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First serial Superjet 100 takes shape

By David Kaminski-Morrow

Sukhoi’s first serial production Superjet 100 is pictured here at the airframer’s production line as the company bids to deliver the type to initial customers this year.

Fuselage mating and wing assembly of the aircraft, number 95007, was completed earlier this year and the twin-jet was subsequently transferred for wing mating and systems installation.

While the initial aircraft have been destined for Russia’s Aeroflot, sources close to the programme indicate that Armavia is likely to be the first customer to receive the type, owing to its requirement for a less-demanding configuration.

Superjet 95007
© Sukhoi

Armavia has two Superjets on order and Russian vice-premier Sergei Ivanov stated, during a visit to Yerevan on 16 May, that the airline would receive the jets at the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010.

In July, he adds, the aircraft will undergo tests in the vicinity of Armenia’s mountainous terrain.

Two more prototypes – aircraft 95004 and 95005 – are shortly to join the flight-test programme which already includes 95001 and 95003. Aircraft 95006 is a development airframe and was transported to Novosibirsk for fatigue tests last year.


2025 LEO shipyard is new ESA, Roscosmos goal

By Rob Coppinger

A shipyard in low Earth orbit that assembles Moon or Mars ships consisting of multinational elements for propulsion, habitation and re-entry capsules is a post-International Space Station vision being drawn up by the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

While agency talks continue on extending ISS use from its original end date of 2016 to at least 2020, ESA and its Russian counterpart discussed in mid-March space infrastructure that could support a capability for missions beyond LEO.

Called the spaceships working group, that meeting was attended by ESA director general Jean-Jacque Dordain and Roscosmos and European Commission officials.

The involvement of the EC follows plans for a “high-level meeting on space exploration” to raise spaceflight’s profile with European Union member states. The EC event will take EU spaceflight participation beyond the 27-nation bloc’s past funding of ISS-based scientific research. Only two of ESA’s 18 member states are not EU nations.

In a 16 May interview with flightglobal.com, ESA human spaceflight director Simonetta Di Pippo explained that in June in the Hague the international architecture working group, which consists of more than a dozen of the world’s space agencies, will meet to discuss Moon and Mars exploration and that China would attend. China is expected to have its own space station by 2025.

A key European capability for this post-ISS LEO infrastructure will be ESA’s cargo return advanced re-entry vehicle (ARV). Di Pippo also said that a €14 million ($19 million) 18-month ARV phase A contract will be awarded by July.

That work would inform a 2011 ESA member states ministerial council decision on whether to fully develop the ARV that would come into service in 2017 for the ISS and still be available by 2025.


Swiss pact expands Saab UAV portfolio

By Craig Hoyle

Saab has moved to expand its offering in the unmanned air vehicle sector, signing a strategic partnering agreement with privately owned firm Swiss UAV to jointly develop and market three vertical take-off and landing designs.

To be announced on 20 May, the move will expand Saab’s unmanned air system portfolio to include its Skeldar V200 demonstrator and Swiss UAV’s Neo S-300 and Koax X-240 designs. The systems have maximum take-off weights of 200kg (440lb), 75kg and 45kg, respectively, with the smallest to be offered primarily for law enforcement and other civilian applications.

“This is a first step, and a way for us to address the market,” says Pontus Kallén, managing director for Saab Aerosystems. The company has already received several requests for information from military and civil customers for operational UAS, he adds. “This is a new market, but you need to have something to show the customers to explain the whole concept.”

All three systems are now being offered in combination with a Saab-developed common ground control station. Initial flight trials have already been conducted in Switzerland “to verify autonomous behaviour and the capabilities of the systems”, the Swedish firm says.

Saab Aerosystems is continuing its development work on the Skeldar system, and expects to conduct test flights with a new rotor design “this autumn”, says Mikael Franzén, its programme director, UAV systems. Saab could make production deliveries of the design within six and 12 months of receiving a contract award, he adds.

Saab has been required to perform extensive modifications to the Skeldar system since obtaining rights to modify CybAero’s Apid 55 unmanned helicopter design earlier this decade. But Franzén says the volume of unexpected work is not expected to be repeated with the Swiss-designed Koax and Neo systems.

“We have more knowledge this time,” he said during a 19 May briefing at Saab’s Linköping site in Sweden. “We don’t expect to do any big design changes.”


