Thinning crop of new jet designs taking shape

 - November 1, 2006, 11:00 AM

Antonov


An-148
–The first Ukrainian airplane built with CAD-CAM technology continues to defy the odds, and not only in a technical sense. The only aircraft built in the former Soviet Union without direct public funding, the 70-seat An-148 flew for the first time on December 17 in the midst of the Orange Revolution, raising a symbol of stability in a country rocked by political unrest.

While criticism at both home and abroad followed the program from its start in March 2002, Antonov designers confounded skeptics by consistently reaching program milestones, if not on schedule, in time to put the ever-languid Tupolev Tu-334 program to shame. Plans call for a pair of An-148 prototypes to log 600 flights over the course of a year, in time to win CIS AP-25 certification during next year’s first quarter.

The project team, consisting of program leader Aviant of Kiev, KSAMC of Kharkov and Russia’s VASO, has already begun building five production airplanes, all due for completion by the time the airplane wins approval from CIS authorities. Siberia’s KrasAir expects to become the first to fly the airplanes in scheduled service next year, when it starts taking deliveries of a planned batch of 12.

Western prospects appear far less immediate, and will hinge on Antonov’s ability to offer a version with Western engines. The company presented plans and specifications for the An-148 to Air France last summer, and has held talks with Snecma about the planned SM146 and with General Electric about the CF34-10 as alternatives to the airplane’s ZMKB Progress D436-148 turbofans.

AVIC I

ARJ21–China’s AVIC I Commercial Aircraft Company (ACAC) continues its deliberate march toward a late-2008 introduction of the 85-seat ARJ21-700, the first of two jets in a product line that will also include the 105-seat ARJ21-900. Now preparing to cut metal for the first prototype, the company finished most of the airplane’s structural design work and more than half of its systems design by the spring. Meanwhile, ARJ21 wing designer Antonov has frozen its airfoil configuration after finishing the first phase of wind-tunnel testing at its plant in Kiev and at the Central Flight Test and Research Institute in Moscow.

The ARJ21 program partners–a consortium led by government-controlled AVIC I and in which 15 separate shareholders hold an interest–have now signed no fewer than 10 major U.S. and European aerospace components suppliers to contribute to the effort, expected to yield a prototype ready to fly by the end of next year.

Major suppliers to the ARJ21 effort include GE Aircraft Engines, which ACAC has recruited to adapt yet another variant of its CF34 line–the 18,500-pound-thrust CF34-10A–for its rear fuselage-mounted powerplant requirement. During last year’s Air Show China in Zhuhai, Canada’s CAE signed a contract to design and build a full-motion flight simulator, scheduled for installation in Shanghai in 2008.

Bombardier

C Series–Bombardier’s newly constituted board of directors officially authorized its airline division to offer the C Series line of single-aisle jets to potential customers in March. The new division must now demonstrate that it can seize enough business in a somewhat nebulous 110- to 130-seat product category to justify a program launch.

The smaller member of the C Series, called the C110, would carry between 110 and 115 seats, while the larger member, the C130, holds as many as 135. A short-range version of each would fly roughly 1,800 nm, while planned transcontinental-range variants would fly as far as 3,000 nm. Maximum takeoff weights would range from 120,600 pounds for the short-range C110 to 146,000 pounds for the long-range C130.

After deciding against the all-composite fuselage many at first anticipated, designers will have to derive about half of the targeted 15-percent direct operating cost savings from new engines. Under current plans, composites would account for 20 percent of the airplane’s weight, appearing in part of the center and rear fuselages, tailcone, empennage and wings. The development schedule shows first flight of the smaller version in 2008 and service entry in 2010.

Embraer

190–Scheduled to finish its certification campaign in August, the 98-seat Embraer 190 will move the Brazilian company into a neighborhood long controlled by Boeing and Airbus when discount airline JetBlue takes the first of a firm order for 100 in October. The airplane, flown for the first time in March last year, recently benefited from structural reinforcements that allow for higher mtow and range. The changes will add as much as 300 nm of range, allowing the 190 to fly as far as 2,300 nm.

As of press time taking firm orders for 155 examples from three airlines, Embraer has long insisted the 190 would appeal to low-fare and major carriers as well as regional airlines. In fact, none of its customers qualifies as a regional, as JetBlue, Air Canada and COPA account for its entire order base. So far scope clauses continue to hold near 70 seats throughout most of the industry, although talks at US Airways have raised hopes that its regional affiliates may soon get to fly airplanes in the area of 90 seats as US Airways Express.

The powerplant destined for both the Embraer 190 and 108-seat Embraer 195, the GE CF34-10E, recently won FAA type certification after 1,800 hours of flight-testing with seven production and one core engine. The turbofan generates 18,500 pounds of thrust, and also appears on design plans for the ARJ21.

195–The largest member of Embraer’s “E-Jets” flew for the first time on December 7, marking the start of a year-and-a-half-long testing campaign. Perhaps the least conspicuous of the family despite being the biggest of the lot, the 195 has not attracted a firm sale since Switzerland’s Crossair placed its launch order in 1999. Since assuming the role of Switzerland’s flag carrier in place of defunct Swissair, however, the airline now known as Swiss International Airlines has cut its firm order in half, to fifteen 195s and fifteen 170s, and reduced its option total from 100 to 20. Although it holds nonrefundable deposits, Embraer finally stopped considering the orders in its annual production rate forecasts after Swiss delayed deliveries indefinitely.

Of course, the circumstances surrounding Swiss have raised questions about where and when the first production 195 will eventually fly in scheduled service. Embraer claims the 195 sales campaign has gained momentum lately, drawing interest from a number of airlines both as a supplement to Embraer 190 fleets and as a stand-alone platform.

Under Embraer’s latest schedules, the 195 would gain certification by the second quarter of next year. With structural reinforcements recently introduced in the 190 and 195ARs, the biggest Embraer can now fly as far as 2,100 nm, giving it enough range to fly from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains.

Sukhoi

RRJ–Ambiguity perhaps best describes the nature of the Russian Regional Jet even as the company announced the “launch” of the program last November. Of course, the launch of any project usually requires a customer, something Sukhoi still hasn’t gotten, notwithstanding the grand LOI signing ceremony during last year’s Farnborough Air Show with Novosibirsk-based Sibir.

After failing to win market support for planned 60- and 75-seat versions, Sukhoi has decided to limit its offering to basic and long-range 95-seaters. At last report due to fly the first prototype in May next year, Sukhoi has yet to start building a test airplane, but design work by the various suppliers continues to accelerate, according to the company.

In January Sukhoi held a meeting of systems integrators at which it established joint working groups to manage system integration. Under current plans, Beriev would build certain fuselage parts, Yakovlev would develop wing leading edges, various hatches and doors, while Ilyushin helps with onboard systems and Western certification. Boeing acts as an advisor on design processes and after-sales support.

Sukhoi last said it expected to win a firm launch order for the airplane by the middle of this year and deliver the first production example two years later.

Designed for cruise speeds of between Mach 0.78 and 0.80, the RRJ would use Franco-Russian-designed SM146 turbofans, for which France’s Snecma would build the high-pressure core and Russia’s NPO Saturn would supply the low-pressure components and perform final assembly. 

Additional reporting by Vladimir Karnozov.