Russia Ditches MC-21-300 To Focus on Indigenous Version

 - April 25, 2022, 8:51 AM
The MC-21-310 uses Aviadvigatel PD-14 turbofans and Russian avionics in place of Western engines and cockpit equipment. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

The Irkut MC-21-300 narrowbody, which won Russian type certification in December 2021, will not enter revenue service, leaving the MC-21-310 with locally-made Aviadvigatel PD-14 turbofans in place of the Pratt & Whitney PW1431G (PW1400G-JM) as the only option for airlines.

“Earlier, the industry promised the aircraft with two engine options. Now, we are launching the type into serial production with the PD-14 only,” Yuri Borisov, deputy head of the Russian governmental body responsible for the military-industrial complex, told journalists on April 19. “Besides, a number of critical items in the avionics package will be replaced by local substitutes.” The need to use Russian avionics will delay first shipment to either late 2024 or 2025.

“Shortly after the beginning of the military operation in the Ukraine, the West discontinued shipments of avionics and aero-engines for our newest aircraft types,” he explained.” As a result, we need to expedite efforts on import substitution so as to produce key vendor items locally.” Alternatives found in the countries that continue trade with Russia, such as China, India, Brazil, and several Arab states, could replace some of the Western items. “Surely, we are looking for suppliers in those countries”, he added.

The share of import content in the MC-21-300 vendor item list stands at between 40 and 50 percent. For the MC-21-310, the share totals about 20 percent.

At parliament hearings earlier this month, Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin confirmed his intention to allocate an additional 60 billion roubles ($740 million) on domestic vendor items for the MC-21. “For this purpose, we have already spent between six and ten billion roubles,” he said, adding that the extra funding will allow local industry to complete the import substitution efforts on the aircraft type in about two to three years.

Development of a Russian avionics package for the MC-21 commenced two years ago with the intent to complete the task in late 2023. The Russian-made products will replace the current suite composed of Thales, Honeywell, and Rockwell Collins items.

The MC-21-300 first flew in 2017, and its version with a Russian-made wing in December 2021, but the type repeatedly suffered entry-into-service delays. Last year, the industry promised to provide launch customer Rossiya Airlines with four MC-21-300s for revenue operations by September 2022.

This month, however, United Aircraft Corporation issued a statement indicating only two aircraft will be available to the carrier “for operations under supervision of the manufacturer.”

UAC CEO Yuri Slyusar explained that the pair will not perform revenue flights, “because they do not make economic sense.” Refusal by the West to supply spares to the MC-21-300 would make repair of the aircraft, should imported systems experience technical failures, extremely difficult. Therefore, the two aircraft will fly outside of Rossiya’s central timetable for flight and cabin crews’ type training. They will carry some people on board free of charge and collect operational data.

“At some point, we shall commence some transportation services, because, in the current circumstances, every operable airplane is precious,” Slyusar added. “These two aircraft, I am sure, will find their place on the transportation market.”

In the meantime, the Central Aero-Hydra-dynamics Institute (TsAGI) has reported the completion of yet another “important phase” of static trials on the MC-21 wing-box made of local composite materials at the AeroComposite company. Tested for strength, the specimen cracked under forces “far exceeding those achievable in real flight.” Engineers stress-tested the wings to 150 percent of the normal loading in artificial climatic conditions with additional heating of the wing.

“Successful completion of these trials has proved that our calculation methods for composite parts were right,” said Slyusar. “The experiment demonstrated that the wing’s major structural member has sufficient strength, and so provides safety even in case of the most unfavorable flight conditions. All newly built airframes will come with the wings made of local materials.”