Bjorn’s Corner: Exciting 2016

By Bjorn Fehrm

By Bjorn Fehrm

29 January 2016, ©. Leeham Co: In the corner of two weeks ago we did a retrospective of 2015. Time for looking ahead. The year of 2016 will be quite interesting. We had entry into service of the first re-engine single aisle aircraft this week, the Airbus A320neo, the same week as we expect first flight from its main competitor, Boeing’s 737 MAX 8. We will also see first flight of the Embraer E190E2 and A350-1000 before the year is over.

The Mitsubishi MRJ shall go test flying in earnest and Bombardier’s CSeries 100 and 300 shall enter service. On top of that, the COMAC 919 will probably start ground roll tests this year and we should see roll out of Irkut’s MC-21. I would say 2016 is a busy year for civil aviation.


In the 2015 corner we talked a lot about engine technology as a key driver to further efficiency of air transportation. Now will dissect the airframe technology that all these new projects will bring us.

The A320neo is a straight re-engine program. It really doesn’t bring any news on airframe technology. The 737 MAX is more of a mixed bag, even though design base is conservative technology. Apart from new engines we have new split wingtips, a cleaned up tailcone and Fly By Wire (FBW) spoilers.

The Embraer E190-E2 is classical in its structure but introduces advanced FBW. This takes the aircraft from having electrical transmission of control signals to the movables (stabilator, rudder, ailerons), so called open loop FBW, to having closed loop FBW. This brings adaptive tailoring of the movables deflection.

The difference is that you no longer command a certain deflection of the movables; you instead ask the FBW to give you a certain g force or pitch rate. It is then for the FBW computer to sort out how much movable deflection is needed to achieve what the pilot has asked for. In all, it enables flight mode protection and allows smaller horizontal and vertical tails to be used, i.e., it reduces airframe drag. Of the single aisles, the A320, CSeries and Superjet100 already have such FBW.

The Chinese COMAC 919 should technology-wise be similar to the E190 E2, i.e., classical aluminium construction and FBW. I asked Embraer last week why they did not introduce Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) to greater extent in the E190 E2. “Could it be that the material is too expensive?” It’s rather the production tooling investments that makes it less viable for smaller aircraft projects, came the answer.

A classical CFRP production for a wing (really a wingbox) has several expensive tape layers, water jet trimming machines and a very expensive autoclave to cure the final components (wing skins, spars) in. Of the new projects, the most exiting one technology wise is not a western project. Irkut/United Aircraft’s MC-21 project introduces a CFRP wing which is not cured in an autoclave. It is made with an Out-Of-Autoclave (OOA) process.


Figure 1. Out of auto-clave MS-21 wing prototype being strength tested at TsAGI. Source: United Aircraft.

The MC-21 wingbox will be made with wingskins and spars made with dry Carbon Fiber which are injected with resin in a mold and then cured in an oven. The use of resin infusion of dry fibers lowers costs (no need of expensive tape layers and sticky prepreg tape) and increases flexibility (carbon fiber and resin can be stored long time, prepreg tape for the tape layer cannot). As a normal oven is used for curing, the manufacturing tooling investment is lowered.

Bombardier’s Belfast plant builds the CSeries wingbox with resin infusion of dry fibers but it then cure in a classical autoclave. The MC-21 wingbox is realized by a composites manufacturing company in the United Aircraft group, AeroComposit. It’s a sister company to the Irkut unit which developed MC-21. AeroComposites has worked on the Out-Of-Autoclave wingbox process since 2009 with leading western technology suppliers like MSTorres (Spain), Stevik (France), Fisher Advanced Composites and Diamond Aircraft (Austria). AeroComposites also involve the CFRP material companies Hexcel and Cytec (USA) in the program.

The first OOA CFRP wingbox was delivered to pre-Final Assembly Line (preFAL) a couple of weeks ago for final equipping with systems and movables.

MS-21 wingbox

Figure 2. MS-21 OOA CFRP wingbox delivered to preFAL for equipping with systems and movables. Source: United Aircraft.

It’s a bit ironic that the most advanced technology of all the listed aircraft projects should come from the Russian single aisle project. Out-Of-Autoclave resin infusion is the way ahead for low cost CFRP production. The MRJ vertical tail’s box is made with a similar process.

The major challenge is to achieve a manufacturing process that has a low level of porosity. Diamond Aircraft of Austria shall be the leader of forcing air bubbles out of the material. Lets see when one of the big two moves in on this technology.


