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MC-21 Is Shaping Up; 2016 First Flight Planned

 - June 10, 2015, 9:55 AM
The airframe, engines and systems for the United Aircraft Corporation’s MC-21 airliner are coming together ahead of a planned first flight in 2016.

Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) believes that the MC-21airliner being developed by its Irkut subsidiary will prove to be a worthy challenger to other new generation narrowbodies, such as the Airbus A320neo, the Boeing 737 Max, Bombardier’s CSeries and Comac’s C919. According to Irkut, the first example of the twinjet will roll out at the end of this year, with a first flight now anticipated between April and July 2016.

The MC-21-300 model, which can seat between 160 and 212 passengers depending on cabin configuration, is due to be the first member of the planned family to complete certification in 2017. This variant will be powered by Pratt & Whitney’s PW1400G Geared Turbofan. Customers will be able to opt, instead, for Russian-made Aviadvigatel PD-14 turbofans. This version, which also would include Russian avionics from Kret and other locally-made systems, is expected to complete the certification process a year later.

According to Pratt & Whitney, its first two PW1400G turbofans are now in production. These engines are due to be delivered to Irkut this summer in order to be ready for the start of flight tests in 2016, and with a view to completing powerplant certification later this year.

Later this summer, flight testing of the PD-14 engines is due to begin on an Ilyushin Il-76 flying test bed at the Ramenskoye airfield near Moscow. With a thrust rating of 14 metric tons (30,864 pounds), the PD-14 is billed as offering comparable performance to Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower family of engines (of which the PW1400G is a member) and to the rival CFM International Leap family. Aviadvigatel is leading a program that also includes Russian aero-engine companies Perm, UMPO, NPO Saturn and Salyut.

In development terms, the PW1400G is further advanced, since the PurePower family has already logged 33,000 cycles and 18,000 hours of testing (including 4,600 hours of flight testing). Aviadvigatel is expecting to provide as many as 22 engines for its test program, and has already assembled six of these, with more now being made by Perm. PD-14 certification is slated for 2017.

New UAC president Yuri Slyusar visited the MC-21 assembly line at the Irkutsk Aviation Plant (IAZ) within days of his appointment back in January. IAZ makes the aircraft’s fuselage and performs final assembly using modern laser equipment.

“The MC-21 promises to be competitive,” said Slyusar. “From a technological point of view, this airplane compares well with rivals such as the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737Max with their new engines. I hope that the airlines will show interest in our new jetliner.”

Composite Parts

About half the MC-21’s structure will consist of composite materials, mainly used for the wings and empennage. AeroComposite supplies most of the composite parts, including wing spars and the central wing section. In the middle of April, the first central wing section arrived at IAZ. It was manufactured by AeroComposite’s Ulyanovsk facility using polymeric composites, among other advanced materials. Earlier, the same supplier manufactured rear and front spars for the MC-21 wing consoles. Another branch of AeroComposite, based in Kazan, supplies IAZ with wing trailing edges made of composite materials.

Some of the metal fuselage parts are supplied by Aviastar-SP in Ulyanovsk, which also makes the aircraft’s doors. It also supplies the empennage, complete with rudder and elevator. Another big factory in UAC’s corporate structure is VASO in Voronezh, which makes engine pylons, various fairings (including those for wing-to-fuselage attachment points), hatches and panels. Many of these parts, such as flaps, are made of composites.

As of last month, various elements for the first four MC-21s were being manufactured. Mating the fuselage sections of the first complete aircraft is planned for August, and UAC intends to broadcast this event live during Moscow’s MAKS 2015 air show.

So far UAC has logged 175 orders and commitments for the MC-21. Rostec, through its leasing branch AviaCapital-Service, has ordered 50 aircraft, which it hopes to place with Aeroflot. Three leasing companies–Ilyushin Finance (IFC), VEB-Leasing and Sberbank-Leasing–have signed for 50, 30 and 20 aircraft respectively. Transaero, UTair, S7 and Red Wings are potential users of these aircraft. Various government bodies have committed to taking 35 aircraft between them.

At the last MAKS show in 2013, IrAero, a small airline operating out of Irkutsk, signed a direct contract with the manufacturer for 10 MC-21s. It has never previously operated an aircraft of this size, having built its fleet previously around the Antonov An-24 and Bombardier’s CRJ200.

So far, all orders have been for the MC-21-300 model. If the planned family of aircraft materializes, it might also include the MC-21-200 with a shorter fuselage and the MC-21-400 with a longer fuselage and an enlarged wing. A decision on these other two models is expected after the baseline version obtains type certification.

The MC-21 assembly line is planned for a comparatively small capacity of only 70 aircraft annually. By comparison, Airbus and Boeing together made around 975 deliveries of narrowbody jetliners in 2014.