MC-21-300: a star is born
On May 28, 2017, the air field of Irkutsk Aviation Plant (IAP) witnessed the debut flight of MC-21-300, the first narrow-body medium-range passenger airliner developed in Post-Soviet Russia. Spectators at Zhukovsky Aviation Salon were very excited to see this aircraft that is able to compete with the best American and European models. The spectators burst into cheering when it completed its first public demonstration flight at MAKS 2019. The world’s first demonstration of this aircraft was outstanding: visitors of Aviation Salon were given an opportunity to see three MC-21-300 test prototypes at the same time, and one of them took part in the MAKS flight program, while two other vehicles were demonstrated in the static display area.
MC-21 program was launched in the noughties, when specialists of the A.S. Yakovlev Engineering Center, the main design division of Irkut Corporation, started to develop a new series of medium-range narrow-body airliners. The developers of MC-21 set themselves an ambitious task to construct an aircraft that would be able to take its rightful place in the world market. It could be done only by creating a really innovative product with characteristics that would allow it to outdo its “class fellows”. Advanced aerodynamics, powerful and effective engine unit meeting the international ecological standards, wide application of composites in the load carrying structure, newest control systems, improved cockpit ergonomics and increased comfort for passengers were selected as the key areas to seek for innovations.
The solemn ceremony of MC-21 unveiling took place on June 8, 2016, in Irkutsk. After a new aircraft was “born”, the next steps of the project were implemented. The leading industry institutes gave their permission for the first flight of MC-21, which was aimed to check the serviceability of all systems of the aircraft, as well as its steadiness and controllability. A 30-minute flight that started on May 28, 2017, from the IAP air field was performed under normal conditions, and all aircraft systems worked smoothly. The tests showed that all solutions approved by design specialists were correct. Further airliner tests were continued at the Flight Test and Development Complex of the A.S. Yakovlev Design Bureau in Zhukovsky. Eventually, apart from the first vehicle, they started to use another three flying test prototypes.
Unfortunately, the program of new aircraft development was associated with some difficulties. No one would expect that problems could arise due to yesterday’s partners. As a result of imposition of sanctions, the suppliers of composite materials refused to cooperate with Russia. But the ill-wisher could not sabotage the project. These obstacles have served as a strong driving force for development of composite expertise in Russia, though the domestic manufacturers of these materials slightly delayed the program implementation. In just two years, Russia could replace the imported materials by manufacturing their domestic equivalents.
It may be said without exaggeration that this project has driven the entire national aviation industry. The implementation of MC-21 program in the context of import substitution required significant modernization of production and introduction of innovative technologies not only at Irkutsk Aviation Plant, but also at other Russian enterprises that participated in the project. High-technology companies specializing in the production of innovative polymer composite materials have been created, cooperation for the manufacture of the new wing load carrying structure from composites have been established, and extensive work towards the import substitution of numerous important aircraft details (primarily, engine) has been performed. Digital technologies covering the development, production and operation of aviation equipment have been widely introduced. Work on MC-21 project paved the way for the modern scientific and production activities required for the development of commercial aviation in Russia.
MC-21 at MAKS
The entire aviation world is closely monitoring the implementation of MC-21 program, and MAKS Aviation Salon remains the main platform where the aviation community can discover the key milestones of the project. The presentation of PD-14 development project took place at MAKS 2009. MC-21 cockpit procedure trainer was presented for the first time at MAKS 2013, and in 2015, the visitors were given an opportunity to see its upgraded version. The world’s first demonstration of MC-21-300 took place at MAKS 2019 and literally became the key event. Test airliner with 002 side number performed demonstration flights, and another two aerial vehicles were shown in the static display area. One of the aircraft had the cabin trim, so, the high level of airliner comfort could be appreciated. Four test aircraft will be demonstrated at MAKS 2021. It is expected that another premiere will take place at the Salon, when MC-21-310 equipped with Russian PD-14 engine will rise into sky over Zhukovsky.
In May 2021, a composite wing made of domestically-produced materials were delivered to Irkutsk Aviation Plant. MC-21 equipped with a new composite wing is expected to rise into sky before the end of the year. Well, we will look forward to seeing MC-21 in the livery of the Russian airline company and equipped with a domestically-produced “black” wing at MAKS 2023!