13 November 2015, ©. Leeham Co: Mitsubishi flew their MRJ for the first time this week. I could have added “finally” because it is two years late compared to the original time plan. But who cares when the aircraft is finally ready to fly and everything goes well? (Well, the customers do, actually.)
It was a big moment for Japan, a nation with a sizable aeronautical industry. Japan has been a major partner to Boeing in their larger airplane programs over the 757/767 to the 777 and 787. For the Dreamliner, they even designed and made the hottest item, the high-tech Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) wing.
Despite having such a capable aeronautical industry, Japan has not built an own civil aircraft since it closed the production line for the YS-11 twin engined turboprop in 1973. Since then it has acted as sub-supplier and has worked on certain military programs like the Mitsubishi F-2 fighter, based on the Lockheed Martin F16.The Mitsubishi corporation flew the MRJ90 for the first time Wednesday from the Nagoya Airport in Japan (screenshot from video from Mitsubishi). Most of the flight testing will be done in Moses Lake (WA), USA, where four test airplanes will be based.
Moses Lake is blessed with open skies, little air traffic, a long runway and good weather. It has a long history of flight testing, serving as a test-base for Japan Air Lines 747 pilot training for decades. Boeing also uses Moses Lake for flight testing.
We analyzed the MRJ90 and its main competitor the Embraer E175 in a subscriber article the 25th of January. We will revisit the main characteristics and then comment on what could be seen from the first flight.
The MRJ is a regional jet in the 70 to 100 seat segment. It has been designed with a slender fuselage, Figure 1. By careful design on its circular fuselage, it has managed to have the same internal dimension as the larger Embraer E-Jet which uses a double bubble fuselage cross-section.
Bombardier and Embraer have managed to get the typical roller bag going in wheels-first in the CSeries and E-Jet E2. MRJ and the original E-Jet stow them on the side.
As can be seen from Figure 2, the cabins between the MRJ90 and E175-E2 are virtually identical despite the E-jet being considerably shorter. This comes from Mitsubishi having decided to put the passenger luggage in the tail cone and use the small under-floor cavity for avionics and systems. They claim they thereby avoid the somewhat cramped (for the loaders) luggage compartment of the E-Jet, thus speeding luggage loading/unloading.
The data for the aircraft are very similar (the MRJ90 data is for the LR version, there are also less capable STD and ER versions), Figure 3. The E-jet has a wider wing, giving it a very high aspect ratio. Both wings are of classical aluminium construction. Wetted areas are similar despite quite different planforms, Figure 4.
In our analysis of January, we found them to be close in fuel efficiency. This is to be expected as they are similar in weights and wetted areas. The E-jet E2 has an advantage on longer legs as it has a wing with a higher effective aspect ratio.
The first flight went well, according to Mitsubishi; it said the aircraft’s behaviour exceeded its expectations. Such expression are standard today irrespective what happened on the flight, so one shall not put too much weight on such comments.
Looking at the video from the first flight, a few things are noteworthy, however. The aircraft rotates with a low deflection of the stabilator. It then continues the climb with the horizontal tail plane at a low trim position and once again moderate stabilator deflections. The landing shows the same behaviour.
It is of course too early to give any verdict on how the aircraft will function based on external observations from a first flight, but the low input needed to change the pitch attitude caught my attention. The aircraft uses Fly-By-Wire and it might allow low static stability margins (which leads to low stabilator deflections and HTP trim angles and eventually low trim drag).
Anyway, an un-dramatic first flight with an aircraft that seemed to fly well.