The Frigate Ecojet project traces its roots back to nearly three decades ago. Over the years, this Russian program has shifted direction as the commercial aviation industry continues to evolve. Altogether, those behind the aircraft are looking to combine the capacity of a widebody with the economics of a narrowbody.
Adapting to challenges
The plan for this medium-haul widebody started way back in 1991. Back then, it was titled the Tu-304. Valentin Klimov, who was the chief designer at Tupolev, was the head of the project.
However, in 2004, Klimov set up a new design bureau to take on the program. He also put his son, Alexander, in charge.
Designers were initially focused around a twinjet, and the world has been increasingly moving towards two-engined units. Despite these factors, the project’s leaders formally switched their attention towards a quadjet, dubbed the Freejet.
Developers consulted the United Engine Corporation to power the projected plane with four PD-14 engines. These parts were also being created for Russia’s other ambitious project, the Irkut MC-21.
Ultimately, by going down this route, staff members would not have to wait for the creation and introduction of new engines. The organization was unhappy with twinjet solutions that were on the market at the time. Additionally, the new process would enable progress towards an all-electric plane by transforming the excessive thrust into electricity. Altogether, each engine would supply 250 kilowatts.
A practical approach
During an interview with Russian Aviation Insider in 2017, Alexander Klimov explained the principal reasoning for the doubling of engines. He said that even though twinjets often edge quadjets in recent times, in this case, four engines would suit the goals of the aircraft.
“Quads naturally lose to twins for as long as they do not offer any convincing competitive advantages. One vivid example is the four-engined A340, which is going out of production while the A330 and A330neo are thriving. Overall optimization of the aircraft is more important than the number of engines,” Klimov said, according to Russian Aviation Insider.
“The four-engined version of Frigate Ecojet, which we dubbed Freejet, will have the same engine options as the new generation of narrowbodies: the PD-14, PW1400G, and CFM LEAP-1. Four engines unload the wing and allow for a lighter primary structure. Such engines can be mounted under the wing on long pylons, allowing for a one-piece slat and directing the fan slipstream away from the flaps, thus reducing noise levels.”
Moreover, Klimov added that his team will implement electric technology throughout the jet. Therefore, there will be electro-hydrostatic and electromechanical actuators, along with an electric taxi system. There will also be electric air conditioning and anti-icing. With these features, there won’t be the need for an air-bleed system. Additionally, the engines will be more effective.
Altogether, there are different variants of the type being planned. Klimov’s team estimated that the electric aircraft projection would see the reduction of fuel burn by up to 12%. Furthermore, take-off weight could be cut by 6% to 10%, and direct operating costs could be reduced by between 5% and 10%.
Subsequently, this wing tank-only variant would be able to seat between 250 and 300 passengers. Journeys would also reach as far as 4,500 km (2,796 mi). However, the concept that has fuel loaded into the center wing tank as well would be able to fly up to 8,000 km (4,970 mi).
TsAGI100 shared that the plane would have at a cruising speed of 850 km/h. Also, one of its main innovations is its use of an oval fuselage, which is in a cross-section and offers a setup of three aisles in the cabin. Designers hope that this structure ensures increased comfort for travelers.
Three key points that Klimov emphasizes when it comes to the type is that it must be digitally smart, environmentally friendly, and quiet. Additionally, he states that it should be nearly free for customers to take a trip on the aircraft. He believes that this is the only way that the mission of providing global mobility can be achieved.
An alternative solution
The Frigate Ecojet was heavily being talked about as a Middle of the Market (MoM) solution in previous years. However, the buzz of the plane died down in the last decade. The reason for this was due to the engine problems that the team faced. However, now that the developers are going got a four-engined approach, the project went back on track.
With the current change of climate in the aviation industry, it’ll be interesting to see how the progress of the project pans out this decade. Nonetheless, with the program lasting through several previous transitions, it’ll continue to develop over the next few years. With Russia looking to increase focus on domestic travel, this plane could work well with cross-country operations.
Regardless, quadjets are increasingly becoming a rare sight at production facilities and airports across the globe. Airbus’ only four-engine program is the A380, which will be shutting down by the end of next year.
Moreover, Boeing’s sole quadjet in production is the 747-8. Airlines are also letting go of their quadjets at a rapid rate, no matter who the manufacturer is. So, the Freejet would join its Russian counterpart, the Ilyushin Il-96, as one of the only commercial aircraft in production with four engines.
What are your thoughts about the Frigate Ecojet program? How do you think it would compete against its counterparts? Let us know what you think of the concept in the comment section.