After a stunning debut with the EMB 110 Bandeirante, the Brazilian state-owned aviation company Embraer used the momentum to develop the EMB 120 Brasília.
The Brasília is a twin-engine turboprop regional airliner. Its high performance and pressurized cabin allow the EMB 120 to fly faster and higher than most of its peers, resulting in lower fuel consumption and a quicker turnaround for the operators.
I have flown aboard the EMB 110 Bandeirante and EMB 120 Brasília dozens of times, and there are not enough words to describe the difference. I could practically hear a pin drop in the interior of the Brasília compared to the more musical experience in the Bandeirante.
The passenger experience is on a different level. The EMB 120 has overhead luggage lockers and plenty of leg room for a regional airliner, with comfortable seats.
The EMB 110, in its airliner configuration, has spartan seats with little legroom and no overhead bins, so the little room I had for my legs also had my hand luggage.
The cramped interior and slow speeds made Bandeirante trips less glamorous, though I still have a spot in my heart for the old friend. The Brasília felt like a Learjet in comparison.
Bottom Line Up Front
Fast, cheap, and reliable. These are the words most operators associate with the Embraer EMB 120 Brasília. This regional airliner ruled the market in its class in the 1990s and only found an acceptable replacement when Embraer introduced the ERJ 145 later that decade.
To understand the Brasília, we need to talk about the Bandeirante. The EMB 110 Bandeirante was one of the first modern regional airliners.
In 1965, the Brazilian Air Force Ministry had set forth a requirement for a versatile twin-engine turboprop aircraft. The new design had to be cheap and maintenance-friendly, with short runway capabilities and a low-wing mount.
The intention was to create an aircraft that could meet the needs of regional airlines, air cargo companies, and the Brazilian military. The ministry delegated the task to the Center for Aeronautical Technology (CTA), the Brazilian Air Force research and development department.
In 1969, a year after the first flight of the Bandeirante, the Brazilian government identified the need to consolidate a company to build, market, and sell the new aircraft.
The new company was Embraer, built around the core group of 300 people led by aerospace engineer and Air Force Major Ozires Silva. Embraer went on to deliver 501 units of the EMB 110 Bandeirante between 1973 and 1990. The engineering team had set its sights on a new target.
In 1974, Embraer conceptualized a family of three turboprop airliners and utility aircraft with shared components to keep operational costs low. The company called the project “12X”. It comprised the EMB 120 Araguaia, EMB 121 Xingu, and EMB 123 Tapajós, all named after rivers or native tribes in Brazil.
Concept studies of the 12X family showed the EMB 120 and EMB 123 were not up to par with the market requirements and required refinements. Embraer sent the two back to the drawing board but worked quickly to get the EMB 121 Xingu light utility turboprop in the air.
The new aircraft used the same wing and engine mount as the EMB 110 but introduced the high T-tail that would later feature on the EMB 120 Brasília and the Embraer Regional Jet family.
Xingu production ran between 1977 and 1987, with 106 units delivered. Most of these went to the French Air Force and French Naval Aviation.
Embraer incorporated the lessons learned with the EMB 121 Xingu in the EMB 120. The company canceled the development of the EMB 123 Tapajós and renamed the EMB 120 project from Araguaia to Brasília in 1979.
Embraer placed high hopes on the upcoming Pratt & Whitney Canada PW115 turboprop, slated for introduction in the 1980s.
The new engine and the pressurized fuselage would allow the EMB 120 Brasília to beat most of its turboprop competitors in terms of speed, service ceiling, range, and operational costs.
The redesigned EMB 120 Brasília came out in 1983 and had its first flight that same year. Embraer delivered the first aircraft to Atlantic Southeast Airlines in Atlanta, and service started in 1985.
Serial production ran from 1983 until 2001, when the Embraer airline production line switched to an all-jet lineup. Of the 357 units delivered, the 2018 World Airline Census estimates that 108 EMB 120 units are still operational.
