Farnborough Air Show

Irkut’s MC-21 raises Russian comfort bar

 - July 16, 2010, 1:51 AM

This week’s Farnborough airshow will provide the closest look yet at what Irkut Corp. plans to deliver when it completes development of its MC-21 airliner family. The Russian company has had an almost full-scale mockup of the single-aisle transport produced in the U.S. and it will unveil it here today.

The mockup is 66 feet long and includes the cockpit and part of the passenger cabin (featuring both business- and economy-class seating), as well as the galley and lavatory. According to Irkut, the mockup will show that it has followed through on its design commitment to deliver higher levels of passenger comfort than existing narrowbodies, with a wider cabin, larger seats, improved lighting and more baggage space. It claims that the MC-21 will provide levels of comfort normally associated with long-haul airliners, but Farnborough visitors can to judge for themselves by visiting the new mockup.

Ahead of this week’s show, Irkut president Oleg Demchenko told AIN that the company remains on schedule to complete initial Russian certification before the end of 2015, followed by international certification and first customer deliveries in 2016. First flight is planned for an as-yet unspecified date in 2014.

Irkut is targeting the MC-21 at a number of market niches and is proposing a family of three versions. The lead variant is the MC-21-200, with 150 seats at a 32-inch pitch. Later will come the MC-21-300 (181 seats) and MC-21-400 (212 seats), and all will be available with various range options.

Certification Process
At the start of this year, Irkut’s engineering team, which includes the Yakovlev Design Bureau, passed the so-called third control gate for the program, at which point the aircraft configuration and draft design were completed. In April, the company received approval from Russian aviation authorities to handle all aspects of aircraft design. As it heads toward the fourth control gate for the program in April 2011, Irkut has formally applied to Russian authorities to begin the certification process and it will make the same application to the European Aviation Safety Agency in March 2012.

Over the past year, Irkut has been busy lining up its main program partners for the MC-21, and since April this year it has been locking them in with the signing of firm contracts. Most notably, late last year it announced that Pratt & Whitney will provide the PW1400G version of its new PurePower PW1000 engine. Russian manufacturer Hydromash, based in Nizhny Novgorod, is responsible for the main fuselage.

Also from the U.S., Rockwell Collins is the main avionics supplier, along with the Russian company Avionica. Irkut is acting as systems integrator for the avionics. Rockwell is also developing the MC-21’s control systems, with contributions from Goodrich.

Hamilton Sundstrand also has a big position on the MC-21 program. It will provide the auxiliary power unit and wing anti-icing system. Through a new joint venture with Russia’s Nauka company it will develop the air-conditioning system. The U.S. company is also forming an alliance with France’s ECE (part of the Zodiac group) to provide the aircraft’s electrical system, and another with Kidde group subsidiary L’Hotellier for the fire-fighting system.

Another Zodiac subsidiary, Intertechnique, will provide the fuel, oxygen and inert gas systems for the MC-21. Zodiac’s U.S. operation, C&D, will provide the cabin interior, and to accomplish this is expected to form a new interior design joint venture with Irkut.

Eaton Corp., also from the U.S., is responsible for the aircraft’s hydraulic system, and has committed to sourcing more than half of the components for it from Russian companies.

Tier-two Suppliers
Demchenko said Irkut has selected most of its tier-one suppliers, and is now closing negotiations with tier-two suppliers. He added that additional joint ventures may be arranged to cover other aspects of the program as it moves forward–in particular  maintenance and after-sales support.

The MC-21 program has yet to secure the support of a firm order, but Irkut said it has had interest from several Russian and Western airlines. Demchenko conceded that Russia will likely be the most promising market but said that the aircraft eventually could win as much as 10 percent of the world’s medium-haul, single-aisle market segment.

Irkut accepts that in many markets the MC-21 will have to go head-to-head with the dominant Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, but insists that it will hold its own by offering improved passenger comfort and operating costs that will be 12 to 15 percent less. Airbus has argued that the MC-21 does not represent the technological step change needed to pose a serious challenge to its established rivals, but Irkut can fairly claim to have made a bold choice of engine technology in opting for the Geared Turbofan powerplant while its Western rivals are still vacillating over future engine selections for successors to their current single-aisle product ranges.

Demchenko stressed the importance of keeping to the declared development schedule for the MC-21 if Irkut is to be seen as a credible challenger in the key single-aisle market. Program delays have dented the reputation of Russia’s Superjet 100 development, although this does now seem to be making up for lost time.

