Pros and cons of the Superjet according to pilot Vladimir Epifanov

Photo by © Vladimir Epifanov

On May 19, 2008 Sukhoi Superjet 100 took off for the first time, on February 3, 2011 the plane received the Type Certificate, the same year in 2011 the commercial operation of the airliner started. The commander of this aircraft of the Rossiya airlines Vladimir Epifanov in an interview with Moscow online described the merits of the Superjet and what can be changed in the design to make the aircraft even better.

I have been flying different planes for more than 20 years, including foreign-made ones, and I feel much more comfortable flying a Superjet. Just recently I’ve caught myself thinking that I prefer flying on the SSJ100, rather than the Boeing. It has nothing to do with political aspects or the geography of the flights.

This plane is made for the pilot. A lot of markings and abbreviations are in English, but all documentation is in Russian. That’s why it’s so easy for a flight school graduate who joins the company to learn how to fly it.

According to Vladimir Yepifanov, the plane put into operation ten years ago and the one being flown today are two different Superjets. In the beginning of its operation, the SSJ100 encountered numerous problems with various systems. It was serviced by the engineers of the Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (present Irkut Corporation), who detected the faults in the systems, brought them up to the optimum level, modified units and assemblies. In the course of operation, engine problems were identified, which today are mainly solved by software.

“The aircraft is now running software version 625 – the number says something,” said the pilot. – As a pilot, I haven’t encountered any engine malfunctions. Overall, the SaM146s are pretty reliable. You can open the statistics and look at the number of failed engines on the SSJ100 aircraft – there are none. And in principle, this story is indicative of reliability. There are electronic errors, something else. But I don’t remember anything about engines. There are statistics on flight safety, which is collected by Rosaviatsiya every year, you can ask for them and see what failures there were for each aircraft type.

The SSJ100 has a new approach to system and unit diagnostics. Unlike Airbus or Boeing, there are no fuses in the cockpit, and all errors are displayed on the dashboard. The engineering staff analyses them directly on the aircraft, unlike, for example, on the B737.

“To run diagnostics on a Boeing 737, one has to bring a computer, connect to the aircraft, look at the FMC [flight management system],” explained the pilot, adding that the SSJ100 design team had taken a fundamentally new approach to maintainability and maintenance.This aircraft is similar to Airbus and partly to Boeing 777, it is fly-by-wire, – continues Vladimir Yepifanov. – In fact, all the signals transmitted to the steering surfaces are transmitted through a computer. So we are not controlling directly, but through it. And that’s a big relief in terms of piloting. If you compare SSJ100, let’s say, with Boeing 777, then Superjet is a fly-by-wire aircraft, but with even more comfortable control.

If we pull the control and set it to a certain pitch, i.e. climb angle, and then release it, the aircraft will continue climbing with the selected parameters. If you turn the aeroplane somewhere, simply create a roll, release the handle and it flies in a given direction with a certain roll angle. In fact, the sidestick is a handy way to control the plane manually. It is not a secret, however, that practically 80% of the flight is performed with the autopilot turned on, using course selector switches and electronic computers.

Initially the plane was created as Boeing, but in the end they decided to make a small Airbus. The Superjet has a lot from Airbus – from the location of the switches, the way they look, to the interior of the cockpit and the philosophy of flight. There are moments from Boeing – it is similar FMC, in some ways the manner of flight reminds something of the Boeing 737 and, of course, the workings of the aircraft systems. However, the SSJ100 features a large number of features that facilitate the operation, such as full automation of the engine start systems, information display system, which is not available on the same 737.

As someone who operates both models, I can say that the Superjet is an aircraft that allows young pilots to get on the path to great aviation almost without a hitch. A trainee who gets on this plane flies it perfectly after one year. During the first two months he is shown the basic controls, learns the crew work, knows all the subtleties and starts to work well on it.

The Superjet commander has no reservations about the aircraft’s handling, either.

“I’ve flown it in severe weather conditions with gusty winds of around 30 knots. The Boeing requires a fair degree of skill to make an approach and landing in such conditions. Your shirt can get wet after such a landing. But here, it’s all quiet. The SSJ100 has a large number of so-called “foolproof features”. The Airbus and Sukhoi are quite similar in this. There are several types of limiting functions: no matter how much the pilot pulls the side-stick, he cannot increase the plane’s angle of attack to critical values. There are protections designed to limit the maximum flight speed. It automatically adjusts itself via pitch angle and release of the interceptors, depending on the rate of speed increase,” explained the SSJ100 commander.

Another plus, he noted, is the Superjet’s ability to compensate almost fully for the turning moment in the event of failure of an engine, which is not done, for example, Boeing 737. “That is, the pilot actually learns about the failure of an engine by an information message. In this case, the pilot can concentrate as much as possible not on maintaining flight parameters, but on procedural points related to fault handling and navigation,” he says.

Reliability of the SSJ100 is also ensured by a redundant power system, which consists of two main generators for the left and right engines, an AFU generator, a RAT wind turbine and four batteries. “I don’t know what would have to happen for the aircraft to go without power. A short-term loss of a generator or even two generators is possible. In this case, the aircraft switches to manual control and lands at the nearest airfield,” added Vladimir Yepifanov.