Swiss pact expands Saab UAV portfolio

By Craig Hoyle

Saab has moved to expand its offering in the unmanned air vehicle sector, signing a strategic partnering agreement with privately owned firm Swiss UAV to jointly develop and market three vertical take-off and landing designs.

To be announced on 20 May, the move will expand Saab’s unmanned air system portfolio to include its Skeldar V200 demonstrator and Swiss UAV’s Neo S-300 and Koax X-240 designs. The systems have maximum take-off weights of 200kg (440lb), 75kg and 45kg, respectively, with the smallest to be offered primarily for law enforcement and other civilian applications.

“This is a first step, and a way for us to address the market,” says Pontus Kallén, managing director for Saab Aerosystems. The company has already received several requests for information from military and civil customers for operational UAS, he adds. “This is a new market, but you need to have something to show the customers to explain the whole concept.”

All three systems are now being offered in combination with a Saab-developed common ground control station. Initial flight trials have already been conducted in Switzerland “to verify autonomous behaviour and the capabilities of the systems”, the Swedish firm says.

Saab Aerosystems is continuing its development work on the Skeldar system, and expects to conduct test flights with a new rotor design “this autumn”, says Mikael Franzén, its programme director, UAV systems. Saab could make production deliveries of the design within six and 12 months of receiving a contract award, he adds.

Saab has been required to perform extensive modifications to the Skeldar system since obtaining rights to modify CybAero’s Apid 55 unmanned helicopter design earlier this decade. But Franzén says the volume of unexpected work is not expected to be repeated with the Swiss-designed Koax and Neo systems.

“We have more knowledge this time,” he said during a 19 May briefing at Saab’s Linköping site in Sweden. “We don’t expect to do any big design changes.”


Thales outlines sensor enhancements for Rafale

By Craig Hoyle

Thales is to offer an enhanced XF version of its Damocles targeting pod, and expects to complete flight qualification trials of the system in 2012.

To be equipped with a new daylight camera with continuous zoom, and to also deliver enhanced high-resolution infrared imagery, the Damocles XF will be capable of providing real-time video to ground troops and forward air controllers via a datalink, says Thales.

Key attributes will include improved image quality from short and medium range, and automatic image sharpening to reduce crew workload, says Pascal Jourdan, Damocles project manager for Thales Optronique. The multifunction system will be capable of providing targeting information for laser- and GPS/INS-guided weapons, and of providing tactical reconnaissance and battle damage assessment services, he adds.

“We needed to make some evolutions to the pod,” says Jourdan, who expects to freeze the design of the new version late this year. The XF system will retain its weight of around 280kg (617lb), inertia and shape of the baseline Damocles pod, he says, removing the need to perform costly recertification activities.

Thales sold 10 Damocles pods to the French navy early this decade, plus 15 in 2007 to equip the French air force’s F3-standard Dassault Rafale fighters. It has also sold a further 75 systems to five export customers, and Jourdan says that “it is a key requirement to be able to retrofit” in-service equipment to the XF configuration.

Meanwhile, Serge Larroque, Thales Optronique’s reconnaissance product line manager, says the company’s Reco NG/Areos pod will undergo final qualification with the Rafale F3 in July. The design will then be delivered to the French air force flight-test centre at Mont de Marsan air base to support concept of operations development work.

The Reco NG imagery intelligence system will be delivered with air force and navy F3-configured Rafales, with the services having ordered a combined 20 pods. The air force will be able to field the system operationally for tactical and strategic reconnaissance from early next year, says Larroque. “We are ready to be more integrated in the network, and to provide imagery on demand,” he adds.

Thales has performed more than 100 qualification flights with the Reco NG using Rafale and Dassault Mirage 2000 airframes. The company is already studying potential future enhancements to the system, including the integration of multi- or hyper-spectral sensors, says Larroque.


Hainan turns to Tianjin govt to invest in its regional carrier

By Leithen Francis

Hainan Airlines (HNA) Group is changing its Tianjin-based regional carrier, Grand China Express, into Tianjin Airlines and has persuaded the authorities in Tianjin to invest in the regional carrier.

A spokesman in Hainan Airlines’ Haikou-headquarters confirms that HNA Group’s Grand China Express is changing its name to Tianjin Airlines.

A spokesman for the group company, meanwhile, says it will retain a majority stake in the business but that the Tianjin Government and the Tianjin Free Trade Zone will be investing in it in return for a minority stake.

Grand China Express has been operating Embraer 190s and Embraer ERJ-145s but it recently slashed its order for ERJ-145s to 25 from 50.