Carenado Embraer Phenom
FSX. Greetings once again from the frozen north. Well, not so frozen actually, it’s been well above freezing today. Nice! That's my neck of the woods, no real discernable weather pattern from year to year. Some winters we can get 10 feet of snow, some years less than 10 inches, some years it rarely gets colder than 20F, others it will be -20F or colder for weeks. All part of the adventure of living in the last frontier.
But I digress. I'm here to check out the Carenado E50P Phenom 100, which was released some months ago (9ish?). D'Andre assigned me the Phenom to review when it came out and the more astute among you has probably come to the conclusion that i'm running a bit behind. I do apologize for my tardiness, but I had an end-game scenario with my flight simming rig and have only recently been able to secretly divert enough of my kid’s college fund monies to the 'Egg for a new system build. Now, finally, after successfully installing and tweaking FSX, I am back on task.
Those of you who have actually read some of my other reviews know I don’t spend a lot of space on the history and details of the real world aircraft; you have the internet for that. If you are interested in taking the time to read this, you probably already know the Phenom is a popular light-jet produced by Embraer and is a direct competitor to the Cessna Mustang. It is designed to be almost pilot-proof…..as in lots of normal pilot actions are automated so the pilot can focus on other stuff. An example would be the rotating beacon, which comes on automatically during engine start. And the engine starting is like a car - turn a switch and watch. Easy and simple. You may also know that this is the first jet aircraft developed by Carenado for FSX/P3D. And if you didn't, well, you do now.
[Note: For format purposes, many images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]
So, how did they do?
My experience with Carenado products has been, overall, very satisfying. I have been purchasing their stuff since 2008 and have been mostly pleased with everything I have in my hanger. Some planes have required some tweaking to meet my expectations and some have been lacking in the systems development department, but I have spent most of my VFR and turboprop flying time using Carenado planes and I am very grateful for their dedication to my hobby. And their work is absolutely brilliant looking. And looks are important when it comes to add-on planes whether folks admit it or not. I know I've got planes that fly good but look like soggy oatmeal and they are languishing in the dark recesses of my simobjects folder never to see the light of day. Their only crime is that they just don’t look right. Plus, if this wasn't true, nobody would be harsh on Wilco. Tell me I’m wrong.
The Phenom is no exception with its appearance. It is fantastic. The textures inside and out are truly amazing. But, as is the case on the more complex Carenado aircraft, this beauty masks some systems and operational shortcomings. Are these issues showstoppers? Do they make it unworthy of its asking price? Let’s take a look and you can decide for yourself.
First off, this thing is heavy on frame rates. My previous FSX rig was not a barnburner, but it ran fairly well. Sporting an I7 920 and a snorting 1GB Radeon 4850, and running Orbx Global and Vector, sceneries from many different developers, and with lots of different add-on aircraft, it did fine. I occasionally had to live with slideshow performance, but it worked and accommodated most everything I threw at it. Until the Phenom. Out of a small default airport, or at Flytampa’s Tampa, it managed at least 8fps which is sort of flyable, but when I went over to T2G’s Orlando, well, between frames I used the toilet, made a sandwich and browsed Amazon for deals. Not much fun. Ditto for other add-on mega-sceneries. I do realize my computer was on the edge of usefulness for a good FSX experience, but it ran the Quality Wings 757 and BAE146 and many other add-on aircraft at decent frame rates. Supposedly, SP1 improved performance a bit but I didn't notice it with my old system.
But, I pushed on with the Phenom. If for no other reason than to get some good screenies for D’Andre and see what else I could nitpick about. And then, on like my 3rd flight, climbing out of Bozeman, MT (Orbx) headed for Felts Field in Spokane, WA (also Orbx), I started getting some strange artifacts on my screen. And thus began the slow death of my video card. I know that the Phenom was probably not the cause of its timely (it was time) demise, but I never had this problem with anything else……even Far Cry 3, and other recent games. Of course I’m joking about blaming the Phenom for breaking my card, but it really is a resource hog, and needs some muscle to push it up to a usable level.
After putting together a machine with some wellie behind it, I set out once again to test the Phenom. And what a difference another 2GHz makes. Against my shiny-new 4790K and GeForce 780, the Phenom is no match and can be wrestled to the ground in submission. With my frame rate set to unlimited, I have seen over 70fps and rarely lower than 20fps, even at Aerosoft’s Schiphol. So the size of your processor really does matter…..hmmm. With all my tweaks, I run at a locked 30fps and the results are buttery smooth. I did have some issues with CTDs over FTX England, but that was a g3.dll error not related to the Phenom……forgot I hadn't installed FSUIPC yet. So, conclusion number 1: The Phenom craves processing power. Hint: Carenado’s Tech Requirements say at least 3 GHz.
How does it fly? Hand flying with my CH Products yoke and throttle quadrant was good – a little touchy on the controls, but seemed legit without having flown the real thing……although, I couldn't get the ram’s horn effect without sawing up my yoke. I do have a few buddies that have flown various Hawker and Embraer aircraft and they say you get used to it pretty quick. I would say it handles good and could reasonably be very similar to the real jet. I found it enjoyable to hand fly to altitude……well, up to RVSM altitude anyway. I've seen some gripes out there regarding the initial acceleration on takeoff, and I don’t agree…..I find it gets up and goes as I would expect. I admit I’m cheating a bit by pushing the power up a little beyond the N1 settings in the provided charts, but hey, this is supposed to be controlled by the FADEC (which is not modeled), so I’m just setting T/O power…..right? I do try to stay in the green on the gauges. Using this method I have had no trouble meeting the advertised runway performance with normal OATs and loading. I even went in and out of Kastellorizo, Greece which is around 2700 feet long….no worries (flaps 2). Just plan your fuel and payload accordingly.
