MC-21 – digest for October-2023

© Alexander Shipilenko, / Certification flight to determine the noise level. Flight 73051 passing over the runway at a height of about six metres. Archive photo

On October 5, a regular meeting of the Steering Committee for External Cooperation of the MC-21 programme was held at the Irkutsk Aviation Plant under the chairmanship of Andrey Boginsky, General Director of PJSC Yakovlev. Heads of key holdings and companies involved in the implementation of import substitution of foreign components of the MC-21 aircraft visited the aggregate and assembly production and final assembly shop, where they got acquainted with the progress of equipping the prototype aircraft with Russian-made systems and aggregates, as well as with the backlog of the first production machines.

The meeting addressed the issues of equipping the MC-21 prototypes. Manufacturers of Russian systems presented their work plans to ensure certification of the aircraft in the Russian guise and serial production of 18 machines in 2024-2025 with subsequent increase in production up to 36 machines.

On 20 October, the general designer of ODK-Aviaadvigatel said at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that eight PD-14 engines have been created at ODK-Perm Motors in Perm, with plans to produce 12 next year and 24 engines in 2025. “Our task now, of course, at the beginning of operation there will be “childhood illnesses”, there is no other way, – to promptly eliminate them, modernise them, bring them up to date. These are the tasks of the next few years with simultaneous increase in production volume. This is the situation today with PD-14,” said Alexander Inozemtsev.

The United Engine Corporation said that it is much harder, longer and more expensive to create a modern turbojet or turboprop engine than a new aircraft. Moreover, only a few countries have the technology to produce gas turbine engines. UEC faces a challenging task – to triple the production of engines for civil aviation. By 2030, 540 PD-14 engines for 270 aircraft should be produced. To this should be added 38 replacement engines, which are also planned to be produced in the next seven years. Such volumes will guarantee uninterrupted operation of the MC-21, especially at the initial stage of development of the new product.

Of the six MC-21 prototype aircraft produced, three remain with Pratt & Whitney’s PW1400G engines, these are the 73053, 73054 and 73056. At the end of August, the US Federal Aviation Administration issued an airworthiness directive for the PW1100 and PW1400 engines, which informs operators of aircraft with these powerplants about the presence of cracks in the high-pressure turbine (HPT) power elements. The directive requires ultrasonic inspections of the 1st stage HPC hub and the 2nd stage HPC hub and, depending on the results of the inspections, mandates replacement of the damaged components.

The New York Post reported in August that Pratt & Whitney had recalled about 1,200 of its geared-gear engines (GTFs), which are used by dozens of airlines worldwide in the A320/321/neo and A220 family of aircraft.

Bloomberg writes that Pratt & Whitney spent $10 billion to develop the GTF, which uses a reduction gearbox that allows the fan to spin slower than the turbine. Airbus says this improves powertrain efficiency by about 20 per cent, but because some GTF components are wearing out faster than expected, airlines are being forced to repair them ahead of schedule. The number of shutdowns of A320neo aircraft with Pratt & Whitney engines is rising rapidly as operators remove engines for accelerated inspections recommended by the manufacturer and mandated by regulators.

According to Aviation Week analysis, the share of Airbus aircraft with PW1100G engines on the ground at the end of September was 19 per cent, or 267 aircraft out of 1,378 in the global fleet. That figure was up 6% from the 31 August figure of 175 aircraft out of 1,358.

Russian airline S7 Airlines, which operates A320neo aircraft among others, has warned that it will reduce the number of flights during the winter navigation period precisely because of the problems with the American engines. In connection with the situation, Zhukovsky performed inspections of all PW1400G engines installed on the MC-21 prototype aircraft. The condition control did not reveal any problems and the aircraft can perform flights.

* * *

GosNIIAS together with PJSC “Yakovlev” is building a new semi-natural test stand for integration, development and testing of the onboard equipment complex of the MC-21-310rus aircraft. The existence of such stands is due to the need for safe and cost-effective development and support of onboard systems of prospective and operational aircraft. The new stand will become the “Electronic Bird” of the MC-21-310 aircraft. At this stage, the assembly of units and aircraft systems is underway, and the cable system is being laid.

The “Electronic Bird” semi-natural modelling complex is designed to work out the interaction between the MC-21-310 aircraft onboard equipment and its software. With the help of simulators, the stand makes it possible to test the real equipment of the airliner in those modes that cannot be performed during flight tests. Previously, a similar stand was created to test aircraft systems with imported components.

* * *

Concern Radioelectronic Technologies (KRET) has handed over to Yakovlev the first set of Russian avionics equipment for the MC-21-310 cockpit – control panels for aircraft systems and lighting equipment. “Ulyanovsk Instrument Design Bureau (UKBP, part of KRET) has developed and set up production of equipment to create a unified information and control field for the MC-21 cockpit. The domestic avionics fully corresponds to the foreign equipment installed on the certified version of MC-21-300.

* * *

There are two experimental MC-21s in Irkutsk now, on which imported equipment is being replaced with Russian equipment – these are aircraft 73055 and 73057. Flight 73055 will return to flights in December of this year. Some of its systems will remain imported, in particular, the wing of this aircraft is made of foreign polymer-composite materials. On the other hand, the 73057, which originally had a wing made of Russian PCM, will be a fully compliant version of the MC-21-310rus with domestic systems and units, including PD-14 engines. This aircraft is scheduled to take to the skies again for certification flights in April 2024.

In Zhukovsky, one of the PD-14 engines was replaced with a new one on the first 73051 prototype aircraft. The engine was sent to Perm, where it will be disassembled and the condition of its mechanisms will be checked after operation as part of the aircraft. After the engine replacement, this aircraft performs flights under a programme to improve the aerodynamic characteristics of the nacelle. The 73053 prototype is expected to undergo software replacement, after which it will perform certification flights under ICAO Category III minimums – precision approach and automatic landing.

In October flights were performed by 73051. A total of three flights with a total duration of 9 hours 6 minutes were performed. The weather did not always allow the machine to take to the sky. For example, a flight was planned for 23 October, but on that day there was a heavy fog in Moscow and the region, and as Zhukovsky said, icing in the clouds at an altitude of up to 9 km was predicted. The flight was planned to assess the compliance of the engine’s contractual characteristics, but even a small amount of ice could have affected the sensor readings, which would have resulted in unreliable data. Therefore, the flight was cancelled.

* * *

On 30 October, the TV channel “Russia 24” broadcast a film about how the Russian industry is working on import substitution and, in particular, for the MC-21 aircraft. Unfortunately, while talking about the serial aircraft that will be delivered to the Aeroflot Group fleet and currently under construction at Irkutsk aircraft plant, the head of Rostec Sergey Chemezov did not mention the certification of the airliner in the Russian form, or maybe the authors of the film did not include his words in the video. The press service of the state corporation accompanies this video with the headline “MC-21 will go into production a year earlier”, and the uninitiated viewer may have a false idea that passenger transportations on MC-21 will start already in 2024.

However, the handover of the first production aircraft to Aeroflot next year does not mean that they will immediately start operating commercial flights. The import-substituted version of MC-21-310 will be certified only in December 2024. Consequently, the aircraft may fly with passengers not earlier than January 2025, and most likely a little later. The time after receiving the aircraft and before certification will be used to train crews, flight attendants, ground technical personnel, as well as to perform flights without passengers on future commercial routes.

* * *

On 31 October at 17:09, an MC-21-300 with flight number 73054 took off from Zhukovsky to Voronezh. The aircraft delivered to VASO the commission that is to make a decision on the first flight of the prototype wide-body IL-96-400M airliner.