Sukhoi’s Superjet might fly this month

 - February 17, 2008, 5:25 PM

Sukhoi’s new Superjet 100 could be ready to make its long-awaited first flight by the end of this month. Powerjet–the joint venture between France’s Snecma and Russia’s NPO Saturn that is developing the regional airliner’s SaM146 engine–has said that it has applied for a flight permit, having completed more than 30 hours during 14 flights with the turbofan mounted on an Ilyushin Il-76LL testbed. More than 800 hours have been run on ground test stands.

According to Yuri Basyuk, Powerjet’s flight test director, his team has logged enough flight time on the Il-76 to assess the engine in different operating modes to be ready to start flying the actual Superjet. Earlier this month, the engine maker was still flying the Il-76 testbed from the Istres test flight facility in the south of France.

However, earlier reports from within the Superjet development team said the SaM engines would need to log a total of 1,500 ground and flight test hours before the Russian authorities would allow the airplane to make its maiden takeoff. Unless they have relaxed the requirement, the first flight could lag several more months.

Struggling to make up for lost time, the program remains officially committed to completing Russian certification by November, in time for launch customer Aeroflot to start service before year-end. Sukhoi intends to produce 13 aircraft this year, 30 in 2009 and 50 in 2010, with the maximum production rate of up to 70 being reached in 2011.

Delays in starting flight tests on the Il-76 have proved a big factor in pushing back the Superjet’s first flight, which had been scheduled for last September. The necessary flight test permit was expected to be issued by Russia’s Central Institute of Aviation Motors by the end of last week. Four Superjet aircraft will be used for the flight trials.

By early February, the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Production Association had mounted two SaM146 engines, supplied by NPO Saturn, on the first Superjet prototype. Engineers have started running the engines on the ground and have been working on aircraft systems such as fuel controls, hydraulics, electrics and air conditioning.

On the eve of this week’s Singapore Air Show, Sukhoi was anticipating a fresh wave of up to 150 new Superjet orders to add to the 73 it has already received (plus 39 options). The Russian airframer is specifically targeting Southeast Asia as an export market for the 100-seater.

Originally envisioned as a family of airplanes with 60, 75 and 95 seats, the Superjet has moved up a notch on the size scale. Most customers have specified the 95-seater, which can accommodate up to 98 passengers at a 32-inch seat pitch, while the 75-seater remains under development, as does a 110-seat version. Shrinking and stretching the baseline SSJ100/95 to complete the family will involve modifications only to the fuselage sections forward and aft of the wings, but going beyond 110 seats would require a new engine. Accommodating more than 125 seats would involve a complete redesign.

All three models will use the same PowerJet SaM146 engine. Its thrust range of 15,400 to 17,500 pounds is wide enough to suit them all, and its full-authority digital engine control (Fadec) system can select the appropriate power level without modification to the engine. The airplane employs a fly-by-wire control system, and the combination of new powerplant, a third-generation supercritical wing and advanced aerodynamics raise the prospect of operating costs that run 10 to 15 percent lower than current types.

Other promised attractions include new levels of comfort, environmental acceptability and reliability. Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) president Victor Subbotin said that the Superjet will deliver “all the comforts of home” with wide aisles, a high ceiling and ample seat pitch. Noise and emissions will fall well below current limits, according to Sukhoi.

Other numbers associated with the new airplane include a long-range cruise speed of Mach 0.78, an operational ceiling of 40,000 feet and a wingspan of 91.2 feet. The SSJ100/75 uses a 86.38-foot-long fuselage, while the SSJ100/95 stretches 97.86 feet long.

Both models will come in basic and long-range variants, with ranges carrying a full passenger load of around 1,580 nm in basic configuration or in the region of 2,400 nm for the long-range version. The 75-seater has a maximum takeoff weight of 85,585 pounds (basic) or 93,210 pounds (long range); comparable figures for the 95-seater are 93,740 and 101,150 pounds. Respective maximum payloads are 20,130 and 26,995 pounds. The cabin offers a ceiling height of marginally less than seven feet, the aisle is 20 inches wide and seat width is given as 18.3 inches.

The Superjet represents the highest degree of cooperation between Russian and Western companies yet seen in any aerospace program. France’s Thales is responsible for the avionics and flight deck. Germany’s Liebherr developed the flight and environmental control systems. B/E Aerospace, Honeywell, Hamilton Sundstrand and Parker rank among the program’s other major foreign suppliers.

Financial backing for the Superjet program has also come from outside Russia. In June 2007 SCAC signed a ?100 million ($144 million) loan agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The Eurasian Development Bank chipped in $150 million the following month. And in October, Russia’s state-run Sberbank agreed to a 10-year loan worth another $144 million for plant and equipment, and also to start serial production and sales of the aircraft.