Landings are straight forward and low drama as long as you keep the landing speeds down….I find the default Vref mark on the airspeed tape works good for all weights. If you are fast on final expect to eat up a lot of runway, and make sure you use even braking, it’s rather touchy- just like the real thing. In fact, the only accidents listed by the NTSB are during landing and involve brake issues, except for one, which involved a whole bunch of stupid and skid marks leading to a wrecked jet off the end of the Sedona runway. (Correction: Sadly, just prior to publication, a Phenom 100 crashed into a house maneuvering to land, killing three on board and three on the ground.)
Okay, it’s beautiful, flies nice, and performs well with enough computer. So what’s wrong with it? Well, that depends on your point of view. If you like to jump in a pretty jet and scoot somewhere with basic IFR functionality and lots of really nice textures around you, you will be very happy with this plane and need not continue reading beyond this paragraph. Just check out the screenshots and then head on over to Carenado and purchase, install, and enjoy.
If you demand all-out systems accuracy and lots of documentation to help you out, well, you should still go over to Carenado and order one of these up; because it’s a really fun little jet you can take on short hops and enjoy your simulator without having to pour over manuals and other learning aids. Just load and go. Take a break from trying to master that FMS on your new airliner and go have some fun hand flying an approach somewhere. But we do have some problems if you are looking for ultra-accurate systems, and maybe a few bugs, too.
First, let’s look at something easy, like the interior lighting. Now in the past I have been very irritated at times by Carenado’s interior lighting. Some planes have turned out okay, and some, like the King Airs, are awful. The Phenom is very, very good. Almost perfect in fact. Almost. Two gripes: The lighting effects switch on the overhead panel appears to do nothing, and the cockpit lighting is linked to the cabin lighting. One should be able to push the button on the overhead cockpit light independent of the cabin light switch. Minor quibbles I suppose, but I think worth mentioning.
Next, I could gripe about the turbine engine modelling and lack of FADEC modelling, but I’ve beaten this dead horse to mush on other reviews so I’ll just say this: a certain developer has worked around the FSX turbine limitations and produced a working solution in its twin-turbine STOL aircraft, and several different developers have given us functioning FADEC systems using FSUIPC.
The autopilot works really well with one exception. Carenado has chosen to give it an autothrottle. The real plane does have FADEC which can do neat things, but a full-blown autothrottle it does not have. Instead of making the FLC function work as it should, they’ve just turned it into an autothrottle…..Booo.
Several switches are either not clickable or can be clicked but do nothing, such as the HYD PUMP, which is pretty normal with add-ons, but can somewhat detract from the full emersion experience.
Finally, let’s look at the Garmin G1000 in the Carenado Phenom. Called the Prodigy in the Phenom jets, it controls many of the aircraft systems normally operated manually by the pilot or as a separate system, such as the pressurization and some engine functions. Missing in the real thing is V-speed calculation, so even the real world pilots have to use the book. What is included on both is extensive checklists, which is a handy and clutter saving feature. If you are familiar with the Carenado G1000 in their other offerings, then, other than some Prodigy specific functions, you will not be surprised when you try to use it and find many features are not well programed, or simply not included. Important items such as VNAV, SIDS/STARS, and the much missed Range Ring are, unfortunately, not functional. Other things like simply trying to enter a flight plan as you would on the real G1000, can make you absolutely blistering with fury…….although the keypad does improve data entry a bit. The logic is just not quite right, making those of us with some real world Garmin skills a little frustrated. Unless you’re a masochist, or just smarter than me (likely), best just use FSX for flight plans……Grrrr.
Another gripe I have with this G1000 ties in with the fuel system and fuel consumption. The AUX Trip Planning Page shows lots of nifty and important information relevant to the flight, unfortunately the data on this page relating to fuel is very messed up at times. I realize I am not the smartest dog in the hunt, but I made it through my college math with a basic understanding of arithmetic, and to me the fuel and range data does not always add up. To make matters worse, the fuel flows do not match the data provided in the documentation or real world performance…...you may be kind of hunting in the dark if you try to rely on the t.v. screen for range info. You’ve been warned.
Obviously, the Carenado Phenom is not a super-accurate, systems-correct rendition of the original. But, does it really need to be? The real thing is made to be simple to operate by one pilot, with much of the mundane stuff managed by the airplane. So, in reality, there’s not that much to mess with anyway. The G1000 issues are a problem, sure, but I have been blasting around in the Phenom for over 30 hours and I really enjoy flying this plane. It is much better-looking and faster than the Cessna Mustang, and even though its G1000 is weak compared to the Flight1 system, it is much easier to get going and fly. So, even with a few deficiencies, I think this is a worthwhile little jet, especially if you are looking for a simple little corporate plane that happens to be stunningly beautiful.