Malaysian Connections
Irkut has also declared that it will deliver a much more customer-focused approach to after-sales support than has previously been the case with Russian airframers. As evidence of this commitment, it has just signed a partnership with a group of Malaysian companies to establish a regional service center for the MC-21 in Kuala Lumpur, as part of a wider cooperation with the Malaysian aerospace and defense sectors. In a June 18 briefing at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Demchenko revealed that by the end of this year, Irkut parent company United Aircraft Corp. (UAC) will conclude a contract with Malaysia for the sale of 50 MC-21s.

Demchenko, who is a vice president of UAC, also confirmed that UAC is going to enter the competition to supply the Royal Malaysian Air Force with a new fighter. The tender is due to be issued before the end of 2010 and UAC will propose a new batch of Sukhoi Su-30MKM jets, derived from the Su-30MKI multifunction combat aircraft. In May, UAC signed a new contract with the Algerian Air Force under which it will supply 16 Su-30MKA warplanes.

Over the past few years, Irkut has invested in modernizing manufacturing facilities at its Irkutsk Aviation Plant, with the specific goal of being ready for MC-21 production. Most recently, it has installed high-speed metal machining equipment and automated riveting systems, mirror milling capability and automatic assembly stands with laser positioning systems.

The Irkutsk Aviation Plant is connected to the MC-21 design bureau via digital communications channels. Back in 1997, the factory in Siberia became the first Russian plant to be certified to ISO 9002 standards and it has since become an official Airbus supplier, meeting international EN 9100 standards as well as achieving Bureau Veritas certification in 2007.

Irkut expects to form part of a new unit of UAC, which will include other leading design bureaus and factories, such as Aviastar-SP at Ulianovsk and Voronezh-based VASO, both of which are being lined up to become MC-21 program partners. Another partner will be the new Aerocomposit composites joint venture created by UAC and Sukhoi.     

Irkut Opens Yak-130 Training Center

Irkut has opened a new facility to provide training for pilots and maintenance crews for operators of its Yak-130 jet trainer. The center has been developed at the Moscow-area air base of Zhukovsky in the test facilities of the Yakovlev Design Bureau, which is set to be restructured as the Irkut Corporation Engineering Center.
The manufacturer has plans to further develop the new complex to provide training for operators of its new MC-21 airliner.

In February, the new Yak-130 entered service with the Russian air force and on May 9 the aircraft appeared in the annual fly-past over Moscow’s Red Square to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. The Russian pilots and technicians have all been trained at the new Irkut facility.

However, Russian authorities now have to investigate an accident on May 30 near the city of Lipetsk, which both pilots survived after bailing out.

To date, Irkut has sold almost 100 Yak-100s and, in addition to Russia, firm customers include Algeria (16 aircraft) and Libya (six). According to Irkut president Oleg Demchenko, orders for another 150 aircraft are being negotiated with various prospective export clients and the manufacturer expects to sign another contract for several dozen units before year-end. Vietnam has previously been reported as a Yak-130 customer, but is not currently confirmed by the manufacturer.

Irkut also hopes that the Yak-130 will be used to provide training for prospective astronauts. Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, a member of the joint Russian-American Soyuz/ Apollo space program, has recommended that the aircraft be selected for this application.

The new Zhukovsky training center has been equipped with computerized classrooms and modern flight simulators. Its staff includes Yak-130 test pilots and engineers who designed the aircraft.

Pilot training covers theory and extensive simulator work. Flight training includes weaponry and combat simulation and can be done at the customers’ own bases with support by the Irkut team.

With its enhanced maneuverability and advanced avionics suite, the two-seat Yak-130 can be used for both basic and advanced training for new fighter pilots. The jet is powered by a pair of Klimov/Motor Sich AI-222-25 turbofans, each producing 5,510 pounds of thrust. It has a top speed of 573 knots, a load factor range of plus-8g to minus-3g (max sustained g-load of 5.4) and an angle of attack of up to 40 degrees.     

S-30MKI To Test New Anti-Ship Missile

Irkut and India’s BrahMos Aerospace are engaged in a joint venture to arm the Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters starting in 2012. Flight trials of the new airborne anti-ship missiles are in the planning stages.

According to BrahMos, it finalized development of the new missile in May, adding a new booster, extra fins and a new nose cone. Working with the Sukhoi Design Bureau, the company has been developing an airborne launcher for the weapon, as well as modifying its command and control software. The weight of the airborne missile is about 1,100 pounds less than that of the navy and army versions.

The first production versions of the new missile are being built at the BrahMos Strela plant in Russia. This factory also is making assembly kits that can be put together in India.

The new BrahMos missile is to be fitted to 40 Su-30MKI jets that India has ordered from Irkut. From 2012, it could be made available to other export customers, such as Algeria and Malaysia. On the eve of this week’s Farnborough show, Russian defense export agency Rosoboronexport confirmed that the Indian Air Force is about to order 42 additional Su-30MKIs.