Russia's SJ-100 and MC-21 Aircraft Have Become Flagships of Import Substitution
Published: Mar 20, 2024 05:36 PM
Photo: Sputnik

Photo: Sputnik

Russia is testing 100-percent domestically-made МС-21-310 and upgraded SJ-100 aircraft, which will soon replace the Airbus and Boeing planes presently operated by the nation's airlines.

Western sanctions have only accelerated Russia's import substitution effort and innovation research.

US and EU restrictions preventing plane-makers like Boeing and Airbus from providing spare parts, maintenance and technical support to Russia prompted the country to double down on producing its own short-haul and medium-haul passenger aircraft.

The SJ-100 and the MS-21-310 are considered the pioneers of import substitution in the domestic aviation industry, according to Deputy General Director and Head of Strength Complex of the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI) Mikhail Zichenkov.

"We are conducting [structural] strength testing of the MC-21 together with Yakovlev PJSC, the developers of the aircraft," Zichenkov told Nauchnaya Rossiya (lit. Scientific Russia). "In 2022, the MC-21 equipped with the Russian-made PD-14 engine and a domestic composite wing was certified by the Federal Air Transport Agency."

The MC-21-310 is a new generation medium-haul airliner with capacity from 163 to 211 passengers.

Russian aircraft designers have also overhauled the SJ-100, a new generation short-haul jet aircraft with up to 103 seats, to replace foreign-made spare parts and materials with domestic ones.

"We are conducting frequency tests of SJ-100 prototypes to confirm the safety of flight tests and provide comprehensive information on the properties of modernized components made from domestic materials," Zichenkov continued. "This year, one of the updated and import-substituted SJ-100 aircraft successfully completed its flight in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. It was a prototype with Franco-Russian SaM146 engines, and now we are testing the strength of another SJ-100 aircraft part with the domestic PD-8 engine. The airliner is already preparing for flight tests."

He explained that the main components of the SJ-100 airframe — including fuselage, wings, horizontal and vertical tails, pylons for mounting engines, landing gear and aircraft controls — are Russian-made.

"We believe that parts made of domestic materials are in no way inferior to imported analogues and in some cases — for example, if we talk about the wing and empennage of the aircraft — they are superior," emphasized the expert.

The MC-21 has become the first Russian long-haul aircraft with wings made of composite materials.

Composites are made of two or more materials with different physical and chemical properties. They are typically less expensive, lighter, and more durable when compared with common materials. The share of composites in the MC-21 airframe amounts to 30 percent.

The domestic composite materials for the plane's wing structure were developed by scientists from Moscow State University, nuclear energy agency Rosatom and aviation industry experts, according to Russian defense conglomerate Rostec. The MC-21-300 aircraft with the now-famous "black wing" made of domestic composites conducted its maiden flight on December 25, 2021.

"As for the advantages of the composite, perhaps the most important of them is the lightness of composite components, as well as the absence of corrosion," explained Zichenkov. "If you take a sample of metal and composite of the same thickness, they could be almost similar in terms of strength, but the composite will be about 40-50 percent lighter."

"If the airframe is lighter, more passengers and fuel can be accommodated, thereby increasing flight range and other important characteristics," the expert continued. "The reduction of aircraft weight has been one of the main goals of aviation throughout its history."

Zichenkov emphasized that hybrid details which combine metal, composites and other components are even more promising.

"Metal, for example, conducts electricity better [than the composite] and is more protected from lightning strikes," he said. "Therefore designers install a thin metal lightning protection mesh on the outer surface of the wing, which should divert discharges in the event of a lightning strike, that is, the composite wing must be additionally protected from the effects of lightning."

Serial deliveries of MC-21 aircraft may begin in 2026, Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov told reporters following Russian President Vladimir Putin's February address to the Federal Assembly. He added that the tests will be completed as quickly as possible, but the exact end date is not yet known.

While Russia's short-haul SJ-100s have been in operation since 2011, the MC-21-310 is expected to fill the niche of the nation's medium-haul airliner soon. Meanwhile, plans to produce all-Russian domestic long-haul aircraft are already underway.