Sukhoi aims to fly SSJ by month’s end

 - February 8, 2008, 8:36 AM

Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company has found completion of the first Superjet 100 a major challenge, after missing a year-end target for first flight that now appears likely to take place no sooner than late this month. Sources close to the project say the Superjet faces “integration issues” as well as engine delays.

Leading the Russian aerospace industry’s first venture into the management of such an international civil aircraft program, Sukhoi last month received the formal blessing of Russian president Vladimir Putin to award Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica a 25-percent-plus-one-share stake in the Superjet. The two companies have already established Superjet International, a Venice-based joint partnership to market, sell and deliver aircraft in Western markets, provide worldwide after-sales support and design business aviation and cargo variants.

“A strong political commitment” to fly the Superjet before this year has proved optimistic, however, as program officials have had to accommodate delays in the airplane’s Powerjet SaM146 engine while managing long-distance delivery of equipment and parts to Komsomolsk on Amur, which lies farther east than Vladivostok, near Russia’s Pacific coast. The SaM146 engine involves a joint venture between France’s Snecma and NPO Saturn.

“The scope of the program, with its 30 international partners, main production site in the Far East, complicated supplies logistics [and novel] management approach is challenging itself,” said one source, before referring to the delayed powerplant that did not fly aboard its Ilyushin Il-76 test bed until last December. “The engine is in the first stage of flight tests and it’s too early to speak about its performance until Sukhoi has formal permission to fly the SaM146 on the Superjet 100 itself.”

Nevertheless, late last month an official with NPO Saturn said that revised schedules call for the end of flight testing of the first SaM146 by February 2 and that, if all goes according to plan, a special commission would declare it ready for first flight aboard the Superjet on February 12.

Meanwhile, another source close to the project cautioned that the powerplant problems didn’t tell the whole story. “The engine is late, so it is easy to blame it for the delays,” he said. However, he did call reports of possible delays until mid-year “too pessimistic.”

Asked about progress with engine testing, another industry official told AIN, “A minimum number of engine hours need to be flown before the first aircraft flight–but materially less than 150 flight hours. Ground testing activities are going on in Komsomolsk. Of course, the impact of last-minute changes and integration testing as usual are delaying first flight, but there are no major issues.”