Farnborough Air Show

Rolls bids to power new MS-21 airliner

 - July 7, 2008, 9:05 AM

Russian airframer Irkut wants Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney to bid against each other with Russian partners in the tender to provide a powerplant for the new MS-21 airliner that it expects to launch this summer. Having previously pioneered the application of Western engines on Russian airliners through programs such as the Tupolev Tu-204-120, Rolls-Royce views the MS-21 as its best market prospect of several new Russian aircraft programs.

The MS-21 is projected to offer 20 percent lower fuel burn than existing airliners in its class. This will require next-generation propulsion technologies and Rolls-Royce has indicated it will be ready to come up with a suitable prototype within three years to meet Irkut’s goal for the new twinjet to enter service in 2015. An official with Rolls-Royce’s Russian subsidiary indicated to AIN that the approach the engine maker has in mind may be sufficiently radical as to require the proposed MS-21 airframe to be reshaped to accommodate it.

But to convince major Western engine makers to spend roughly $5 billion to develop the new powerplant, the MS-21 will have to have a credible business case. So far, preliminary work on the program has been kept strictly under wraps at the Yakovlev design bureau.

A model of the MS-21 has been on display since 2003 and can be seen here at the Irkut exhibit (Hall 1 Stand E8). It shows the original airframe concept with the Perm PS-12 turbofans that have been considered an option to power the new aircraft. Irkut president Oleg Demchenko has indicated that Perm’s case for selection would be strengthened if it forges an alliance with Pratt & Whitney, whose parent United Technologies holds a stake in the Perm Motor Plant.

In the past, choosing a local partner in Russia has proved difficult for Rolls-Royce. Today, only VSMPO in Verkhnaya Salda is involved in Rolls-Royce parts manufacturing, with orders for titanium pieces, including rotor disks. After fruitless talks with Kazan MPO, the British group turned to Ufa MPO and then MMPP Salyut. The latter engine maker has well-established and growing ties with the industry in Germany, where Rolls-Royce Deutschland is based.

Rolls-Royce is ready to give the local industry more work as Russian sales of aircraft powered with its engines grows. It also may establish a local repair station to serve the rapidly growing number of RB211, BR710 and Allison 250 engines in the former Soviet Union.

The UK-based manufacturer has a long and eventful history of Russian sales. Nearly 4,300 Merlin-powered Hurricane and Spitfire fighters went to the Red Army air squadrons during World War II. In 1947, Rolls-Royce sold 25 Nenes and 30 Derwents to the Soviet Union, along with a production license, a controversial move that helped the company survive in the difficult post-war years. Then, in the late 1970s, the Soviets purchased 40 Avon-based industrial turbines. Today, 12 RB211-535s are installed on Tupolev Tu-204-120 airliners, although this program has not proved to be as promising to Rolls-Royce as it had hoped back in 1993 when
it was launched.