In Africa, the EMB 120 Brasília became an unexpected replacement for the legendary Douglas DC-3 in airline service.
The two aircraft have similar payloads and runway requirements, but the Embraer cruises at twice the speeds. According to Simple Flying, 25 EMB 120 are flying today with 12 airlines. All of them are EMB 120RT or EMB 120ER models.
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EMB 120 Brasília / Specs
The Embraer EMB 120 Brasília is a low-wing twin-engine turboprop regional airliner with a high-T tail. This aircraft seats up to 30 passengers in a single-class configuration.
The Brasília requires both a pilot and a co-pilot to operate. Most airlines add a flight attendant to the crew, while military Brasília operators typically fly with a flight mechanic or engineer aboard.
The EMB 120 has a wingspan of 64’10” and is 65’5” long. The T-tail sits 20’10” above the ground. The Brasília wing has an area of 424 sq ft, with a modified NACA 23018 airfoil profile at the root and NACA 23012 on the wingtip section.
When empty, the Brasília weighs 15587 lbs. The EMB 120RT has an MTOW (maximum takeoff weight) of 23353 lbs and a maximum nominal landing weight of 24802 lbs.
The fuselage is 7’5” wide. The traditional EMB 120 Brasília seating layout has two passengers on the right and one on the left, separated by a flat corridor.
The overhead luggage bins are on the right side of the cabin and fit small backpacks, purses, and briefcases. The typical Brasília seating has ample leg room that can also fit hand luggage items. Compared to the EMB 110, I find the EMB 120 much more comfortable, especially for long-range routes.
Early into the design phase, Embraer identified the shortcomings of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 that had powered the EMB 110 Bandeirante, EMB 121 Xingu, and the EMB 312 Tucano military trainer. Embraer built the EMB 120 around the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW115 engine, introduced in late 1983.
The PW115 produced 1500 shaft horsepower (shp), twice as much as the PT6A 34 fitted to the EMB 110 Bandeirante. The engine powers a four-blade Hamilton Standard 14RF19 propeller.
The propeller on the Brasília can act as a reverser during the landing run. In the 1990s, Embraer incorporated the improved PW118 engine with 1800 shp available. Hot and high regulars can fly the EMB 120 Brasília with the improved PW118A engine.
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Control Surfaces Detailed
Except for the rudder, the flight controls on the Embraer EMB 120 use mechanical linkages. A set of locks connect the aileron and elevator controls between both seats. The crew can separate them in case of a lock-up or another fault. The two hydraulic systems power the rudder in nominal situations.
The rudder system on the EMB 120 consists of two panels powered by separate hydraulic systems.
To prevent damage on the ground, the EMB 120 Brasília has gust locks on the ailerons and elevators, while a hydraulic damping system prevents gusts from actuating the rudders.
Embraer introduced its iconic M-shaped yoke with the EMB 120. Despite its unconventional looks, I find the Embraer yoke much more comfortable to handle. The pilot’s hands rest in a more natural position when flying the aircraft, which reduces fatigue over long periods.
The Brasília has trim wheels for all flight control surfaces. Like their actuators, the elevator and aileron trim are mechanical, while the rudder uses hydraulic power to maintain trim. The flaps on the EMB 120 Brasília have three hydraulically powered panels on each wing.
A power control unit translates pedal inputs into rudder movement and regulates the resistance of the pedals based on airspeed. This system lets the pilots feel the controls despite not being directly linked.
The rudder power control unit has sensors that check the hydraulic pressure. During a failure, the aircraft engages the backup mechanical rudder control mode.
For takeoff and landing, the rudder draws power from the green and blue hydraulic systems for redundancy and added control authority in case of a single-engine loss. Above 120 knots, the blue hydraulic system takes over automatically, but the green can power the PCU in case of failure.
A shaft connects the aileron controls between both pilots. In an emergency, either crew can press and pull the control disengagement handle in the central console.
