The Embraer ERJ Family package by X-Crafts offers a superb collection of five new models for X-Plane 11.
Around four decades ago, a major shift came about in airline route structuring away from point-to-point flying to a more efficient hub-and-spoke system where large airports became distribution points for cities located nearby. With the hub-and-spoke system, large aircraft brought passengers to and from the hub, while smaller aircraft (typically turboprops) would run the shorter routes to the outlying cities. During this same evolution in route restructuring, new aircraft types were also coming into the market to serve the shorter routes. The term “regional jet” was born as jet aircraft pushed turboprops out of various markets. Perceived as being safer, more comfortable, and with falling fuel prices no longer straining airline budgets, the regional jet craze took off and never looked back. In my home airport in Charlotte, NC, over the past twenty-five years we’ve witnessed the demise of the British Aerospace Jetstream and De Havilland Dash-8 as that equipment was supplanted by shiny new jets.
Aircraft manufacturers jumped on the short haul route opportunities with Bombardier, Embraer, and even Boeing with their B-717 (a rebranded MD-95) churning out thousands of new aircraft. Over time, the aircraft have grown larger, blurring the lines between mainline airline operations and regional subsidiaries. Indeed, with all of the code sharing agreements and paint schemes, sometimes it can be hard to discern who is operating your flight.
Conceived in the early 90s, the Embraer Regional Jet ERJ-145 first flew in mid-1995 after several redesigns and company restructurings that are common to the aviation world. Initial production models started entering service in late 1996 and the company has been growing steadily since. X-Plane developer X-Crafts has now brought us the entire family of aircraft that the initial ERJ-145 spawned:
- Embraer Legacy 650
It should be noted that X-Crafts also offers the Embraer E175 and E195 in a separate package – previously reviewed HERE. The E175 and 195 are often referred to by the name E-Jets and are a newer design than the earlier ERJs with seating for up to 124 passengers – squarely in competition with some models of the Boeing 737 and smaller Airbus types.
On a personal note, having witnessed over my career the rollout of new regional jet models, from a purely aesthetic standpoint my favorite has always been the smaller ERJ-135. Call me a heretic, but the CRJ-200, a wildly popular and successful aircraft, has always looked kind of generic to me. The ERJ-135, with its narrower fuselage, contoured wing/fuselage fairing, and smart looking engines, wins the day with regards to form. With all of their models in the ERJ package, X-Crafts has done justice to the shape of the ERJs with beautiful 3D design work and exceptional paint schemes.
X-Crafts is modeling the ERJs to a mid-level of detail from a systems standpoint. That means the displays and systems are modeled to closely resemble those of the real ERJ, giving a good feel for the operation of an ERJ, but you wouldn’t really be able to study for a type-rating with these aircraft. In short – they are a great representation of the ERJs with a nice appeal for simmers across a broad spectrum of experience.
The ERJ is an excellent aircraft for anyone who is looking to take up the Cold & Dark challenge (bringing the plane to life without knowing anything about it) since the Embraer panel logic and flow is very intuitive.
The moment you turn the battery on you’ll be rewarded with some of the richest cockpit sounds I’ve heard in an add-on (FMOD). The bells, fans, bleed air blowers, and the “thunk” of relays opening and closing is very well done. Turning on the avionics switch I was impressed to see the red Xs on the PFDs and I was doubly impressed to see that X-Crafts modeled the somewhat slow initialization of the symbology on the tubes as the various sensors come online (ADI, HSI, speed/alt tapes) and the symbol generators start to draw the instruments on the tubes. The Citation Ultras I fly in the real world use the same Honeywell Primus 1000 avionics, so I feel right at home when presented with the ERJ cockpits.
The Primary Flight Display (PFD) provides flight instrumentation with airspeed and altitude tapes, an artificial horizon, horizontal situation indicator, vertical speed, and some additional data. Next to the PFD is the Multi-Function Display (MFD) that can be set to show terrain, moving map, route waypoints, and other navigation data. At the bottom of the MFD are bezel mounted buttons that allow you to select what appears in the bottom third of the display to include some engine parameters, door status, environmental status, fuel and hydraulic state, and electrical system status. It is worth mentioning that the aircraft requires a free terrain radar plug-in to fully function.
The copilot/first-officer position has a PFD/MFD combination as well, while the center of the panel contains the Engine Indication & Crew Alerting System (EICAS) – a display that contains: engine parameters (N1, ITT, N2, fuel flow, fuel quantity, oil temperature/pressure, vibration), cabin pressurization data, APU details, 3-axis trim indicators, landing gear status, flap indicator, and spoiler status. The upper right quadrant is dedicated to crew alert messages that provide advisory information, cautions, and reminders.
