EMB-120 Brasilia
United Express operated by SkyWest
Role Turboprop regional airliner
National origin Brazil
Manufacturer Embraer
First flight 27 July 1983[1]
Introduction October 1985[1]
Status In service
Primary users Brazilian Air Force
InterCaribbean Airways
Produced 1983–2001[2]
Number built 357[3]

The Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia is a twin-turboprop 30-passenger commuter airliner designed and manufactured by the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer.

The EMB 120 began development during 1974. While initially conceived as a modular series of aircraft, the Family 12X and referred to as the Araguaia, intending to achieve a high level of commonality with the EMB 121 Xingu, the aircraft was redesigned and relaunched with the Brasilia name scheme during 1979. The redesign, which drew on operator feedback, reduced the seating capacity somewhat while removing commonality with the EMB 121. Its size, speed, and ceiling enabled faster and more direct services to be flown in comparison to similar aircraft. The EMB 120 features a circular cross-section fuselage, low-mounted straight wings and has a T-tail.

On 27 July 1983, the prototype performed its maiden flight. During October 1985, the first EMB 120 entered service with Atlantic Southeast Airlines; it quickly entered service with numerous regional airlines, particularly those in the lucrative US market. While the majority of sales were made to civilian operators, a few military customers were also garnered for the type; a specialised VIP transport version, the VC-97, was operated by the Brazilian Air Force. Numerous models were developed to fulfil differing roles and requirements; these included the flexible EMB120 Convertible and the extended range EMB120ER. During 2001, production of the EMB 120 was terminated; it was the last turboprop-powered airliner to be produced by Embraer.

Design and development


The cockpit of an EMB 120 (non-glass cockpit)
Three-abreast cabin

Following on from the success of the EMB 110 Bandeirante, Embraer commenced work on developing their first transport category airliner in 1974. At one point, this cumulated in the Family 12X, which comprised three models with modular design concept: EMB 120 Araguaia, EMB 123 Tapajós and EMB 121 Xingu.[1] The original concept for the EMB 120 would have been a relatively straightforward stretch of the EMB 121, facilitating a high degree of commonality between the two types. However, the EMB 121 would be the sole 12X model that was actually produced in its original form; the EMB 120 would be redesigned during 1979, disposing of the Araguaia name at the same time.[1]

At the official launching of the project, held in 1979, the name Brasilia was first applied to the EMB 120.[1] Reportedly, the concept had been heavily revised on the basis of suggestions that had been gathered from prospective operators attending Commuter Airline Association of America (CAAA) convention, and the renaming was to reflect the level of alteration to the EMB 120. Being a completely new aircraft, it was no longer related to the 12X family, and had effectively no parts in common with the EMB 121 Xingu. Furthermore, the capacity was revised downwards from 30 to 24 seats. It had originally been designed to be powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW115 turboprop engine, which was capable of 1,500 shp, the aircraft was subsequently redesigned to make use of more powerful PW118 engines, which produced up to 1,892 shp.[4][1]

In terms of its basic configuration, the EMB 120 features a circular cross-section fuselage, low-mounted straight wings and has a T-tail.[1] The fuselage is of semi-monocoque design, its skin being composed of an aluminium alloy. The wing structure comprises a single three-spar design that is linked to the frames of the lower side of the fuselage, while the nose cone, dorsal fin and leading edges of the wing and tailplane primarily comprise a Kevlar-reinforced glass fibre.[1] The EMB 120 is equipped with retractable tricycle landing gear, which is actuated hydraulically. It is fitted with Goodrich-supplied wheels, oleo-pneumatic shock absorbers, a Hydro Aire anti-skid system, and either carbon or steel brakes.[1]

Into flight

On 27 July 1983, the PW115-powered EMB 120 prototype performed its maiden flight.[1] The type was able to rapidly attract interest from numerous regional airlines, particularly those based in the United States. Its size, speed, and ceiling enable faster and more direct services to be flown around the US and Europe in comparison to similar aircraft. During October 1985, the first aircraft entered service with Atlantic Southeast Airlines.[1]

Numerous models would be developed to suit different operational circumstances; the EMB120RT featured a reduced take off weight, while the EMB120 cargo freighter had an elevated payload capacity of 4,000 kg; the EMB120 Combi and EMB120 Convertible emphasised flexible operations.[1] During 1993, the first deliveries of the EMB120ER, an extended range model, took place; it was thereafter adopted as the standard production model. Furthermore, hot-and-high versions of these models were commonly equipped with PW118A engines that retain their power ratings at a higher altitude.[1] The EMB120ER Advanced incorporates a range of external and interior improvements in comparison to most other models. The EMB 120RT could be upgraded to the EMB 120 ER; older aircraft were retrofitted to this standard via a Service Bulletin.[5]

During 2001, production of the EMB 120 was terminated. As of 2021, Embraer has not manufactured a turboprop-powered successor, although company executives have occasionally hinted at there being interest in doing so at some point.[6]

Operational history

The majority of the EMB 120s were sold in the United States and other countries across the Western Hemisphere. US airlines operating the type have included Great Lakes Airlines, which had six EMB 120s in its fleet, while Ameriflight was flying ten freighter-configured EMB 120s as late as 2022. The largest operator of the type in the United States was SkyWest Airlines, which operated more than 62 at one point in its history (c. 2006). SkyWest retired the fleet in early 2015.[7] Several European airlines, such as Régional in France, Atlant-Soyuz Airlines in Russia, DAT in Belgium, and DLT in Germany, also purchased EMB 120s.[citation needed]

The EMB 120 has also proven itself to be popular amongst African operators. One of the biggest operators in the region was the charter operator Sahara African Aviation, which had flown as many as nine EMB 120ERs.[8] Into the 2020s, numerous airlines have opted to retain a handful of examples in their active fleet. It has been commonly contrasted against the ubiquitous Douglas DC-3, often being used as a more modern substitute for the aging classic and possessing roughly double the speed.[8]

Several military operators also procured the type, such as the Angolan Air Force, which received new-build aircraft during 2007.[9] A specialised VIP transport version, the VC-97, was produced and procured by the Brazilian Air Force.[8]


A Swiftair Cargo
EMB 120
Basic production version.
Extended range and increased capacity version. All EMB 120ER S/Ns may be converted into the EMB 120FC or EMB 120QC models if desired.[10]
Full cargo version.
Quick change cargo version.
Transport version. All EMB-120RT S/Ns may be converted into the model EMB-120ER.[10]
VIP transport version for the Brazilian Air Force.


Brazilian Air Force EMB 120

Civil operators

As of July 2018, 105 Brasilias were in airline service: 45 in North/South America, 26 in Africa, 14 in Europe and 20 in Asia-Pacific, with major operators:[11][needs update]

Military operators


Specifications (EMB 120)

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1988-89[13]

General characteristics



Accidents and incidents

Preserved aircraft

See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era



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