The C919’s Bizarre Whale Like Fuselage Test Simulator

It can take years for an aircraft to enter service, owing to the extensive testing required along the way. One design that this rings true for is China’s COMAC C919, a twinjet that was launched as a development program back in 2008. COMAC has constructed a test platform known as an ‘iron bird,’ which includes a strange whale-shaped fuselage simulator.

COMAC Fuselage Test Simulator Getty
Tests on the ‘iron bird’ experimental platform began in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

A brief introduction to the C919

Let’s begin by briefly establishing the nature of the C919 program. Developed by COMAC, whose name stands for Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, it was launched in 2008 as a potential challenger for the dominant Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 narrowbody families. With 13 years having passed, it now finds itself facing the A320neo and 737 MAX instead.

The development of the C919 has been a slow process. Production began in 2011, but it didn’t make its first flight until May 2017. At the time of writing, none had been delivered to commercial customers, although COMAC was hoping for a first delivery by the end of 2021. The aircraft in question (bound for China Eastern) entered final assembly in September.

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Airbus believes that the C919 will be able to compete with its A320neo family. Photo: Getty Images

A special rig built for fuselage tests

When the first C919 prototype aircraft took flight in 2017, a special piece of equipment replicating its layout had already been in use for almost four years. Known as the ‘iron bird,’ this fuselage test simulator has wings and a vertical stabilizer attached to it to bring it to life as much as possible. It is located on the company’s premises in Shanghai, China.

According to FlightGlobal, the purpose of the rig, which stands out thanks to its curious, almost whale-like shape, is to both validate and integrate the aircraft’s systems. Furthermore, it also has functionality when it comes to onboard troubleshooting. Tests began in December 2013, following the delivery of horizontal stabilizers for the simulator.

COMAC C919 Fuselage Test Simulator Getty
COMAC can use the bulbous simulator for various systems tests. Photo: Getty Images

Soon to enter service

As alluded to earlier, COMAC was hoping the first delivery of the C919 would take place by the end of 2021 at the time of writing, but was yet to achieve this. While China Eastern Airlines will receive the first example as it stands, the launch customer looks set to be its low-cost subsidiary OTT Airlines. As such, we may not see this aircraft at China Eastern itself.

In terms of commercial prospects, Simple Flying reported in August 2021, at which point COMAC had built just six prototypes, that 28 customers have placed 815 orders for the C919. However, the majority of these are based in China. As such, COMAC may struggle to penetrate the Airbus-Boeing duopoly if it is unable to find customers beyond its borders.

What do you make of this piece of equipment? Are you looking forward to seeing the COMAC C919 enter service? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!