working around the aircraft externally, starting with the nose landing gear and wheel well. Next comes the nose section, a look behind the radome, a scan of the right forward fuselage, service door, the right wing, right main landing gear and wheel well, right nacelle and rear fuselage, empennage, auxiliary power unit, Rolls-Royce AE3007A1 engine, cargo door and compartment. The entire process is then repeated for the left side before the paint and logo inspection begins with the advice to "ensure country flag is correct and on the proper side".

Climbing inside, Rathbun then inspects all placards before checking ceiling panels, passenger service units, cabin and reading lights, window panels, and emergency lights and switches. Flight attendants' panels, the galleys and lavatory are also scanned before a review of the exterior placards completes the inspection. For the ferry flight, the aircraft is also loaded with four emergency five-person life rafts and supplies, which are stowed in mid-cabin. These are off-loaded and returned to Brazil after the aircraft lands at Embraer's Fort Lauderdale site in Florida, where it is inspected by the US Federal Aviation Administration and officially inducted on to the US register.

Two shipsets of life rafts are routinely rotated for deliveries routed via Fort Lauderdale. On arrival at the customer's maintenance base, in this case Indianapolis, the aircraft is fitted out with coffee makers, seat cards, magazines and other service items before being despatched for operations. "It could be two-and-a-half to three days before it is ready to go on the line, and it is catered out of the gate and will go straight into service from there," says Rathbun.

Journey starts

Using the increased fuel capacity of the ERJ-145LR version, a maximum useable fuel quantity of approximately 2,620 litres (690USgal) per wing tank, the aircraft had been loaded with just over 5,085kg (11,200lb) of fuel for the 2,220km flight to Belem. Following the "Oren" departure from San Jose, the aircraft was pointed almost due north and climbed out over the Brazil highlands to its 37,000ft (11,285m) service ceiling. Accelerating to Mach 0.78, the aircraft passed directly over the capital Brasilia, the coffee plantations below gradually giving way to vast, rich grazing lands either side of the Tocanuns river, which the flight followed almost all the way to Belem.

After 3h 13min the aircraft landed at Belem with 1,315kg of fuel remaining, well above the standard reserve margin of 860kg. Watched by a few curious broad- winged hawks and a couple of circling buzzards, the crew stretched in stifling humidity and checked the Embraer while the refuellers topped off the tanks for the next leg to the Caribbean island of Barbados. In less than 20min the engines were restarted and, with just over 3,770kg of new fuel in the tanks, the crew taxied out behind a TAM Fokker 100 to continue the journey.

Taking off to the north-east following the "Alis" departure from Belem, the aircraft is quickly turned to the north-west for the 2h 45min leg to Barbados. Within minutes the flight management system indicates the rapid approach of the equator, which is crossed at Ilha Caviana, a large island in the broad mouth of the terracotta-coloured Amazon river. The flight-path continues across French Guiana, with Cayenne and the infamous Ile du Diable (Devil's Island) off the right wingtip.

Barbados stopover

Clearing the coast of South America for the last time over neighbouring Surinam, Chiappe recalls past delivery flights that did not go so smoothly.

Bringing an ERJ-145 from Greece across the Atlantic, Chiappe was midway between Greenland and the coast of Labrador when: "I heard a 'puff' and the left-side windshield just shattered on the outside. I declared an emergency and we dropped to 11,000ft as the aircraft was unpressurised. I didn't know what had happened, though I discovered later that a heat sensor in the corner of the window had shorted out. Lower down, below the overcast, it was really cold - about -15°C - and I had to watch our fuel as all the calculations had been done at 37,000ft." The aircraft landed safely at Goose Bay, where a Chautauqua maintenance crew later arrived and within 24h had replaced the windshield for the onward flight to Bangor and Nashville.

Approaching Barbados runway 09 through broken cloud and behind a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400, the ERJ-145 touched down with around 1,500kg of fuel. The crew prepared for a night stop, although most delivery flights normally refuel at islands further north in the Caribbean such as Antigua, before pressing on for Fort Lauderdale. "Flying further north by about 40min ends up changing the second leg time from around 2h 45min to 3h 10min, but that still leaves us well within our reserve fuel limit of 1,900lb," says Chiappe.

Leaving Barbados early next morning, the routing takes the ERJ-145 north-west on the longest leg of the delivery - a scheduled 3h 35min flight to Fort Lauderdale. Initially following upper airway A555 on the first segment of a fairly contorted routing, the aircraft soon encounters a 57kt (105km/h) headwind over Fort-de-France, Martinique. By the time Guadeloupe is reached, this gradually increases to 71kt and shows no signs of abating, so Davies requests a direct routing to Florida, which is approved.

Delivery complete

With the peaks of Antigua and Barbuda glimpsed through the towering cumulus on the right, the course becomes more westerly as first Puerto Rico and then the isolated Turks and Caicos islands are overflown.

With the summits of the Dominican Republic's Cordillera Central visible off the left wing, Chiappe juggles the throttles to reduce fuel consumption as the head winds continue. By adjusting N1 (fan speed) from 85.2% to 82.7%, he cuts fuel burn from around 545kg/h (1,200lb/h) to below 455kg/h, while reducing speed from M0.77 to 0.72. With the left engine stabilised at 444kg/h and the right at 450kg/h, flight time is extended by 25min, but confidence grows that adequate reserves will remain by the time Fort Lauderdale is reached.

After threading through thick cumulus, the aircraft touched down on US soil for the first time with 998kg remaining. One more refuelling, and a 4h customs and FAA inspection stop later, the aircraft took off for the last leg of the journey - a 2h 40min flight to Indianapolis which ended with 1,815kg of fuel remaining. Mission accomplished, Chiappe later began flight training for the Embraer 170, the deliveries of which will probably take place in just two legs with an intermediate stop in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus.



Source: Flight International