What To Expect From Russia’s UAE Supersonic Aircraft Partnership

Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) is joining forces with Mubadala, a UAE-owned investment company, to develop a supersonic passenger aircraft from the ground up. The aircraft will be developed in two variants – an eight-seat business jet, and a 30-seat commercial plane. Designs are targeted for finalization by the end of the year.

Russia is partnering with the UAE to Photo: Tupolev

Russia wants to make a new SST

Late in February, a partnership was announced between the UAE’s Mubadala and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) to develop a new supersonic transport plane. The timeline for the launch of this concept was tight, with a goal to present the specifications by the end of this year, or perhaps the beginning of 2022.

Building a new supersonic transport aircraft has been on the mind of Russian President Vladimir Putin for some time. As long ago as January 2018, he was reported by RT to be eyeing a passenger version of the Tu-160 strategic bomber. He believed that the economic situation in the country had changed, and that the once-unaffordable price point of supersonic flight was no longer an issue.

Having seen the success of the Tu-160, Putin has been keen to develop a passenger variant. Photo: Tupolev

A year later, and Russia announced plans for UAC to develop Russia’s newest supersonic passenger jet. At the time, it said work would begin in earnest in 2022, with the aim of introducing a flight simulator by early next year.

If it comes to fruition, it will be the first supersonic aircraft built by Russia in more than half a century. The Tu-144 pipped Concorde to the post to become the first flying SST, but was never a commercial success. What can we expect from this new partnership, and what will the aircraft be like?

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A clean-sheet design

Despite the president’s indication that the long-range bomber, the Tu-160, could form the foundation of this aircraft, it appears the plan is to go for a clean-sheet design. UAC had previously explored the benefits of converting the Tu-160 into a passenger variant, but concluded it was not optimal and therefore better to start from scratch.

New Russian SST
The new aircraft will be a clean-sheet design. Photo: Tupolev

In terms of the aircraft itself, the partners are discussing two variants of the new supersonic jet. One would be an eight-seater, while the other would transport 30. Manuturov noted that,

“The main parameters, in my understanding, are 80 percent laid out: this is a speed of Mach 1.5-1.8. Moreover, at a speed of Mach 1.8, you can fly for at least four hours. As for the version, we are talking about an eight-seat VIP plane and a 30-seater passenger plane.”

One of the key issues to overcome is the powerplant, as Russia does not currently have a suitable engine. When UAC was considering the base of the Tu-160, it was hoped that the NK-32 engine used on this military jet would be suitable. However, the engine was found to be the wrong size for a passenger jet, and not compliant with the requirements for commercial operators.

The Tu-160 was not suitable as a base aircraft in the end. Photo: Tupolev

Tying up with the UAE is interesting, but is likely to be more about securing the immense investment required to develop this aircraft. The head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Denis Manuturov, noted that the finer details of the partnership are yet to be worked out. He said, as reported in RIA,

“The question is what kind of equity participation it will be, while we have not yet approached this issue. From the Emirate side it will be Mubadala, from our side it will be clear that it will be the UAC, possibly some of its subsidiaries.”

While Putin believes the economy in Russia has changed enough to make supersonic transport a viable option, Russian travelers are not the only target market. United Aviation Corporation President Yury Slyusar has said that the aircraft is oriented to global markets, in particular, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.