Inside The MC-21: Russia’s Boeing 737 MAX Challenger

Since 2007, Russia has been working on a brand new narrowbody concept designed to compete against the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families. In the past 14 years, multiple examples of the jet have been built, with four aircraft undergoing certification with Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency and Europe’s EASA.

Irkut, MC-21, Guided Tour
Simple Flying was invited to tour the MC-21 at last month’s Dubai Airshow. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The aircraft is now edging closer towards the finish line, with deliveries to Russian customers expected to commence in the coming years. As part of the aircraft’s marketing, it was flown to last year’s Dubai Airshow, where Simple Flying got the opportunity to step onboard the plane and look around.

Outside the MC-21

The MC-21 looks like pretty much any other aircraft on the flight line at the Dubai Airshow with a quick glance. However, it starts to stand out as slightly more unique when you get closer. The aircraft’s nose looks somewhat more pointy than would be expected on an Airbus or a Boeing, for example.

Irkut, MC-21, Guided Tour
The aircraft’s nose is slightly pointier than usual. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Additionally, the aircraft’s engines look slightly different. The reason for this is that the plane in Dubai was equipped with Russian-made PD-14 engines. The jet is also being offered with Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engines.

Read more: Russia’s New Engine Technology: The MC-21’s Home Grown Engine

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This particular aircraft has Russian-made engines. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The aircraft has four emergency exits on either side, with two full-sized doors at either end of the fuselage. Two slightly smaller pairs of doors are located before and after the aircraft’s wing. After strolling around the plane, it was time to walk up the red carpet to see inside.

Irkut, MC-21, Guided Tour
The MC-21 was one of the few aircraft in Dubai with a red carpet. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Inside the cabin

The interior of the test MC-21’s cabin is split into three distinct parts. At the front of the cabin, as is the case on almost all aircraft, is the cockpit. The MC-21 cockpit is designed for two pilots and looks relatively familiar to those used to the cockpits typically found on narrowbodies.

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The MC-21 has a two-pilot cockpit. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

In front of each pilot is an array of glass cockpit displays, showing the data that pilots require during the flight. Above this is the autopilot panel, while separating the two pilots are further controls such as the engine power levers and flight management computers.

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Pilots have access to glass cockpit displays. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Bar a few controls placed in the cockpit for the sole purpose of aircraft certification, everything was labeled in English, the official language of aviation. The aircraft’s crew revealed that anything bright orange on the plane was for testing purposes.

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Irkut has looked to Airbus rather than Boeing for the flight controls in designing the cockpit. Rather than a yoke in between the pilots’ legs, the aircraft is controlled with a sidestick placed on the outside of each pilot.

Irkut, MC-21, Guided Tour
Irkut has taken the Airbus approach with sidestick controls. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The testing area

The second distinct part of the cabin is the so-called testing area. Here, a range of equipment from flight data recorders to sensors and aircraft monitoring stations are located. On each side of the jet at this point is a handrail, while an aisle separates equipment on either side.

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A testing area sits ahead of a mock cabin area. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The testing equipment predominately occupies the right-hand side of the front portion of the aircraft. Meanwhile, the left side of the plane has a series of yellow metal plates with poles sticking out of them (more on these later).

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Racks contained a wealth of testing equipment. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The real highlight of this section isn’t immediately visible. Our guide, Sergei, lifted a large flap on the floor. This exposed a hole going through the floor to the forward cargo door.

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In the event of an unrecoverable emergency, those onboard can escape the plane down this cute. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

It was revealed that if anything goes drastically wrong during flight testing, all onboard can abandon the plane with a parachute through the hole in the floor. When you look at the outside of the aircraft, you can see where the hatch would open, within the cargo door.

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The cute comes out where the cargo door is located but won’t be on the commercially produced jets. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Behind the flight test instruments are a couple of engineers stations, one on each side of the aircraft. Here, flight test engineers can monitor aircraft parameters across three screens at the right-hand station and two screens on the left-hand station. Each engineer has a relatively comfy seat that looks as though it has the parachute integrated.

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Engineers can monitor flight parameters from two special stations. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

So, back to the yellow plates, we mentioned earlier. Behind the two engineering stations are a bunch more of these yellow plates. According to our guides, these yellow plates are used to position weights to test the aircraft in different load configurations. This is similar to the large water tanks spread through the Boeing 777X’s cabin.

Read more: Guided Tour: Inside The Boeing 777-9 Test Aircraft

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Weights can be added to these yellow plates to simulate aircraft loading. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The cabin concept

Towards the rear of the cabin, Ikrut is looking to demonstrate what the cabin will look like once it enters commercial service, initially within Russia. Two seating types are present in the cabin. At the front are two rows of “business class” seating. This sees a four-abreast layout of 2-2, with a wide armrest containing tray tables separating each chair.

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The mock cabin featured two rows of business seats. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Behind this, Irkut has installed some standard narrowbody seating in a 3-3 configuration. Noticeable are the large windows letting plenty of natural light into the cabin. Meanwhile, there are sizeable overhead bins. Each seat comes with all of the comforts you’d expect on such a jet, such as air vents, overhead lights, and a call bell.

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The aisle is wider than may be expected on such a jet. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Another exciting feature is the cabin width. There is plenty of room to get past a standard-sized catering trolley while a meal service occurs. Gone are the days of looming over a fellow passenger to let a trolley pass on the way to the restroom.

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The jet’s restroom was pretty standard. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The rear of the plane features a standard-sized galley, in addition to a couple of reasonably standard restrooms. Interestingly, each of the exits has a permanently attached rope hiding in a pocket above the door. This is likely to assist evacuations if a slide fails during testing.

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In an emergency, test personnel can exit the aircraft down a rope. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

What do you make of the inside of the MC-21 test aircraft? Would you fly on it? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!