It is important to remember that disconnecting the aileron controls is one-way action, as synchronization can only happen on the ground through the maintenance crew.
Disconnecting the ailerons means each pilot controls one of them, while the autopilot only actuates the left side. Should the right-side aileron face a failure, the crew also loses the roll trim.
The elevators on the EMB 120 Brasília consist of two surfaces with servos and an interconnector between them. The autopilot exerts control over the left side elevator.
If one of the surfaces or controls locks up, the crew must use a press and pull system like the aileron disconnect one. The pilot controls the left elevator, while the copilot operates the right one in this case.
The Embraer EMB 120 Brasília has three flaps surface per wing, placed on the inboard, the engine nacelle, and the outboard positions.
An electronic control system controls the movement rate and the flap positions while the hydraulic system commands them. For safety reasons, during takeoff, the Brasília voice announcer reminds the pilot if the flaps are not in the proper takeoff setting.
The two pilots can set the flaps to any position between fully retracted and deployed to 45º degrees. For convenience, the flap deployment lever has detents at 0º, 15º, 25º, and 45º. The crew must push the lever through a gate to get it past the 15º position.
In 1990, Embraer launched the revised EMB 120ER, marketed as the Brasília Advanced ER. The new variant swapped the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW115 turboprop for the more powerful and economical PW118 engine, increasing the range by around 50%.
The new variant focused on increasing passenger comfort and the range of the aircraft. The cabin has a new air conditioning system that works on the ground, using the auxiliary power unit (APU) or the engines.
EMB 120 Brasília / Prices
According to data from the Military Aircraft Forecast, February 2003, the Embraer EMB 120 Brasília cost $7.5 million in 2000. This number is considerably cheaper than the Saab 340, which sold at $10 million during its production run despite having worse performance across the board and higher operational costs.
EMB 120 / Performance and Handling
The Embraer EMB 120 Brasília has a top speed of 328 knots, achieved at a cruise altitude of 20000 ft. The aircraft’s nominal cruise speed is 298 knots, with a long-range cruise speed of approximately 262 KTAS. With the flaps and landing gear deployed, the Brasília stalls at 87 knots of indicated airspeed.
Like most T-tail aircraft, the EMB 120 suffers the risk of a deep stall, which is why it uses a stick shaker device. The EMB 120 Brasília has a service ceiling of 29800 ft and a climb rate of 2120 feet per minute.
With full fuel tanks and 30 passengers, the EMB 120 Brasília has a takeoff run of 4660 ft. On a hot day at the maximum permissible landing weight, the aircraft needs 5415 ft to come to a stop.
Braking comes from metal brakes with an anti-skid system. The modest runway requirements have made the aircraft popular at smaller airports.
In a standard airliner configuration, the base model of the Brasília can fly out to 940 nautical miles, plus 100 nautical miles of IFR reserves and another 45 minutes of endurance for holding. The Embraer EMB 120 burns around 210 gallons per hour on cruise engine settings.
The hot-and-high EMB 120 Brasília variants with the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW118A engine has noticeably better performance. The maximum cruise speed rose to 310 KTAS, with 270 knots for long-range and a new service ceiling of 32000 ft.
These aircraft have an initial climb rate of 2500 feet per minute. The downside of the PW118A upgrade is a slight reduction in the range of around 5% to 10%.
At its introduction in 1985, the Embraer EMB 120 Brasília was the fastest, cheapest, and lightest regional turboprop airliner in its class.
In 1994, the aircraft held the record for the most operators, with 26 companies across 14 countries. This number grew to 33 companies and governments until 2001.
EMB 120 / Modifications and Upgrades
EMB 120 Brasília
The EMB 120 Brasília is the standard model certified late in 1983.
EMB 120RT Brasília Regional Transport
The EMB 120RT is the basic airline variant. Embraer introduced it in 1985 with Atlantic Southeast Airlines. The Brazilian and Uruguayan Air Forces operate this type as well. Brazil flies the EMB 120RT, designated C-97, into short strips in the Amazon region.
