Russian aircraft manufacturers have prepared a special gift for the 100th anniversary of the Paris Air Show. For the first time in quite a long period Russia’s new commercial airliner will make its international debut at Le Bourget’s static and flying display. It will be the Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet, designed and produced by Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) which is a partnership between Russia’s Sukhoi jet maker and Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica company.
The Superjet 100 is currently the most important and successful civil aircraft program of the Russian aerospace industry. It relies on extensive international cooperation. In addition to its Russian supply chain, more than 30 leading foreign companies are involved, including Thales, Messier-Dowty and Liebherr-Aerospace. The Sukhoi Superjet 100 program also became the catalyst for the creation of a large-scale joint venture: the PowerJet company, which brings together the efforts of French engine manufacturer Snecma and NPO Saturn of Russia in developing, manufacturing, marketing and providing after-sales support for the SaM146 jet engine that will power the new regional jet.
One of the major achievements is that, for the first time, a Russian aerospace company has succeeded in entering a strategic partnership with an industry-leading European company. The SSJ100 program benefits from the active participation of Alenia Aeronautica, a business unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica.
In April, the Italian manufacturer completed the acquisition of a 25% stake, plus one share, in the capital of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company. The stock acquired by Aleina is valued at $183 million (138 million euros). In order to make it possible for Alenia Aeronautica to subscribe the SCAC stake, the Russian government issued two legislative acts overruling an earlier prohibition on foreign ownership of more than 25% in a Russian aircraft manufacturer.
Mikhail Pogosyan, Director General of SCAC parent company Sukhoi, said that the closure of this deal results in "the biggest alliance between Russia and Italy ever to be developed in the aircraft sector". He added that as a strategic partner, Alenia Aeronautica "will solidify the Sukhoi Superjet 100’s market potential worldwide, and will provide our product with distinct logistics support". His counterpart, Finmeccanica Chairman and CEO Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, added: "This agreement is the first fundamental step for an ever broader collaboration between Finmeccanica, Sukhoi and the Russian aeronautics industry, and it paves the way for more partnerships in other strategic industrial sectors."
Even before the deal was closed, in 2007, the partners — Alenia Aeronautica and Sukhoi – set up the SuperJet International joint venture in Venice, Italy. It is responsible for the Sukhoi Superjet 100’s marketing, sales and deliveries in Europe, North and South America, Africa, Japan and Oceania, as well as for its worldwide logistics support. Alenia Aeronautica holds a 51% share in SuperJet International, while the remaining 49% is controlled by Sukhoi.
With the creation of this solid industry team, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 program has now entered the series assembly phase, with a total of 13 production airframes currently in various stages of completion.
The assembly line for all Sukhoi Superjet 100 versions is located at Sukhoi’s KnAAPO facility in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, while another Sukhoi subsidiary — the Novosibirsk NAPO plant — focuses on component production. In order to qualify for the Sukhoi Superjet 100 program, both NAPO and KnAAPO had to significantly upgrade their production facilities. This was necessary because, for the first time in the history of Russia, paperless design tools were used in developing the aircraft, with a virtual mock-up serving as the reference model for the tooling and production set-up.
The first two assembled jetliners, nos. 95001 and 95003, have been involved in the flight test program since 2008. The initial test flights were performed from Komsomolsk-on-Amur, home to the Sukhoi Superjet 100 assembly line. In April both aircraft made their first flight across Russia to land at the country’s main flight test center in Zhukovsky, near Moscow. Two more prototypes are in final assembly: no. 95004 is ready for engine installation, and no. 95005 is at the systems installation station.
The first production Sukhoi Superjet 100 has been moved to the final assembly building for wing-fuselage mating. Fuselage assembly has been completed on the second production aircraft, and the third is now undergoing this operation.
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 has completed the second phase of the certification program, which involved high-angle-of-attack trials. Some enhancements had been introduced to the control system after the completion of the first phase. The aircraft is now being tested in what is referred to as "normal mode", which represents the most advanced level of control system automation. Both stages of flight tests were performed by SCAC chief test pilot Alexander Yablontsev and Vladimir Biryukov, a test pilot with the Russian Aviation Register of the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC AR) – who is an expert on critical condition testing. The pilots are already offering particular praise for the Sukhoi Superjet 100’s aerodynamics, which allow the aircraft to recover easily from erroneous inputs. Advance warning of an impending stall is provided, giving a clear signal that further loss in airspeed would lead to the onset of a stall.
In late April the Sukhoi Superjet 100 completed natural icing tests in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia. "The aircraft and its systems, including the anti-icing, demonstrated excellent performance in normal and critical modes," said SCAC First Vice President for Program Coordination Igor Vinogradov. "None of the systems showed any icing-caused failures. All the five flights were credited toward the Sukhoi Superjet 100’s certification, and they confirmed the results obtained during ground-based rig tests years ago."
The Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company is aiming for parallel certification of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 in Russia and Europe, which will expedite the aircraft's entry into commercial service. Acting on behalf of the SCAC, the IAC AR has applied for EASA validation of the aircraft’s type certificate. The familiarization phase of cooperation with the EASA on the Sukhoi Superjet 100 program is now completed.
Also in April, EASA pilots performed familiarization flights on the two Sukhoi Superjet 100s that are currently flying. These flights were a part of the work of the EASA certification panel, which is responsible for certification flight tests. They also preceded the launch of the EASA certification flight campaign, and were aimed at introducing the EASA pilots to the aircraft and enabling them to conduct preliminary evaluation of its handling qualities. "The first impression from the EASA pilots is that the aircraft is easy to fly and comfortable to pilot," said Fabrice Butin, EASA/CEV flight test engineer, who flew on board the Superjet 100 no. 95001 prototype. "In terms of handling qualities, it is very close to what we are used to."
The Superjet 100 is expected to get Russian certification by the end of 2009 and the first deliveries should start shortly afterwards. To date, the Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company has landed 98 firm orders for the aircraft from both Russian and foreign airlines. The first carriers to get the new regional jet will reportedly be Armenia’s Armavia and Russia’s Aeroflot.
The SCAC is now hard at work putting the aircraft into full production at its Novosibirsk- and Komsomolsk-on-Amur-based facilities, which together should be able to support an output of 70 airframes a year by 2012. The company also continues with a major retooling program in anticipation of future high demand from airlines, which it estimates at up to 1,040 aircraft through 2027.
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