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EMB 121 Xingu

The sleek looking Xingu coupled the Bandeirante's wing and engines with an all new fuselage, but was only produced in modest numbers. The Xingu flew for the first time on October 10 1976, with a production aircraft following on May 20 1977. The first customer delivery occurred later that same year (to the CopersucarFittipaldi Formula One racing team).

The major customer for the Xingu I was the French military, with a total order for 41 (for aircrew training and liaison duties for the air force and navy), which accounted for almost half of all EMB121 production. Several derivatives of the Xingu design were proposed, including the original EMB120, the Araguia, a commuter airliner which would have seated 25, and the EMB123 Tapajós. The Tapajós would have had more powerful 835kW (1120shp) PT6A45 engines (which also would have powered the Araguia), increased wing span and a lengthened fuselage.

A more modest development did enter production, the EMB121B Xingu II. This introduced more powerful engines, four blade props, increased fuel tankage and greater seating capacity courtesy of a slightly stretched fuselage. Similar in size, powerplant and performance to the Raytheon Beech King Air B200, the Xingu II made its first flight on September 4 1981. Production ceased in August 1987 after 105 had been built.

Rivers are the natural highways in Amazonia, and the Xingu River is one of Amazonia’s largest. The Xingu National Park and Indigenous Peoples Reserve is a place the Brazilian government has set aside for several native Amazon tribes, in an effort to allow them to continue their traditional hunter-gatherer or subsistence farming way of life in the midst of the progressive transformation of the Amazon rainforest into a developed landscape.

Up until the 1970s, the international market was beginning to favor jets, but with the oil crises of that decade, that kind of aircraft became less attractive economically since it consumed a lot more fuel than turbo-propellers. As an alternative, Embraer began to study the development of pressurized turbo-propellers, which avoided the discomfort caused by low pressure during flight, allowing operation at higher altitudes and the achievement of better performance with less fuel.

Embraer thus started the pressurized turbo-propeller family project, dubbed Project 12X. What all family members would have in common was the fuselage with a cockpit, rudder and wing section, in addition to the supercritical aerodynamic wing (which refers to the ability to cut the air with greater efficiency and lower resistance). The airplanes in the project would differ only in engine power and the use of additional sections in the cabin, allowing for different numbers of passengers.

The project was based on the Bandeirante platform, and gave rise to the EMB-121, which was named Xingu to honor a Brazilian Indian tribe and the Amazon River. Designed to meet the demands of the executive transport market, it had capacity for up to eight passengers and would become the first pressurized aircraft designed and built in Brazil. Cabin pressurization allowed the aircraft to reach as high as 28,000 feet in altitude, above cloud formations and atmospheric disturbances, while keeping the internal pressure at 8,000 feet or so, which provided more comfort for passengers.

Although the structure of the aircraft was based on the Bandeirante, it would sport more powerful engines. Another important change in the Xingu was the installation of a T-tail, where the horizontal stabilizer set was mounted on top of the vertical stabilizer. In this manner, the draft of the propellers would not reach the horizontal stabilizer, guaranteeing less noise and lower vibration levels. With the same landing and takeoff features of the Bandeirante, the Xingu could also operate on short runways, but it had a faster cruise speed than the earlier aircraft. The Xingu also had a unique design, with a long nose similar to a jet’s. At the same time, there were important differences between the Xingu and a jet, especially in the area of fuel consumption, which would be approximately 25% lower in the Xingu.

The first prototype of the Xingu began to be built in 1976 and took its first test flight without the pressurization system, which was activated on October 22 of that year. The official introduction of the prototype was held at Embraer, on December 4, 1976, and the event was attended by President Ernesto Geisel. In May 1977, the Xingu took its test flight with the pressurization system activated, and it was a success.

The first buyer was FAB, to meet the needs of the GTE (Special Transport Group), headquartered in Brasilia. However, the target was the international market: 28 out of the 32 units of the Xingu’s annual production were to be marketed by Piper Aircraft Corporation, of the United States, which guaranteed technical maintenance anywhere in the world, thus expanding the market for the aircraft.

The first Xingu prototype was painted the colors of Copersucar-Fittipaldi, as the aircraft was rented by the team for use in Europe, the United States and Canada in a business promotion. This prototype was the first nationally manufactured aircraft to cross the Atlantic, along with a Bandeirante flying the colors of Air Littoral, on May 26, 1977. The airplanes took off from São José dos Campos headed for Paris and made a technical stopover in Fernando de Noronha. The following day, they left that base en route for Dakar and then flew on to Seville, and finally to Paris. The Bandeirante, piloted by commanders Gualda and Martins da Rosa, finished the trip in exactly seven hours and four minutes. The Xingu, flown by Luiz Carlos Miguez Urbano and Túlio Silviano Brandão, completed the course in six hours and forty-five minutes.

The airplanes were displayed at the most important event in global aviation, the Paris Air Show, held every two years at the Le Bourget airport in France. It was the first time ever that Embraer would attend the exhibition, which was another effort by the Company to consolidate its position in the international market.

The Xingu was purchased by several companies, including CSE Aviation of Great Britain. The rollout occurred on August 30, 1979, and other intentions to buy it were made manifest. It was so successful that when Embraer celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1979, a commemorative stamp with a picture of the Xingu, which was later regarded as the airplane of the year in 1980, was released.

The Xingu was officially approved for civilian use in June 1979, and at the end of that year, the United States approved its deicing system. With this approval, the Xingu gained broad acceptance in the international market. In France, for instance, the aircraft has been used for pilot training since 1983, and the French Air Force decided to extend its operational life until 2025, with the modernization of its electronic systems. This would keep the Xingu aircraft in operation for 42 consecutive years—a very rare feat in the industry.

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Page last modified: 16-09-2013 19:35:06 ZULU