The Frigate Freejet – Russia’s Unusual New 300 Seat Passenger Plane

The Frigate Freejet project has gone through several incarnations and traces its roots back to nearly thirty years ago. The Russian program has transitioned over the decades as the commercial aviation market continues to adapt to industry changes. Primarily, in its current concept, the jet would carry 300 passengers. The economy of the aircraft is determined by the goal of using the advantages of a widebody jet at the cost of a narrowbody.

Frigate Freejet
Is the Frigate Freejet the solution when it comes to the future of quadjet widebody aircraft for passenger use? Photo: Frigate Ecojet

The jet’s evolution

The Frigate Freejet is set to be deployed in the segment that is usually defined as MOM (Middle of the Market). The takeoff weight of the plane is 140 tons, and it has a range of 3,500 km.

The initial concept began in 1991 as Tu-304, With the Tupolev design bureau’s Valentin Klimov taking charge. The plane was planned to carry up to 500 passengers. However, since 2004, Valentin’s son, Alexandr, took the reigns of the project with a new design bureau working as a daughter company of Tupolev.

The project was previously being dubbed as the Frigate Ecojet, and the focus was initially surrounding a twinjet, which coincides with the global trend. However, the project’s leaders formally switched concentration to the Freejet quadjet.

Frigate Ecojet
The program was focusing primarily on the Ecojet twinjet solution before announcing the Freejet. Photo: Frigate Ecojet

In 2017, program chief Alexander Klimov explained the principal reasoning for the engine doubling. He explained that despite industry patterns, four jets match the goals of the project. He used some of Airbus’ aircraft as an example. For instance, he highlighted that while the A340 was going out of production, the A330 and A330neo continued to thrive. The designers ultimately believe that optimization is more essential than engine number.

Klimov was inspired by the attributes of the Airbus A330 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Opening up opportunities

The team claims that the quadjet version of the Ecojet, titled Freejet, will have the same engine options as the new generation of narrowbody jets. These choices include the PD-14, PW1400G, and CFM LEAP-1.

The program leaders also state that four engines unload the wing and allow for a lighter primary structure. These engines can be mounted under the wing on long pylons, which allows for a one-piece slat and directs the fan slipstream away from the flaps, which reduces noise.

Subsequently, program staff got in touch with the United Engine Corporation to power the projected plane with a quad of PD-14s. This equipment was also being produced for the Irkut MC-21, Russia’s other exciting project. Notably, with this four-engine switch, workers would not have to wait for the introduction of suitable new engines as the institution was unsatisfied with twinjet solutions that were available during this period.

MC-21 medium-range twinjet airliner
The MC-21 jet is another ambitious aircraft project in Russia. Photo: Getty Images

The advantages

According to a 2017 press release seen by Simple Flying, Klimov stated that compared to the Frigate Ecojet with two engines, the new concept lost a little in aerodynamics and the weight of the structure but gained several benefits. Along with the implementation of modern engines available on the market, the excess thrust resulting from four engines will allow the implementation of the concept of a so-called more electric aircraft.

Frigate Freejet Aircraft
There are high hopes for the aircraft with those behind the project speaking of several benefits. Photo: Frigate Ecojet

There are also opportunities to apply advanced design solutions aimed at reducing harmful emissions and noise levels. Klimov further discussed these factors in an interview with Russian Aviation Insider. He elaborated on what kind of advancements we can expect with the switch.

“Our Freejet will be 15 dB quieter than the future ICAO Chapter 14 requirements. Thanks to a higher thrust-to-weight ratio, the required field length will not exceed 2,500 m, so the aircraft could be operated from city airports. Besides, we will implement the electric aircraft technology, meaning electro-hydrostatic and electromechanical actuators, an electric taxi system, electric air conditioning and anti-icing. This will eliminate the need for an air-bleed system, and will make the engines more efficient,” Klimov said, as reported by Russian Aviation Insider.

“According to our estimates, the electric aircraft concept can reduce fuel burn by 8% to 12%, cut the take-off weight by 6% to 10%, and lower the direct operating costs by between 5% and 10%. As a result, we will get an aircraft with a seating capacity of between 250 and 300 passengers, and a range of 4,500 km.”

Frigate Freejet Plane
There could be considerable savings with the introduction of the Frigate Freejet. Photo: Frigate Ecojet

A well-rounded approach

Klimov added that these attributes are for the variant with the wing tanks only. However, fuel is loaded into the center wing tank as well. There would also be a long-range version capable of flying to up to 8,000 km. Furthermore, this is all that can be achieved in the framework of one baseline design. Therefore, the concept could achieve significant cost reductions when it comes to operating and ownership.

The designers believe that the plane of the future must be smart, quiet, and sustainable. Additionally, they feel that it should be next to free for passengers to board. Klimov states that this is the only way commercial aviation can provide global mobility. If achieved, the project would honor its name of Freejet.

Altogether, the project seems to be going against the grain of engine numbers within commercial aviation. Quadjet powerhouses such as the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380 are retiring rapidly amid the arrival of more efficient options.

Boeing 747 and Airbus A380
Widebody aircraft with four engines are falling out of fashion throughout the commercial aviation industry. Photo: Getty Images

Nonetheless, those working on the Freejet are looking to use this engine configuration to help it reach its ambitious goals. With the phasing out of four-engined passenger services across the globe, the Freejet could offer one last hurrah for the quadjet.

What are your thoughts about the Frigate Freejet? Are you excited about the project? Let us know what you think of the aircraft in the comment section.