55 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: Exciting 2016

  1. Out of autoclave is certainly a big current buzz phrase, but I have never really understood why it’s regarded as a game changer. An autoclave is fairly expensive but it’s basically just a pressure vessel and time wise it takes no labour and usually runs overnight. I have always thought that the real killer is all the time and machinery for placing the multitude of layers. I suppose one benefit is not having to produce and handle pre preg.
    Interesting that you have added yet another reason why the Boeing 737 shouldn’t be competitive with too big control surfaces, but it still is

    • Read your piece a bit too fast! I seem to of missed the bit in the middle that explains most of this.

    • Bombardier was going to use an OOA prepreg system for the learjet 85 fuselage, was but no longer.
      Plus its a smaller scale than an complete Cs100 sized fuselage but who knows what further production process improvements , say for a wing box can happen once you do move over to carbon fibre

    • Your problem starts when you have production quantities where one autoclave is not enough. Depends on your number of aircraft per month and your curing + handling times.

    • The auto clave is a time and investment bottleneck. You have to have enough of them to match the production rate.

      If Russia was more agile I would worry, so far they haven’t shown they can really keep a project going well.

  2. Is the MC-21 still going to be renamed Yak 242 when in production ?

    Its distant ancestor , but on a smaller scale was the 25 -32 seat Yak 40, which too was revolutionary, being the first successful turbofan commuter liner (VFW 614 was a bit later and larger) when it first flew in 1964.

  3. Bjorn is there any possibility of Boeing or Airbus using AOA for the 787/A350 line? I could see the following factors making this impossible/unprofitable:

    (1) A/B have already made capital outlays for autoclaves, thus the most significant costs are sunk.

    (2) Manufacturing process redesign would airplane redesign, which would be too expensive to make sense.

    • if you mean OOA aka Out Of Autoclave:

      Airbus seems to do a lot in OOA already.
      Starting with the A380 ( potentially even the A340NG, not sure ) the rear pressure bulkhead is IMU done in resin infusion ooA. in the same technique the same Airbus subsidiary manufactures the same item for the 787. Lots of smaller parts too.

    • I think one of the advantages of e.g. the A350 panel technology is you can produce the thermo hardening cfrp structure in a large number of smaller autoclaves everywhere and transport them easier. Decreasing an OOA selling point.

      • That’s another thing I don’t really understand. The barrel method seems very attractive at first glance. You don’t need to transport it, it’s done, throw it in the dreamliifter.There doesn’t seem to be any reason why you can’t fill the middle with smaller parts
        I don’t know how bad things are in the aerospace industry, but I have seen sickening amount of pre preg wasted though tessellation and running out of outlife.

        • you mean for transport or for curing “IA”.

          PITA: The naked barrel is like a wet noodle.

          more PITA: they have enough problms getting the termperature/pressure profile for curing just the barrels. Now add pieces that have different requirements resp. need different conditions to achieve the same requirements.
          The mandrel has no “unused” volume in the middle
          to place anything.

      • You could stack fuselage panels in a reasonable large autoclave and do them in one shot for maybe 2-4 Aircrafts. The new Tape laying Machines work faster and place fibers in 3D shaped forms.

      • The A350 composite centre fuselage panels are made at a new plant in Kinston North Carolina by Boeings spinoff Spirit!

        There is one small composite manufacturer which uses the trade name of NONA- No autoclave No oven.

    • If you have established and certified a classical produced CFRP part, why change the production principle. This would only be motivated by a very large increase of production quantities like for a A320 type aircraft but I don’t see it for the present twin aisle aircraft projects, the limitation of one autoclave per production line would not be there.

      • “the limitation of one autoclave per production line would not be there”

        Imagine that autoclave needs maintenance / an upgrade or simply breaks down, or the owner goes broke / bumps the prices.

        It’s a single point of failure that isn’t hard to imagine.

        • Dont have a single autoclave, Boeing has 3 for its wing box at Mukilteo and another 6 for smaller parts at St Louis. Scheduled maintenance would be a part of production process.

    • As time goes by they all make changes and adjustments to the mfg.

      Boeing has changed their windshield frame (which is a pretty big deal) and other changes and you will note the 787-9 came in under weight, so they trimmed excess off in a lot of areas.

      I think if it is cost effective going forward they will do it. Probably not the fuselage and wings but other parts yes.

  4. Funny but Bombardier and Boeing will be holding their breath watching an Airbus. C series won’t deliver a statistically reliable sample of aircraft for a few years, but Airbus will, and if the A320 GTF performs ell they should get a boost, while Boeing/CFM will be hoping it fails to live up to expectations, as the Leap-1 looks like falling behind over the next 10 years as P+W implement Leap type material technology.

    So it should be an interesting year with regards to in service performance as well.

    • The GTF vs Leap market is going to be very interesting to watch over the next 5+ years. Am I right in saying only the A320 has a boot in both camps? This is one of the best hedges of technological risk there is in the whole industry in my view.

