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.


P&W sees GTF architecture as viable for nextgen widebodies

By Mary Kirby

Pratt & Whitney (P&W) has not found any thrust limitations to its geared turbofan engine architecture, and believes its design is capable of powering the next generation of widebody aircraft, including Boeing‘s replacement for the 777 if such an aircraft is pursued.

The manufacturer’s PW1000G has already been selected by Bombardier to power the 110/130-seat CSeries and by Mitsubishi to power the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ).

The CSeries will be powered with the 20,000lb-24,000lb thrust class PW1000G, designated the PW1500G, while the MRJ will be powered with the PW1200G, which offers thrust between 13,000lb and 17,000lb.

P&W’s initial product definition for its geared engine architecture represents a technology level that is targeted to a 2013 entry-into-service for both the CSeries and MRJ.

However, late last year the company launched its second phase of technology development, which is really targeted for aircraft that will enter service in the 2015-2020 time period.

“Our objective, our goal is to improve fuel consumption in the order of 1% to 1.5% per year for each year of time. So if we were to go from 2013 to 2018, we have set a target to have fuel reduction in 8%-10% step change or improvement regime,” P&W vice-president next generation product family Bob Saia told consultancy Innovation Analysis Group (IAG) in an exclusive interview that aired on 6 May.

With regard to power, there are “some basic fundamental elements associated with higher thrust that we’re developing for a 30,000lb thrust class or even a 35,000lb thrust class so as Boeing and Airbus look at their next generation products and as they define requirements which we know will drive higher thrust, we will be able to add incremental benefit for our geared architecture at that higher thrust”.

However, P&W has “tested up to 40,000lb of thrust, and we’ve run the test up to that level to ensure that we cleared any thrust requirement for this next generation of aircraft that will operate up to about 250 passengers”, says Saia.

A 40,000lb thrust engine is capable of powering an aircraft like the Boeing 757, which requires 37,000lb to 38,000lb of thrust, notes Saia. “So we have covered that type of thrust requirement.”

To date, however, P&W has not found any thrust limitations “that would prevent us from using this geared architecture to even a twin-engined, long-range aircraft like a Boeing 777 or an Airbus A350“.

P&W is not targeting the A350. And the reason for that, says Saia, is that “if you wanted to really optimize the gear, you’d really like to start with a brand new paper airplane at the same time so then you have the ability to optimize both the aircraft, the structure, the positioning of the engine, and the engine design all in that design phase”.

If, for example, a replacement aircraft was being designed for today’s Boeing 777 “then certainly we believe a geared architecture would be a very viable offering for that kind of airplane”, says Saia.

P&W does not rule out installing a geared engine on existing aircraft if the aircraft is expected to be in production for another five to ten years. But Saia points out that the business economics don’t fully support re-engining aged aircraft versus a re-fresh of a production variant because re-engining involves adding a new nacelle and a new pylon, in addition to a new engine.

He adds: “We believe that as we evolve and get more testing under these early programmes that we’ve launched that we will have the ability of installing a geared architecture in a next generation widebody aircraft that would happen post-2018, 2020 so it would not be any of the aircraft certainly either being designed or in service today.”


Start-up Lisa plans bigger version of Akoya seaplane

By Kate Sarsfield

French start-up manufacturer Lisa Airplanes is planning to launch a six-seat turbine-powered version of its Akoya ultralight seaplane within the next five years boosted by demand from its growing international customer base for a larger stablemate.

“The Akoya is proving very popular and our customers are calling for a bigger version of the aircraft that will enable them to transport their families, friends or colleagues,” says Vanessa Troillars, manager of privately owned Lisa Airplanes.

“We had originally planned to develop a very light jet, but we quickly realised that building an experimental aircraft first was the quickest and cheapest way to enter the [business aviation] market.

“Once we have proven the concept with the Akoya we will then move on to the larger brother,” she adds. This will be a traditional certificated aircraft.

The Akoya is scheduled to enter service next year and Troillard says Lisa has already chalked up 50 orders for the €300,000 ($410,000), two-seat, all-composite aircraft. These are mainly from high net-worth individuals from across the globe, Troillard says. “We plan to build up to 30 aircraft next year and up to 100 machines by 2013, which should help to raise some of the money to launch the new programme,” she adds.

Akoya-445
© Lisa Airplanes
Akoya ultralight seaplane

Details of the new aircraft are sketchy, but Troillard says the new family member will have similar features to the Akoya, including a retractable landing gear and the ability to operate from land, water and snow.

Akoya-foldup
© Lisa Airplanes
This artists impression shows the aircraft with its wings folded and on the back of a yacht

Meanwhile, Le Bourget du Lac, south-east France-based Lisa has formed an alliance with boat manufacturer Danish Yacht to co-design a submersible deck that will allow the Akoya to take off and land from the Skagen-based company’s luxury shipping vessel.


US Army rethinks jets for Aerial Common Sensor

By Stephen Trimble

The US Army is considering shifting to turboprop aircraft for its next-generation aerial common sensor (ACS) fleet, potentially reversing a key focus of its acquisition strategy after a star-crossed, six-year pursuit of jets, according to industry sources.

The potential change has been disclosed during the last three weeks in private notices and informal discussions to several potential ACS suppliers, according to multiple industry sources.

Specifically, the army in late-April issued a request for information seeking basic knowledge about how turboprop aircraft could support a changed vision for the ACS mission, with potential payload sizes ranging from 2,267kg (5,000lb) to 9,072kg (20,000lb).

On 15 May, a Alenia spokesman confirms it responded to the army’s notice by proposing two aircraft: the ATR-42 and the C-27. The army has already ordered the latter, although its C-27Js are proposed to be transferred to the US Air Force next year. A special mission variant of the ATR-42, meanwhile, is also in service as a maritime patrol aircraft with the Italian coast guard and customs and border patrol agencies.

Kevin Hopkins, Raytheon’s lead executive for the ACS competition, told FlightGlobal.com that military variants of the Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350, the Bombardier Q400 Dash 8 and EADS CASA turboprops also could qualify for the same role.

As a systems integrator, Raytheon believes the potential switch to turboprop aircraft would significantly improve its competitive chances.

“Turboprop-based [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] is known very well to us,” Hopkins said. “We look at ourselves as very viable in that market space. We are very supportive of this direction that the programme manager is going in.”

Such a shift would shake-up the teams of bidders that have been pursuing the contract for most of the last decade. Until recently, the army had decided to pursue a business jet-sized platform, with the Gulfstream G550 and Bombardier Global Express XRS as the leading contenders.

Last year, systems integrators formed their teams, with Northrop Grumman partnering with L-3 Communications and Boeing signing a non-exclusive agreement with Gulfstream. Northrop confirms it remains interested in the ACS competition.

Boeing EPX manager Paul Summers, who briefed reporters on 15 May, said the army has already decided to shift to turboprops, adding that the change would finally separate the ACS requirement from the US Navy’s need to replace the EP-3 ARIES II with a jet-powered EPX.

However, Raytheon’s Hopkins said the army’s plans have not been finalized.

“We’re not really sure what’s going to happen,” Hopkins said. “There’s been an indication of what they’re thinking about, but there has been nothing official.”

The army’s ACS programme office did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

The ACS contract was originally awarded in 2004 to a Lockheed Martin/Embraer team, but the deal was cancelled in January 2006 after the sensor payload outgrew the capacity of the ERJ-145 regional jet.

A few years earlier, Lockheed had publicly marketed the C-27J platform with its then-partner, Alenia, for ACS, suggesting that the Italian-made spin-off of C-130J propulsion and avionics technology would enter the US inventory as a signals intelligence aircraft.