The PFD, MFD, and EICAS presentations are very good, clear, and feature extremely high refresh rates. My one and only complaint about them is the moving map symbology on the MFD is very hard to read due to the tiny font that is perhaps borrowed from the default X-Plane displays. The actual Primus 1000 map display font is larger and more readable. Night lighting options are very good with many rheostats to dim displays, flood lighting, and instrument lighting.
The X-Crafts ERJs use the TEKTON FMS that allow for most operations to be conducted, but it does have a bit of a learning curve. The FMS, PFD, and MFD can be popped up to a floating version of their panel mounted selves, which is somewhat useful for VR flying, though 2D monitor pilots might prefer a more traditional 2D pop-up window. The FMS can be popped up to either a floating or 2D window.
The TEKTON FMS requires some getting used to, but is a capable box. Users can elect to pop-up the default X-Plane FMS if they are more comfortable working with that. The FMS is the heart of the navigation system if you are not performing strictly “green needle” (traditional VOR/NDB navigation) operations. Performance data is required to calculate V-speeds while other pages allow for setting departures, arrivals, and approach procedures. The aircraft does not have VNAV guidance (apparently not in real life as well) so you’ll have to use your cocktail napkin or some mental math to make those ATC assigned crossing restrictions. As well, I was unable to get a pseudo-glideslope for LPV approaches, so you’ll be restricted to LNAV minimums on your GPS approaches.
The ERJs have a very nice layout for the flight director panel which resides just below the glare shield, with logical button grouping, and rotary knobs for course, heading, speed, and altitude in clear reach without having to go heads down. I found the autopilot to work well. A particular shoutout to X-Crafts for modeling the altitude pre-select with proper intervals (100′ or 1,000′) and a twisting motion that moves at a proper rate.
Flight characteristics on the autopilot felt good. Course intercepts to green needle ILS approaches were well captured and flown. Flying the aircraft in the bounds of normal operation gives very good results – if you are over-speeding or climbing and descending at ridiculous rates while turning, sometimes the autopilot can get into divergent oscillations. These don’t seem outside of what perhaps early Embraer autopilots were able to handle. Gauge update rates are superb, making the ERJs a joy to fly on instrument approaches.
At its heart, the ERJ is a supremely fun aircraft to hand fly. Throttle response is very lively, and it feels like an airplane that you can make do what you want by making it do what you want. This confuses some of the younger pilots I see in real life – instead of puzzling over the FMS or trying to figure out why the airplane isn’t doing what you want it to do, click off the autopilot, put your hands on the yoke and throttles, and make it do what you want it to do.
Ground handling in the ERJ is superb with excellent nosewheel maneuverability when nosewheel steering is engaged and just a touch of strut compression when coming around corners. Thrust reversers deploy and work well, slowing the ERJ from 100 knots to 60 knots in about twelve seconds with no brake application.
Takeoff performance is pretty good, with the FMS deriving V-speeds that are then called out by the virtual First Officer. The ERJ-140, at a max gross weight of 46,500 lbs. has a calculated V1/Vr of around 135 knots. At max gross takeoff distance was measured to be 3,900′ and landing distance with maximum reverse and stomping on the brakes was a mere 2,300′.
At a more moderate load of 36,500 lbs., V1/Vr came down to 116/117 with just 2,400′ of runway required for takeoff. At the same moderate weight, doing some tests with V1 cuts, I failed an engine at V1, rotated at Vr, and attained a respectable climb rate of 1,500 feet per minute at a V2 speed of 129 knots. At max gross weight, V2 speed climbs to 145 knots and on a single engine I was still able to maintain 1,200 feet per minute.
For single engine flight dynamics I found I would run out of rudder authority at about 119 knots with the operating engine set to maximum continuous power, with a very nice and abrupt Vmc rolloff into the dead engine at 113 knots. This is great modeling where some developers create flight models that just mush ahead with the elevator buried aft with no lively characteristics. Nice job X-Crafts.
The reason I have fallen in love with these X-Crafts ERJs is that they are superb in VR with nice attention given to the functionality of the knobs, buttons, and switches. It is one of the few complex aircraft that I feel I could almost completely fly using hand controllers. Reaching up to spin the altitude preselect moves the selector in rapid increments. The heading bug knob could perhaps be tweaked to move a bit faster, but other than that, I think X-Crafts did a fantastic job with their VR implementation. My only other complaint has already been mentioned – the size of the font on the moving map/MFD is pretty small and difficult to read on a monitor let alone a VR headset.
The X-Crafts ERJs are actually a great bridge between simple single engine and general aviation aircraft to the far more complex full-on Airbus and Boeing modules. There is enough systems realism and transport category cockpit complexity that even hardcore pilots will enjoy the ERJs. I like that you can quickly memorize the flows and get airborne in five or six minutes instead of fifteen or twenty. Excellent communications between the developers and the community are also a great sign of continued product support.
Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth