The Russifying Continues: The MC-21 Flies With Russian Composite Wings For The First Time

There was a major breakthrough for the Irkurt MC-21 program on Saturday. The plane flew for the first time with its wings equipped with Russian polymer composite materials, with the feat taking place in Irkutsk, in southeastern Siberia.

MC-21 Composite
The Moscow State University, Rosatom, and other aviation specialists worked together to bring a durable and fuel-efficient offering with the composites. Photo: Rostec

A series of firsts

The MC-21-300 is a short and medium-haul plane that has been dubbed as Russia’s answer to the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX. The aircraft is set to join airline fleets from next year.

There has been significant progress with the project over the last year. Just last December, the plane conducted its first flight with Russian engines before passing a key engine test this February. The twinjet then began mass production in May before being on display at the MAKS-2021 Air Show in July.

At the end of last month, Irkut completed the production of the first MC-21 with Russian composite wings. The composite was produced via a patented vacuum infusion technology. Subsequently, the aircraft took off from the Irkutsk Aviation Plant airfield yesterday.

Technological breakthroughs

Composite materials are made from two or more different materials that, when joined together, are stronger than the elements by themselves. Notably, composites makeup around 40% of the MC-21’s airframe, providing a robust yet lightweight build.

“The first flight of an airliner with wings made of Russian composites corroborates the fact that we have done everything right, the MC-21 program is developing consistently and unswervingly in spite of sanctions and unfair competition. This is a result of accumulating knowledge and expertise in the aviation industry, as well as unprecedented government support. The total amount of funds allocated by the Ministry of Industry and Trade for the creation of a composite wing adds up to 4.4 billion rubles,” shared Denis Manturov, Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, as per a company statement.

“This Russian technology has a number of advantages over the traditional prepreg autoclave technology, which makes it possible to increase productivity, reduce labor and production costs, provide conditions for forming large parts and high quality of mass-produced products. To date, a composite wing has already been made for two aircraft, and the manufacture of a third set is in progress. We plan to obtain changes to the type certificate regarding the composite wing made of Russian materials in the second half of 2022.”

MC-21 PD-14 engines
Russia’s industry is keen on homegrown developments. Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

A national effort

Yuri Slyusar, General Director of United Aircraft Corporation added that there are six MС-21-300s fitted with Russian composite wings in production. Additionally, the MC-21 will be available in either US-based Pratt & Whitney’s PW1400G or Russian business Aviadvigatel’s PD-14s. The latter offering emphasizes the country’s industry’s focus on Russifying domestic fleets this decade.

Overall, by the time 2030 arrives, Rostec, the conglomerate behind the nation’s aircraft, wants the MC-21 to handle domestic routes that are currently operated by Airbus and Boeing jets. Nonetheless, the local focus doesn’t mean that the program is keen to shut off from international collaboration. For instance, French aerospace outfit Safran’s presence can be seen across the aircraft. The company proposed up to 70 different parts for the cabin.

When it comes to the MC-21’s features, one of the most standout innovations s the wide design. For a narrowbody, there is significant space to move around. The cabin is 11 cm (4.3 in) wider than the Airbus A320 and 27 cm (11 in) wider than the Boeing 737.

Passengers and crew members will both benefit from the wide cabin. Photo: Sumit Singh | Simple Flying

Altogether, Rossiya, which is set to take delivery of the first MC-21 in 2022, will be looking forward to appreciating these innovations inside and outside the aircraft. We can expect additional progress with the type in the new year.

What are your thoughts about the progress of the Irkut MC-21? Are you looking forward to the introduction of the aircraft next year? Let us know what you think of the plane and its prospects in the comment section.