      • GTF has the easier impr9ovment path but I suspect GE has a technology path to keep up (short term) . I think Boeing had that as part of the contract.

        One of the real aspects to this not discussed a lot is cost. How much h does it cost GE to go heavy high tech vs P&W a lower more leisurely tech rate? GE makes less money than P&W?

        P&W certainly has had its public failures. 3 now.

        And then the other elephant in the room, reliability and longevity? One cost can offset another so its the overall that will tell the story.

        Indeed is going to be an interesting 5 years, we will get some hints but long term when both product are mature will you see the comparisons.

        • Unusual for a new engine to start perfectly, GEn-X coatings and ice ingestion, T-900 pipe manufacturing flaws, (QF32) T-1000 gearbox issues etc. And all these with traditional architecture. P+W will have some post EIS headaches for sure, more than CFM, I would have thought, but CFM goes into service later and might not have them sorted out before P+W does. Reliability achieved in a dead heat anybody?

  5. Also , in the coming weeks , the second CS300 ( FTV8 ) will take off at the same time as the others . We also hear about , probably , in 2016, the Global 7000/8000 .

    Bjorn ,
    Precisely about this, do you have any technical information on the wings of 7000/8000 ? Are there , on the horizon , dramatic technological breakthroughs to be expected? What this mean Bombardier is working to develop 5th or 6th generation of wings with the Global? Otherwise, can we think it will be easy to apply the wings of the CSeries for a possible CRJNEO ? Thank you all for your answers!

    • Hi, I have no info on these wings. I don’t follow Biz jets in detail. These wings are quite different to the CSeries wings however. Biz jets shall fly fast, over M 0.9 and therefore the wings are more swept and has a more high speed profile. The engines also have a different design point, they are made with a higher specific thrust i.e. they need a faster over-speed of the air going out the back to keep the lapse of thrust lower than e.g. the CSeries engines. Consequently they have a lower BPR.

      • the Rolls Royce BR 700 series was used for both Gulfstream G650/550 and Bombardier Global Express as well as Boeing 717.
        The fan diameter went from 48in to 58 in for the higher thrust passenger versions and improving the BPR as mentioned by Bjorn.

        Interesting proposed application for RR BR700s was the Tupolev 334 which was based on a shortened Tu 204 with a modified wing and the engines moved from under the wing to the rear fuselage! ( makes the current changes for neo and max seem like cosmetic upgrades)
        Only 2 examples flew with russian engines before being shelved.

  6. The year 2016 would probably be a deeper reflection year and / or industrial structure change with regional aviation in the United States . I have said here several times : I think his future will go through a gradual integration with in the three major airlines. See below this synthesis of recent expert comments:

  7. Except for people over 112, the greatest moment witnessed in aviation history, the first flight of the MAX. Looks like the 707 with the higher front stance.

    • Just saw the lift off video. looks good. ( weather less so .. ? )

      you wouldn’t think that the 737-100 is the same plane 🙂

        • And yes really bad looking weather.

          They need to move over to Mosses Lake!

      • The weather was indeed lousy. Typical for the Seattle area this time of year. Apparently Boeing moved the takeoff up by an hour because the weather was deteriorating. Min cloud ceiling for test flights is 1500 ft, and they thought they might lose a day if they waited around for the original departure time. It’s now back on the ground at KBFI.

    • well as noted before the 737 and A320 have a lot more in common with a 707 than the old 737 tube engine aircraft!

      And a funny note, Alaska Airlines had a 720, when we got on board they made a big deal out of it being a 720 and not a 707. I had a bit of a discussion with a stewardess, you can call it what you want, its just a short 707!

      She (in those days exclusive_) was not happy with me, not following the company line is typical of Alaskans!

    • Qantas had a new 737-800 painted in their retro livery from their first 707- was an amazing resemblance

  8. And while off topic, I think this exemplifies that Boeings lowest point in history would have been the empty rollout of the 787.

    I think they are doing much better now and a brighter future with a real leader for the company not someone with an agenda.

    Yes this is an incremental but also per Bjorn, they did some good work to compete and that is part of life, you don’t always get what is great, you do the best you can with what you have.

    P40 and Wildcat in WWII were far from the best (though arguably the P40 just needed a turbo charged engine) but they were good enough for a lot of purposes and made into 1944 despite all the other good aircraft being made.