EMB 120ER Brasília Advanced ER
In 1990, Embraer introduced an improved airliner variant with improved Pratt & Whitney Canada PW1800 engines for better range and overall performance.
The EMB 120ER is a highly modular aircraft. It is possible to fully convert the EMB 120RT into the EMB 120ER, which can become either the EMB 120FC or EMB 120QC with modifications.
EMB 120FC Brasília Full Cargo
The low acquisition and operational costs of the Brasília, combined with its short runway capabilities, made it perfect for cargo missions in areas without runways rated for jets.
The Full Cargo variant of the Brasília adds a cargo door to the rear port side of the fuselage, though it retains the door from the airline version behind the cockpit.
EMB 120QC Brasília Quick Change
It is common for airlines in remote areas to run both passenger and freight services. For such companies, having a flexible fleet helps lower costs and makes it easier to adapt to different needs.
The EMB 120QC Quick Change version of the Brasília has the passenger and the cargo door like the FC variant. The airline can quickly reconfigure the interior for passenger services or air freight on short notice.
VC 97 Brasília
Embraer created a VIP transport version of the EMB 120 Brasília to answer a requirement from the Brazilian Air Force. The VC-97 has seats equivalent to first-class in larger airliners but with a reduced passenger capacity.
This variant operates with the 2nd Special Transport Group in the capital of Brazil, which is also the aircraft’s namesake. Brazilian authorities use the VC-97 for official trips within the country.
EMB 120 Brasília / Where to Find Replacement Parts
Embraer built the EMB 120 Brasília until 2001, but the company continues to support the aircraft. Thanks to the extensive use of the Embraer Regional Jet and E-Jet families by airlines worldwide, it is easy to find spare parts and services for the EMB 120 Brasília.
To help improve readiness rates, Embraer revised the maintenance schedules for all EMB 120 models in the 1990s. The company expanded the maintenance intervals and reduced the downtime for each inspection. As a result, Brasília operators reported saving up to 25% in maintenance costs.
The Brazilian company is famous for its excellent customer support and high reliability, so airlines have not had trouble keeping their EMB 120 Brasília fleet in the air.
Despite being out of production for two decades, over 100 of the type are still operational. Most operators replaced the type with Embraer jet aircraft, a testament to the loyalty and trust companies place on the Brazilian manufacturer.
EMB 120 Brasília / Common Problems
The Embraer EMB 120 Brasília has a good safety record. In 1996, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) awarded Embraer a flight safety prize. Its career has not been without issues.
Between 1986 and 2022, the EMB 120 suffered a total of 26 hull losses, based on data from the Aviation Safety Network. All crashes involved the EMB 120RT and EMB 120ER airliner variants, except for a 1988 accident involving a Brazilian Air Force VC-97 VIP transport.
The most tragic incident with the type happened in May 2004, when an EMB 120ER flying for Rico Linhas Aéreas crashed 20 miles away from Manaus, Brazil. They crashed into the deep Amazon jungle. All 30 passengers and three crew aboard lost their lives.
In 2007, the FAA and the Department of Transport (DOT) issued an airworthiness directive (AD) to correct the stick shaker performance on all EMB 120 types.
A joint study by Embraer and NASA found that, under icing conditions, the speed margins for the transition from shaker to pusher were not safe. Operators had to reconfigure the device before February 20, 2008, which took an average of 58-man hours per aircraft.
Two years later, the FAA identified the fuel system of the EMB 120 Brasília did not comply with the Critical Design Configuration Control Limitations (CDCCL) and the Fuel System Limitations (FSL) regulations aimed at preventing sudden ignitions.
The FAA found an unacceptable buildup of flammable fumes in the fuel tanks. Embraer published revised instructions to remedy the issue.
On June 29, 2017, the FAA published an airworthiness directive regarding EMB 120 landing gear.
