Irkut Plows Fighter Earnings Into Fulfilling Its Airliner Ambitions With The MC-21

Farnborough Air Show » 2012
July 8, 2012, 2:20 AM

Irkut is pursuing its ambition of capturing a 10-percent share in the world market for narrowbody airliners by funding its new MC-21 twinjet largely from funds earned from fighter sales. The Russian airframer now claims a 15-percent share of Russia’s overall military exports by value.

Since 1996, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI/MKM series of twin-seat multirole fighters have been Irkut’s main earner, with 294 deliveries so far. After the Russian defense ministry awarded orders for 55 Yak-130 lead-in fighter trainers and 30 Su-30SM strike fighters in November 2011 and March 2012, respectively, Irkut’s backlog rose to $7 billion. The company’s revenues in 2011 amounted to approximately $1.54 billion–almost twice as much as they were in 2006, and 5.3 percent greater than in 2010. Gross profits (before tax) were approximately $389 million and net profits reached $24.5 million.

Irkut (Hall 1 Stand E8) has amassed civil jetliner experience through an existing cooperation with Airbus. Its main production site, Irkutsk Aircraft Plant (IAZ), has been involved in making A320 parts under a contract signed in December 2004. Deliveries commenced in 2008, including nose gear bay, keeling and flaps fittings, and are continuing at a rate of 12 shipsets per month.

The Russian company had hoped this alliance would lead to it developing a next-generation narrowbody with Airbus, but after protracted negotiations failed, it decided to proceed with the MC-21 on its own, an approach that secured the official blessing of the Russian government in 2010. “The market is tired with the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus,” Irkut president Alexey Fedorov commented.

The program has been budgeted at an initial amount of around $4.56 billion, which includes some $3.23 billion for research and development and another $1.33 billion for modernizing the manufacturer’s production technology.

There will be three base models in the MC-21 family. In an all-economy configuration with 32-inch seat pitch, the MC-21-200 offers 150 seats, with the larger MC-21-300 having 181 seats and the MC-21-400 having 212. In addition to a stretched fuselage, the biggest model–the MC-21-400–features a larger wing, with a span of almost 121 feet, compared with just less than 118 feet for the other two versions. Each of the three models is to be available in a basic variant with 1,900 nm range and in an ER version able to fly 2,700 nm.

Eight test airframes, including six flying prototypes, are to be constructed for test and certification purposes before deliveries commence in 2016. IAZ general manager Alexander Veprev told AIN in May that the factory has already started manufacturing long-cycle parts for MC-21 prototypes.

The MC-21 design team’s main target is to cut cash operating costs by 12 to 15 percent compared with those of the A320 family. Irkut has predicted that, with a Mach 0.8 cruise at 41,000 feet, the airliner will be 23 percent more fuel efficient that the A320s–with 13 percent of that efficiency coming from the engine performance, 6 percent from improved aerodynamics and 4 percent from weight reduction. It also said the MC-21’s max takeoff weight will be 9.5 percent lower than that of an A320. Operational turnaround time will be reduced by six or seven minutes, which Irkut claims corresponds to an additional 150 flights per year.

Airlines will have the choice of two powerplants for the twinjet: the Pratt & Whitney PW1400G or Russia’s Aviadvigatel PD-14. Other Western partners on the MC-21 program include Zodiac Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, Eaton and Meggitt, among others.

The wing design comes from AeroComposite and its subcontractor Sukhoi Design Bureau. The fully composite wing will have aspect ratio increased to 11.5, and lift-to-drag ratio that should be 6 percent more efficient than that of the A320’s, while weighing 15 to 20 percent less. Together with other improvements in airframe and propulsion system, the MC-21 promises 15 to 25 percent lower fuel burn compared to in-service narrowbodies.

The MC-21 wing boxes are being manufactured by AeroComposite in cooperation with Austria’s FACC. The aerostructures manufacturing process is also benefiting from technological input from foreign partners such as Cytec, Hexel, Niat, Diamond and Premium Aerotec.

In 2010, Irkut opted to take a chance on largely untried “vacuum infusion” technology for its composites manufacturing plan for the MC-21 in the hope that it would result in lower manufacturing costs. This approach avoids the need for traditional large autoclaves such as those used for Airbus and Boeing airframes. It has already produced a sample wing box through the new technique.

Unlike the wing, the MC-21 fuselage is predominantly of metal construction, using the latest metal alloys, including aluminum-lithium, and with wing attachment points made of titanium. Overall, the aircraft composition includes composites, 38.5 percent; aluminum alloys, 39 percent; titanium, 12 percent; steel, 7.5 percent; and other materials, 3 percent.

Irkut is also modernizing its production facilities, investing in computer-integrated technology in a bid to reduce manufacturing costs. Germany’s Durr Systems has been contracted to develop and install an automated assembly line with initial capacity to produce 60 aircraft each year. Provision will be made for this to increase to 84 units.

The MC-21 features a cabin interior developed by the France-based Zodiac group. In standard six-abreast layout the economy class features 18.5-inch wide seats and a 20-inch aisle. Thanks to a wider fuselage and thinner walls, the MC-21 cabin is three inches wider than that of the existing A320 at head level and six inches wider than the Boeing 737 at shoulder level, according to Zodiac.

Russia’s Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI) is responsible for managing the MC-21 certification process, with flight-testing due to begin in 2015. The institute is already active in research on composite airframes and is conducting trials of the MC-21 wing specimens. In January this year, the first wing box cracked in what TsAGI described as “an unexpected area” while “under excessive loading.” The second wing box has remained under a continuous test cycle.

The first wing box was intended to validate the technology being used, to evaluate design solutions and to conduct tests for structural integrity and strength. It also was subjected to preliminary frequency and stiffness tests, and employed in a separate research effort examining the effects of typical wing damage observed in airline operations.

In March, TsAGI received the third wing box, which had been improved based on the results of earlier testing. It is being subjected to a wide range of trials, including structural integrity, frequency and strength.

A few weeks ago, TsAGI reported the completion of the MC-21 scaled model and the start of testing in its T104 wind tunnel. The purpose of the testing is to determine the impact of the aircraft’s engines on flaps and slats in cruise, takeoff and landing configurations, as well as on horizontal control surfaces of the empennage, and horizontal stabilizer performance in wing-in-ground effect situations.

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