The newest version of the Sukhoi Superjet, SSJ100-95LR, first flown in February this year, has the suffix that is an abbreviation for Long Range, but some would argue that “Last Resort” might better describe the situation in terms of its significance to Russia’s aerospace industry. With the introduction of this new model, the famed Russian fighter house aims to come up with a globally competitive passenger jet, able to generate enough sales in the increasingly competitive 100-seat market, and match these sales with increasing production rates.
SuperJet International (SJI, Chalet B295) is the Venice-based joint venture company between Sukhoi and Italy’s Alenia, which has the task of garnering more international orders. Sukhoi handles the domestic market and some other countries.
The Kremlin has commanded Sukhoi to produce 60 Superjets from 2015 onward and is providing support to the airframer in the hope it can restore Russia as a major commercial jet exporter, a status it lost with demise of the Soviet Union.
Starting in 2015, all new Superjets coming off the line at the Komsomolsk-upon-Amur Aircraft Production Organization (KnAAPO) are expected to be built to the LR standard. First delivery is due later this year to launch customer Gazpromavia, corporate airline for fossil fuel giant RAO Gazprom. It operates on 400 routes across the vast Russian territory and finds the SSJ100-95LR a welcome part of a mixed fleet that can serve this network with its high season peaks. The LR should be good in the role of “a winter airplane,” replacing Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s in the low season to keep up the frequencies and, in the high season, to work in the intended role of a hub-feeder aircraft. Operating out of Moscow, the LR can reach all major airports in Europe and the Middle East, and fly as far as Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and even Irkutsk in Siberia in the Russian far east.
The LR features the 1S18 version of the PowerJet SaM146 motor certified last year. It generates 16,100 pounds of thrust compared to 15,400 pounds for the earlier 1S17 variant. Jacques Desclaux, chairman and CEO Powerjet, which is a joint venture between NPO Saturn of Russia and Snecma of France, said, “This version of the engine significantly extends the range of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) regional jet.”
The initial production SSJ100-95B (“Basic”) has a maximum takeoff weight (mtow) of 101,150 pounds; while the LR has an mtow of 109,020 pounds. Inside and out they look the same–both versions have the same fuel reservoir capacity of 4,175 U.S. gallons, making it possible to take some 20,000 pounds of jet fuel, but the almost 8,000-pound difference in mtow allows the LR to depart with more fuel when flying with full cabin–seating 98 passengers in a mono-cabin, five-abreast at 32 inches. Initial batch SSJ100-95LRs can transport 98 passengers 2,212 nm. Should Sukhoi succeed in implementation of its long-term program on reduction of Superjet’s structural weight, the figure will rise to the advertised 2,470 nm.
Sukhoi’s strategy is to keep unification between B and LR structures as much as possible. The wing shape is the same, at 84 sq m, but its structure is strengthened to withstand higher loads. The manufacturer says the LR has a “minor” increase in structural weight, but the long-term program being implemented targets considerable savings not only in airframe weight, but also with onboard systems.
The Superjet’s structure is largely made up of aluminum for simplicity, allowing for streamlined and cost-effective production. Sukhoi does not plan any big increase in the use of composite materials. Today, these are found in the wing’s trailing edge, the rudder and elevator, the wing-fuselage attachment fairing and the landing gear doors, for a total of 950 kg (2,095 pounds). The engine nacelle is also made of composite material with the exception of the intake ring, which is metallic to withstand heat supplied into it for anti-icing.
Deliverable LRs will come with a reworked FMS and a number of software upgrades also applicable to Bs. Thales-integrated avionics comply with the latest IMA (Integrated Modular Avionics) standards–which are “open” and easy to upgrade.
The first LR to be built has entered certification flight testing at Zhukovsky aerodrome near Moscow. Sukhoi has applied to the CIS aviation authority ARMAK for a complementary type certificate to the main documents issued in February 2011. This month the manufacturer is to submit all necessary flight test and strength analysis data to the authorities in the hope of winning approval by August/September. Then Sukhoi is going to apply to EASA for validation, although the process is likely to entail some additional flights with European inspectors onboard. “There is a standard practice for validation, and we do not expect anything supernatural there,” the maker says.
