Bombardier expects to complete all the so-called data sets for the CSeries airliner by year-end, as the Canadian company continues its deliberate march toward a second-half 2012 first flight of the 100- to 125-seat CS100.
In fact, by the time program vice president and general manager Rob Dewar spoke with AIN in the run-up to this Dubai Air Show, the program had progressed “well over” halfway through its detailed design phase, and several parts had already arrived at supplier sites and in Mirabel, Quebec, at Bombardier’s complete integrated aircraft systems test area (CIASTA). That testing and proving facility is designed to assess systems for reliability and functionality before the first prototype flies.
“All the parts are designed in 3-D, virtually, into one integrated database that all our suppliers work with in real time, and all the data supporting those parts–that’s why it’s called data set release–is actually linked into the parts. Whether it’s a material callout, whether it’s which aircraft it goes on, the process that we use to either manufacture or maintain that part is integrated,” said Dewar. “So no matter what stakeholder looks at the CSeries, they can have all the data they require for the full of the program contained in that part. That’s major because in the past we didn’t have the systems in place or the computing power to do that, so a lot of human intervention was required to find the data.”
By late September, what Dewar called “the first wave of system component delivery” had begun, as system suppliers began commissioning their rigs. Those suppliers need between three and six months to “mature” their own systems to ensure they function as planned. Once they do that, the systems arrive at the CIASTA, where Bombardier performs the integration.
Rockwell Collins at its facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Although the first of two complete avionics systems had arrived at the CIASTA in late September, it and all the other major systems won’t start running together in the Mirabel test area until the first quarter of next year.
“We will work it in parallel, so we will get some advantage in running it alone, like our supplier, but really it gets commissioned in the first quarter of next year,” he said. “Rockwell runs the rig for three months. They get the learning, they see any issues they have, they do a software upgrade…so [during] just that one step you can fix 80 percent of the technical integration challenges. Then we will commission it on our rig, and all the systems suppliers go through the same recipe.”
Bombardier expected Parker Aerospace to commission the fly-by-wire system by the beginning of October, followed by the electrical system by Hamilton Sundstrand this month. Because the avionics communicates with virtually all the other systems on the airplane and contains so much software, it requires more testing and integration work than the other systems and so gets commissioned first, explained Dewar.
Critical systems scheduled to run on CIASTA include the electrical system, hydraulics, the fly-by-wire system, the avionics and the Fadec. Bombardier had completed construction on the building in which the CIASTA resides and put in place all the infrastructure by the end of the summer, and a number of systems, including the generators, the avionics and wing leading edges had all arrived “on dock” in Mirabel. “Again, there’s a wave of parts that continues to arrive on a daily basis,” said Dewar.
GTF Finishes Testing
Meanwhile, the CSeries’s Pratt & Whitney PW1524 geared turbofan had just finished flight testing after logging 115 hours in the air during 25 flights on the engine company’s Boeing 747SP flying test bed. “We are really excited about how the engine is going,” said Dewar. “We expected a lot more learning [time]. So, really, for a test engine, the fuel burn was above our expectations.”
Still, Dewar said Pratt has “a little bit more work to do” to meet Bombardier’s final fuel-burn commitment, but the engine generated more thrust during the test program than that to which the engine company had originally committed. Dewar fully expects Pratt & Whitney to meet the fuel-burn targets as it works toward certification, during which plans call for eight PW1524Gs to test various conditions and parameters for Transport Canada, EASA and the FAA.
Since February 2010 Bombardier also saw more than satisfactory results during the testing of the airplane’s aluminum-lithium fuselage test barrel, built by China’s Shenyang Aircraft. The barrel underwent 180,000 cycles of testing, during which it developed 10 to 12 “minor” cracks in what Dewar called pleats, but no major cracking in frames or skins.
Asked about progress of a weight-reduction effort that former Bombardier Commercial Airplanes president Gary Scott had mentioned to AIN last year, Dewar was noncommittal. “We still have data sets being released up until the end of this year,” said Dewar. “So we manage the weight on a daily basis.”
Scott, who unceremoniously retired on October 1, in the midst of the program, had told AIN that he expected Shenyang to start putting together actual subassemblies by the start of this year. However, Shenyang didn’t finish building its factory until “late March or April,” said Dewar, and Bombardier doesn’t expect to receive the first fuselage package until the middle of next year.
Nevertheless, schedules for the CSeries’s first flight, slated for the second half of next year, remains officially intact, and could happen by the third quarter if all goes as planned in the CIASTA. “We’re going to fly only when we’re ready,” said Dewar. “When the systems are mature and everything’s ready, we’ll do it…If you have issues, and you have to put the airplane down to either modify it or change software, a flight test vehicle is very, very inefficient [on which] to do changes…Whereas when we run on CIASTA, you can run seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. You can do the modification without a safety of flight [validation] and then when you get it right and all the things mature, then you can get a safety of flight and fly. In the past we didn’t always do that, and it extended the flight test program.”
Although Dewar declined to offer details about the status of the various parts of the new factory in Mirabel, he said construction remains “on track.” Meanwhile, “a lot is going on in St. Laurent,” north of Montreal, where Bombardier has installed all new equipment including a composites facility, a clean room, autoclaves and robots to join the fuselage. “All these things are in place and are in the process of being commissioned,” he said. There, the company plans to manufacture the airplane’s carbon-fiber aft fuselage and cockpit, and mate the cockpit with the forward fuselage section made by Shenyang.
Composites account for some 46 percent of the entire airplane, and roughly 90 percent of wing, made at Bombardier’s Belfast plant. So-called advanced materials, including the aluminum-lithium used for the fuselage, account for some 70 percent of the content.
Now holding firm orders for 133 CSeries jets, options on 120 and purchase rights on 10, Bombardier still hadn’t gotten permission to reveal the identity of the customer who plans to take the first airplanes. But Qatar Airways is strongly tipped to confirm its commitment to the program, even by high-level executives from rival airframer Embraer.