According to the document, the Brasília requires new life limits for landing gear components to prevent eventual accidents due to the collapse of the landing gear. This AD followed a 2016 Brazilian Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) ruling on the same matter.
EMB 120 Brasília / Resale Value
In July 2022, the asking price for the Embraer EMB 120 Brasília hovered between $750000 and $950000. The exact price depends on the maintenance state of the aircraft.
There are relatively few aircraft of this type on sale in the United States due to its popularity in less developed regions. Most EMB 120 units retired from airline service in North America and quickly found new owners in other continents.
EMB 120 Brasília / Similar Aircraft
During its peak, the EMB 120 Brasília faced stiff competition from three models.
Introduced almost coincidentally, the Saab 340 attacked the same niche. The Swedish airliner carries between 30 and 34 passengers, two pilots, and a flight attendant. Saab 340 uses a pair of General Electric CT7 9B turboprop engines with a power rating like the PW118.
The Saab 340 has a noticeably lower service ceiling at 25000ft, with a cruise speed of 280 knots. The aircraft has less than 80% of the range achieved by the EMB 120RT Brasília.
When accounting for the long-range EMB 120ER, they are not comparable. Nevertheless, Saab sold 459 units of the type, including 12 specialized airborne early warning and control versions for the Swedish Air Force.
British Aerospace Jetstream 31
The British Aerospace Jetstream 31 and the EMB 120 Brasília have similar origin stories. Both are evolutions of slower, unpressurized regional airliners produced in the 1970s. For the Jetstream, its predecessor shares its name and the general aerodynamic configuration, but not much beyond that.
The 1980s Jetstream 31 has a pressurized fuselage and replaced the exotic Turbomeca Astazou engines with a pair of 940 shp Garrett TPE331 turboprops. The airliner can carry 19 passengers plus a crew of two.
The Jetstream has a maximum speed of 263 knots and a cruise speed of 230 KTAS. Its performance is well below that of the EMB 120 Brasília.
The Jetstream 31 has a service ceiling of 25000 ft, matching that of the Saab 340. Unlike its Swedish competitor, however, the British Aerospace creation has a respectable range of 680 nautical miles plus reserves.
British Aerospace delivered 386 Jetstream units between 1982 and 1993, including executive and cargo versions.
De Havilland Canada Dash 8
The leading name in the turboprop regional airline market is the DHC-8, or Dash 8. This Canadian aircraft entered the scene in 1984, and its improved variants are still in production. As of 2018, De Havilland delivered an incredible 1249 units to airline clients.
The main competitor to the EMB 120 Brasília in the DHC-8 family is the Series 100 and 200, with 404 deliveries.
The first version of the Dash 8 seats up to 39 passengers and uses the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW120 series from the same family as the turboprops that power the Brasília.
The aircraft has a maximum cruise speed of 289 knots and a service ceiling of 25000 ft. The Dash 8 shines in range, clocking in at 1020 nautical miles. The airliner requires only 3280 ft to takeoff at MTOW and 2560 ft to stop at maximum landing weight.
Even though the Dash 8 has a roomier cabin, I feel the EMB 120 Brasília is a more comfortable aircraft to fly on as a passenger.
Question: How much does the EMB-120 cost?
Answer: The cost of a used Embraer EMB-120 Brasília is $932000, according to Aircraft Cost Calculator.
Question: Is the Embraer 120 still in production?
Answer: No. Embraer closed the EMB-120 Brasília production line in 2001 after introducing the Embraer Regional Jet series to replace it.
Question: What engine is on the EMB-120 Brasília?
The Embraer EMB-120 Brasília uses a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW118 turboprop engines with four Hamilton Standard constant speed blades.
Question: Is the Embraer EMB-120 Brasília single pilot?
No. Because of its classification as a transport aircraft, the Embraer EMB-120 Brasília requires two pilots to fly.
Question: How fast can the Embraer EMB-120 Brasília fly?
The Embraer EMB-120 Brasília has a maximum cruise speed of 298 knots.
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