With the flight control system (FCS), in terms of envelope protection the Superjet is claimed by Sukhoi to be on par with or better than the Airbus A380 or Boeing 787. As per its direct competitor, the Embraer E-190, Sukhoi’s marketers said: “We do believe that the recently announced modernization of the E-Jet, calling for replacement of engine, avionics and flight control systems, is testimony to Embraer understanding their shortcomings in relation to the Superjet.”
Optimized for cruise at Mach 0.78, and an altitude of 39,000 to 40,000 feet, the Superjet benefits from a more advanced wing design made up of more modern, supercritical airfoils. Through a somewhat lower bypass ratio than the GE CF34-10 on both competitors, the SaM146 engine has a lower decrease in thrust as the Mach number increases, contributing to the Superjet’s better performance in maximum cruise speed mode. The Superjet burns only 3 percent more fuel (than normal cruise) at the maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.81 compared with “over 5 percent” for the E-190. Further improvement is expected from winglets that will soon be available as an option.
The Bombardier CRJ series is acknowledged to have better fuel performance than the competition (data from Bombardier puts hourly fuel burn for the CRJ700 at 1.45 tons, CRJ900 1.6t and CRJ1000 1.74 tons). Sukhoi observes: “We are at the level of 1.75 tons per hour for block fuel.” (Block fuel takes account of kerosene burnt during taxi, takeoff, descent and landing). “There are certain airplanes that consume less fuel and yet have weaker sales. The CRJ is one example of this; it burns notably less fuel than the E-jets, and yet has sold in lesser numbers. Our aircraft also offer superior passenger comfort. This is something that helped Embraer outsell Bombardier, and this is what helps us now to win over Embraer.”
Russia’s Transport Clearing House gives the following fuel-burn figures as an average for real revenue operations throughout 2011 for the An-148, SSJ-100-95B, A319, A321 and Tu-204-100: 1.968, 2.296, 2.518, 3.085 and 3.688 tons per hour, respectively. These figures indicate that the Superjet fits well into the line of modern jetliners in airline service.
Despite the fact that by size and performance E-jets and large CRJs are the primary competitors, airlines and passengers more often compare the five-abreast Russian airplane with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. “There is a lot of people talking about Superjet’s passenger comfort levels and that of the narrow bodies… and yet few would seriously compare a narrowbody to a regional jet with four seats in the cross section,” Sukhoi said. This is largely due to the Superjet having the largest cabin cross-section among regional jets, which makes it look more like a mainline airliner. It also has a large luggage hold, similar in size to that of the A320, on the side with the three-seat block; the hold on the other side is smaller by volume, and yet with an adequate height. As a result, Superjet’s passengers have a good chance of fitting their luggage into the upper holds. The height of the cargo-hold door is compliant to requirements of airport workers’ trade unions, and the large space under the floor enables airlines to take belly cargo.
Always happy to speak about their aircraft’s “narrowbody level of comfort,” Sukhoi does not want go further than that when touching on the A320, 737 and Bombardier CSeries. “We do not see them as competitors. These are larger airplanes designed for larger traffic and longer routes,” it asserts. Even with LR variant of the Superjet could not fly U.S. coast-to-coast. “For an airplane of our size, such distances do not make sense. Honestly, ours is not spacious enough for long-haul flights. The Superjet is a feeder, the machine that brings in passengers to mainline airlines. This work used to be done by the Yak-42 and Tu-134,” said Sukhoi.
The manufacturer is happy to observe “the proper use” of Aeroflot-operated Superjets “on the routes they were purposely designed for”–relatively short and too thin (that is, not enough passengers) for the A320. Before the introduction of the SSJ100-95B, these were largely unprofitable. “There is good dynamics coming from some of those routes. Aeroflot starts a service by placing a Superjet, and flies it for two to three months. The people notice that there is a reliable Aeroflot service available, and they use that service and gradually get used to [it]. In the beginning a Superjet takes 35 to 40 passengers, then 50 to 60 on a flight, and then Aeroflot places an A319 on this same route, and shortly it comes to flying with a full cabin.” Aeroflot often places a Superjet on night, late evening or early morning flights to increase frequencies.