C Series moves into detailed design phase

 - July 16, 2010, 1:57 AM

Bombardier is about to freeze the design of its C Series airliner, marking the end of the project’s joint definition phase and the official start of the detailed design phase. In fact, according to Bombardier Commercial Airplanes president Gary Scott, many of the work packages have already entered detailed design, including parts of the structure, the wing and some of the systems. “At this point we basically have confirmed that the airplane will deliver as advertised,” Scott told AIN.

Since February, Bombardier has seen more than satisfactory results from its aluminum-lithium fuselage test barrel, delivered from China’s Shenyang Aircraft last summer. The barrel has now endured more than 60,000 test cycles–the equivalent number of cycles expected in a lifetime of service–with “very few issues, just a few minor cracks [in] angles and brackets,” said Scott. As a result, the company has begun to explore ways to remove some weight from the fuselage, he added.

Shenyang, which has taken responsibility for the entire fuselage, doors and the composite wing box, has built the foundation of its new plant for the C Series fuselage production and expects to finish construction by the end of the year. By the start of next year, the company expects to start putting together subassemblies.

Bombardier has also passed through limit-load testing on a preproduction demonstrator wing. Those tests, too, have progressed exceptionally well, said Scott, raising another opportunity for weight reduction. “The point is we don’t need to do that to meet our weight commitments,” said Scott. “It just gives us the opportunity.”

Resin Transfer Infusion
Built at Bombardier’s Belfast facility in Northern Ireland, the wing will consist mainly of composite material created using a resin transfer infusion process, in which, unlike conventional lay-up methods, Bombardier uses a dry fiber placed inside a mold into which resin gets injected. Scott said Bombardier stands as the only company that uses the method for parts as large as those in an aircraft wing.
Composites account for some 46 percent of the C Series’ structure, while so-called advanced materials, including the aluminum-lithium used for the fuselage, account for some 70 percent of the airplane.

Arguably, one of the most advanced aspects of the airplane comes in the form of its Pratt & Whitney PW1524G engines, formerly known as the Geared Turbofan. P&W promises that the combination of the gear system and all-new core will deliver double-digit improvements in fuel efficiency and emissions and a 50-percent reduction in noise compared with the latest existing designs. The engines for both airplanes will pack a maximum thrust of 23,300 pounds and a basic thrust of 18,900 pounds.

Now in the midst of building the first full PW1524G, Pratt & Whitney expects to start testing the engine in August, said Scott. “All that [component] testing is coming along well,” said Scott. “Again, [the engine maker] is meeting or beating all of the requirements we’ve placed on it and, of course, we’ve worked closely with [it].”

To Fly in 2012
Bombardier expects to fly the 110- to 125-seat CS100 in 2012 and intends to use five test vehicles to certify the smaller of the two variants, and deliver the first airplane by the end of 2013. Plans call for development of the 120- to 145-seat CS300, which will use two test vehicles, to lag by roughly a year. Scott said the two airplanes will feature more than 90-percent parts commonality.

Along with other suppliers, Pratt & Whitney has agreed to co-locate a final assembly line for the C Series engines in Mirabel, Canada, where Bombardier completed construction in March on what it calls the complete integrated aircraft systems test area (CIASTA)–a testing and proving facility that will house a “virtual” C Series test aircraft designed to assess systems for reliability and functionality a full year before the first prototype flies. Scott said Bombardier has begun to put in place the fixtures to accept the test equipment and expects to see the first test parts arrive in Mirabel in October.

In the meantime, the company has begun to modify one of the existing CRJ high-bay areas at Mirabel to assemble the first C Series test vehicles in time for first flight in 2012, said Scott.

Plans call for the Mirabel complex to expand in five more phases. Next comes a new pre-flight and flight operations facility, followed by new administrative offices, final assembly halls, supplier satellite facilities, a paint facility and customer delivery center. New construction will also house a flight test center hangar.

While the brick-and-mortar aspects of the C Series project move ahead on schedule, the marketing side has also contributed to a sense of progress this year. By mid-June, Bombardier had collected firm orders for 90 C Series jets, including one for 40 CS300s from Republic Airways of the U.S. Signed in late February, the deal includes options for another 40 airplanes and calls for first deliveries in the second quarter of 2015.

The program’s launch order from Lufthansa comprises 30 CS100s, while a firm commitment from Lease Corporation International Group (LCI) accounts for 17 CS300s and three CS100s. Although plans call for certification of the smaller airplane first, Lufthansa’s Swiss International Airlines subsidiary doesn’t plan to take delivery of its first CS100 until some time in 2014. In fact, according to Scott, Swiss most likely won’t fly the airplane in revenue service before another airline takes delivery in late 2013.

“[Lufthansa] very much liked, as we did, the idea of being the launch customer because it can help the development of the aircraft, and it is. It’s intimately involved,” said Scott. “There are other customers who aren’t necessarily launch-caliber customers who definitely would like earlier deliveries, so we’re saving those aircraft for them. There are several bidding for that position.”

Lufthansa plans to replace its Avro RJs with the CS100 and to fly the airplanes out of London City Airport, said Scott, making them the largest airplanes to fly the 5.5-deg steep approach at the noise-sensitive, short-runway downtown airport. Republic Airways plans to make use of the hot-and-high attributes of its CS300s to fly from Denver to the East Coast of the U.S. during the summer.

“[The C Series is coming] five years from now, although we wish it was coming tomorrow,” remarked Republic CEO Bryan Bedford during May’s Regional Airline Association Convention in Milwaukee. Deliveries will align with lease expirations on the Frontier Airlines subsidiary’s Airbus A319s.

Although the C Series won the Republic order in direct competition with the Airbus A319, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney essentially discounted the Bombardier C Series as a serious threat to Boeing’s narrowbodies, referring to the Canadian upstart as one of a class of “regional jets that are getting a little bigger.” Nevertheless, the CS300 would occupy a capacity category now filled by the 737-700 and A319. “That’s not necessarily a market segment we want to be in,” said McNerney, referring to the sector that the C Series would occupy.

“[McNerney] is really confirming what we said all along,” said Scott. “This is a segment that’s largely underserved by Boeing and Airbus today, only through downsized versions of their larger six-abreast airplanes. Five abreast is really the best cross section for this segment. The smaller Boeing and Airbus products have been the best option to date, but now airlines are truly going to have an optimized solution to produce game-changing results for them…I think he’s just confirming where Boeing is focusing, which is above 150 seats.”

Scott said that that he has seen “pretty balanced” interest in the CS100 and CS300 from around the world, and confirmed that Bombardier continues to talk with Qatar Airways about a likely order. “It recently said it intends to buy the C Series,” said Scott. “Its CEO, Akbar Al Baker, made that comment, so those discussions continue.”