Russia is making a serious effort to return to the commercial narrowbody market with a major domestic project. The Irkut MC-21 commercial airliner is the first such program since the collapse of the USSR. It involves numerous international suppliers and is backed by orders from Russia’s largest government-owned leasing companies. The program has now entered the production stage as the first prototypes are being assembled.
According to sources at the program integrator Irkut Corporation, a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), assembly of the first MC-21 prototype began this spring at the Irkutsk-based aviation facility. Three airframes have been laid down: one for ground testing and two flying prototypes. All three are expected to be completed in 2015.
The prototypes are for the MC-21-300 variant, seating 163 in a two-class layout or 211 in the high-density version. This modification should be certified in 2017; deliveries to the launch customer, Russia’s largest carrier Aeroflot, are to follow from 2018.
The shortened modification, the MC-21-200, will seat 135-176 passengers. Development of this variant is lagging behind due to lower demand, Irkut officials explain. The aircraft is currently at the design stage. A decision on the MC-21-400 stretch, designed to carry up to 230 passengers, should be taken within the UAC at a later date. In the meantime, Irkut does not confirm having given up on the MC-21-400, a company source stresses.
While the final assembly will be done at Irkut, the MC-21 program involves numerous other UAC facilities. Many of these are utilizing the capacities left over from phased-out domestic commercial programs. The major fuselage components come from the Ulyanovsk-based Aviastar-SP facility, which used to assemble Tupolev Tu-204 narrowbodies and Antonov An-124 giant freighters. Aviastar-SP shipped the first fuselage panels to Irkutsk in April and plans to start shipping the rear sections this year. Aviastar-SP also produces the MC-21 APU section, 11 doors, and empennage.
Some other airframe sections, including the landing-gear doors and wing-to-fuselage fillets, are manufactured by the VASO facility in Voronezh. Once the final assembly line for Ilyushin Il-96 widebodies, VASO now produces several such airframes per year in the interests of the Russian government. VASO’s other promising program, the Antonov An-148 regional jet, is currently focused exclusively on government customers.
The MC-21 will be the first Russian commercial aircraft to employ more than 30% of composite components in the airframe. The designers say this will reduce weight while improving the airliner’s aerodynamics. These composite components are mostly built by the AeroComposit company, which has facilities in Ulyanovsk and Kazan. The Ulyanovsk site uses the infusion technology to manufacture the primary composite elements such as the center wings panels, forward and rear wings spars, and outer wing panels. The facility is expected to assemble the first MC-21 composite wing by the end of this year.
The wing box has already completed 1.5-year endurance trials at the TsAGI Central Institute of Aerohydrodynamics in Zhukovsky outside Moscow. The testing involved four wing box prototypes manufactured by the Austrian companies Diamond Aircraft and FACC AG. The prototypes clocked 120,000 flight cycles, or twice the designed service life of the wing box, TsAGI says. Certification testing of the composite wing box is expected to start in 2015.
AeroComposit’s Kazan facility UAC KAPO still periodically rolls out special-purpose aircraft based on the Tupolev Tu-214 narrowbody design. The fist KAPO-Composit production line was inaugurated there in June 2013. It uses the more traditional autoclave molding method to manufacture the wing flap system and panels for the leading and trailing wing edges.
The MC-21 program required massive modernization at the Irkutsk facility. Irkut representatives say the new assembly hall, designed specifically for the MC-21 program, will house 52 assembly stations supplied by the German specialist Duerr Systems. About 20 stations have already been installed; the others will be put in place by year-end.
D?rr Systems is not the only foreign supplier for the MC-21 program, which follows in the footsteps of the successful international cooperation experience gained by the Russian industry in the course of the SSJ 100 development. The MC-21 program involves suppliers from seven countries. Zodiac Aerospace of France designs the aircraft interior, while Eaton is responsible for the hydraulics. The most important partner is Pratt&Whitney, which provides the PW1400G geared turbofan engine. The first powerplants are expected to be delivered to Russia in 2015.
The Russian alternative, the PD-14 twin-shaft turbofan, will be available a bit later. This engine is being developed by the Perm-based Aviadvigatel company, a subsidiary of Russia’s United Engine Corporation. The first engine prototype will commence bench testing this summer, as promised by Aviadvigatel CEO and chief designer Alexander Inozemtsev earlier this year. The company plans to assemble 22 engines for the ground and flight tests. Flight trials on an Ilyushin Il-76LL testbed are set to start in early 2015. The PD-14 will be the core of a new engine family with a 12- to 18-ton thrust range.
The MC-21 avionics suite is now being tested by UAC-Integration Center, Irkut sources say. Tests will continue at a new test bench under construction at UAC’s Zhukovsky facility. UAC will act as the avionics integrator; the avionics components are supplied by Russian and international manufacturers, including Thales and Honeywell.
Deliveries of the new narrowbody airliner are expected to start in 2017. Irkut reports some 175 firm orders, including from Russia’s largest lessors: 85 from Avia Capital Services, a subsidiary of Rostec Corporation; 50 from Ilyushin Finance Co.; and 30 from VEB-Leasing. The latter two companies are controlled by government-owned Vnesheconombank. Another 10 firm orders came from IrAero, a regional carrier based in the MC-21’s home city of Irkutsk. All the firm orders have already been secured by deposits, loading the production capacities for four years, says Irkut’s vice-president and head of commercial marketing and sales Kirill Budaev.
The manufacturer says the MC-21’s priority markets will be Russia, the CIS, and Southeast Asia. According to Budaev, the marketing campaign targets network, low-fares and hybrid airlines alike. The new scratch-built airliner design offers lower operating costs, shorter turnaround times, and better passenger comfort, he explains.