    • Got to be the Fairy swordfish for that prize.Absolutely ancient looking when the war began, saw it all the way through and covered itself in glory
      For constant development me 109 spitfire

      • Swordfish vastly overrated. Was flimsy and very prone to accidents ( compared to heavier Avenger), other problems were its open cockpit tired the crew quickly, it was slow, couldn’t carry a full load in light winds.
        Very soon was relegated to second line service such as coastal patrols and operation from escort carriers.
        Its forgotten now, but the successor Albacore flying from Victorious and guided by radar equipped Albacores came very close to torpedoing the Tirpitz at sea. More effort should have been put into fixing its manoeuvrability problems but the Barracuda was seen as even better

        • I don’t think that anyone ever over rated the Swordfish.

          What was astonishing was that the pilots made it work. that was the remarkable part was brave men doing above and beyond with what they had. Every time they took one of those into battle they should have been given a VC.

          An even smaller subset of “never have so many owed so much to so few”

          A Devastor would have been far better.

          On the other hand, you never had to worry about exceeding the never release the torpedoes above the spec speed!

          • To play this game a plane has to see the whole war out. What I meant was that the swordfish looked quite decrepit at the beginning of the war. It was very versatile and quite tough actually it even saw out the albacore. The spitfire is probably a better example as it was constantly developed, still remained reasonably competitive and was still in production at the end . Just like the 737they had to squeeze in a much bigger engine.

          • I would say the Spitfire was more than reasonably competitive, pretty well stuck right up there with the P51 though without the range.

            The most important part was the human part, brave me who flew their aircraft well were hard to beat no matter what they flew in.

          • The speed allowed it to sink half the Italian fleet in a port which was supposed to be torpedo proof due to depth. Pluses and minuses to everything, but the biggest minus was it set Japan an example to follow, leading to Pearl Harbour.

  9. Was the A320 really the first re-engine narrow body? Has everyone forgotten the 737-200 and its transformation into the 737-300,-400 and -500?

    • I think it was ” a simple re-engine.”

      The 300/400/500 had an all new wing.

      I am loosing track, 800 have a new wings as well?

    • The earliest narrow body re-engine job was the first 707s and Dc-8s which changed from turbo jet to turbo fan engines.

      For the 707-420 it was conways in 1960 while JT3Ds where on 707-120B ( conversion) in 1961 and 707-320B ( new build) in 1962. There were considerable wing mods that went with the new builds.

      For the DC-8 S.40 with Conways was delivered in 1960 and S.50 with JT3D in 1961. Again wing mods went with the new engines
      The S.70s were conversions only using CFM56 from 1982

      • Reengining of narrowbody jets actually started with first jet narrowbody, the DH Comet, which switched to completely different design engines in 1953 as it eveolved from Comet 1 to Comet 2.

    • Thank you Keeje! I tried to find video of it and they all refused to load, wanted a different viewer and or had so much included it would not load.

  10. @transworld, no the -3/4/500s retained the old stubby wing. The NGs got a new wing.

    • The so called Classic (the original tube engines should be Classis darn it) would have had some wing mods.

      The NG got a lot more I think.

      Not sure where a simple engine update changes to a significant one.

      A320NEO for sure as minimalist as it gets, the Classic more so, NG a lot and the MAX, some tweaks as well s0o….

  11. I think the biggest gamer changer of 2016 will be the A321 NEO.

    It’s an evolutairy aircraft, but the combined higher seat count, cabin flexibility, GTF efficiency /quietness, 4000 nm range, many deliveries, serious cargo capability and lack of competition this decade make it a game changer.

    I think it will force Boeing into a “moonshot” they hoped to avoid.

  12. I don’t know about game changer, but it certainly is one of the top if not the top category dominators now and for the foreseeable future and a cash cow for Airbus.

    I would take the moonshot with a grain of sale. McNeneraney was saying the could not manage an advanced program.

    The 787 technology did not let Boeing down, they were ready with it, for it and its proven to be incredibly problem free.

    It was the program management that took it down. Engineers were the scapegoat when in fact all the failures were a result of management decision on how the program was structured.

    C Series is my other top choice, The C series opens a whole new arenas up and see how it does both delivering on its promises and gains elsewhere.

    I think it would be a great fit for AK Airlines but have to see.

    A350 is inter3esing but I don’t find it as compelling to watch as C series,.

    • “The 787 technology did not let Boeing down, they were ready with it, for it and its proven to be incredibly problem free.”

      Really? so the grounding, regular engine roll backs and a bunch of other problems were a different Boeing frame?

      It brought them a plastic A330+ ~20 years after the original first flew. How many billions did Boeing sink on a marginally better airplane?

    • Engineers (either in that capacity or in a managerial capacity) must surely have signed off on the battery design and OK’d the production process. Not saying there wasn’t (or, on the other hand, was) pressure to do so, but I really doubt that the program failures were 100% down to non-engineers/’management’.

  13. Speaking of A350 I only see one item on AVHerald about them. Seems pretty good to me for a new type, even given the very limited numbers which have been delivered.

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