New Irkut Management Sends MC-21 into Colder Climes

 - March 10, 2021, 10:42 AM
The second MC-21 prototype flies over the MAKS 2019 air show outside of Moscow. Irkut now hopes to assemble four production MC-21s in 2022. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Russia’s Irkut has planned 15 test flights for the MC-21 narrowbody airliner out of Talagi International Airport near Archangelsk in northern Russia to evaluate cold-weather performance from March 24 to April 9. The trials will add to tests already done on four prototypes toward type certification to Russian national requirements, which developers originally hoped to gain in late 2020.

Missing that target appears to have prompted 76-year-old Oleg Demchenko, who supervised the MC-21 since its inception, to step down as Irkut’s first deputy general director responsible for commercial aviation. He, however, remains general designer at Yakovlev, a design house in the growing Irkut stable that now also includes the former Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Corporation (SCAC), now rebranded as the Regional Aircraft division.

The task of managing the MC-21 and Sukhoi SSJ100 has fallen to 51-year-old Anatoly Gaidansky, who received a promotion for his achievements in the field of composite materials. Gaidansky continues to lead Aerocomposite, a special arm of the nationwide United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) specialized in advanced construction materials, which he has headed since its founding in 2008. The managerial changes at Irkut took place in early March to reflect the growing importance of modern composites to the key national aerospace programs, according to UAC.  

Faced with the tightening regime of U.S. economic sanctions on Russia, MC-21 management has turned its attention to more locally developed components for the new narrowbody.  Aerocomposite is about to complete examples of the MC-21’s carbon-fiber wing box using locally made thread and resin. Instead of baking the part in autoclaves, the company uses so-called infusion technology it had developed in cooperation with leading European specialists before the chill in relations between the East and West. Aerocomposite has already tested smaller airframe parts to validate strength and comparability with thread and resin no longer available because of the U.S. restrictions on high-tech imports into Russia.

While the Kremlin believes it has caught up with the West on the advanced composite technologies, it feels the need to establish new industrial relationships around the world to speed the development of the MC-21. Meanwhile, evidence of Russia’s shortage of manufacturing capacity to mass-produce airframe parts made using the infusion technology is mounting.

The situation prompted Russian minister for industry and trade Dmitry Manturov to approach his counterparts in the United Arab Emirates on the matter of industrial cooperation during the February 21 to 25 IDEX defense show in Abu Dhabi. Russia intends to award a number of UAE-based companies specializing in composite manufacturing airframe parts for Russian-designed airliners. The Emiratis would make the parts to Russian specifications using Russian or Chinese thread and resin, thus lessening the threat of U.S. sanctions.  

“We have mastered production of composites using local raw materials,” said Manturov during IDEX. “We are ready to involve our [Arab] colleagues, on which matter we held talks here, including transfer of technologies so that they can oblige us in the role of additional suppliers. There is a need for a larger production capacity. To meet the demand, we shall either expand that capacity in our own country or attract overseas partners.”

Earlier, the minister announced the revised production plan calling for the assembly of four deliverable MC-21s in 2022 and a gradual increase in their output to 72 starting in 2025.