Russian Prototype MC-21 Slides Off Runway And Gets Stuck In The Snow

A test flight for an Irkut MC-21 prototype aircraft ended in a slippery mess when the plane slid off the runway and got stuck in the snow. The MC-21 was landing today at Moscow-Zhukovsky airport when the incident occurred. Photos shared on social media show treacherous conditions at the airport. The test crew are believed to be unharmed.

An MC-21 prototype slid off the runway during a test exercise today. Photo: Getty Images

MC-21 prototype comes to a slippery end

The Russian-built narrowbody challenger, the MC-21, has been undertaking various test flights since May 2017. First propelled by the same powerplants as the Airbus A220, the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G, last month, we saw its first successful test flight using homegrown PD-14 engines.

With five prototypes now in service, Irkut has been ramping up its test flying program. Even the harsh Russian winter is not enough to put a halt to the operations, although perhaps it should have been. Today, the first prototype, registered 73051, was undertaking a flight to nowhere from Zhukovsky International Airport when it met a slippery end.

Local reports state that the aircraft had undertaken an experimental flight with test pilots onboard and had landed safely back at the airport. However, during maneuvers on the runway, the icy conditions got the better of the craft, and it slid off the runway. It came to rest in a bank of snow.

Reports suggest that nobody was hurt and that the damage to the airframe is minimal. Indeed, looking at images, there doesn’t appear to be anything obvious wrong with the MC-21. While it’s certainly going to take some effort to recover it from the snow, the engines and landing gear seem to have survived the incident unharmed.

73051 was the first prototype MC-21 built and has been flying since 2017. It is powered by the standard P&W engines, not the new Rosdvigatel powerplants. Despite today’s hiccup, Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov’s hope for certification before the end of 2021 remains the end goal.

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The challenges of snow

Getting aircraft up and moving in bleak winter conditions is a challenge many airports and airlines have to tackle. While most are well prepared to deal with difficult weather, things don’t always go to plan.

Just last week, Indian airline IndiGo got into a pickle when one of its brand new A321neos got its engine caught on a mound of snow and became wedged. The incident resulted in only a brief delay for passengers, as a second A321neo arrived shortly after to pick them up. Nevertheless, conditions remained tricky in and around the airport.

For most airports that are prone to snow, the operations are well versed in keeping things running despite the weather. However, when snow arrives unexpectedly in what is normally a very warm country (like Spain) it can shut down entire airports for days at a time.