Russian-Chinese wide-body: background and outlook

By Bjorn Fehrm

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August 21, 2016, ©. Leeham Co: The discussions around a joint Russian and Chinese development of a 250-300 seat wide-body has been going on for years.

The project got a more concrete form at President Putin’s visit to China in June. On the 25th of June visit, an inter-governmental agreement to develop and market the aircraft was signed.

Russian-Chinese widebody

Figure 1. Concept for new wide-body airliner. Source: United Aircraft.

At the same time Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) agreed to establish a joint venture for the program.

What market is this aircraft trying to address and will it become a serious player in the wide-body market? Will it give the duopoly Airbus/Boeing something to worry about?

We will address these questions in a series of articles. Before going into the questions around the wide-body program, we will look at the players, UAC and COMAC. Are they up to the job of making a competitive wide-body aircraft?


  • Russia and China enter the wide-body project with widely different knowledge bases.
  • China’s first airliner project, ARJ21, just received local certification after years of delays.
  • Russia has produced over 10,000 airliners and has made two generations of wide-body aircraft in the size category.
  • The latest wide-body aircraft, Ilyushin IL-96, is on the level of Airbus A340-300 from a technological basis.

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Bjorn’s Corner: Flight control, Part 2

By Bjorn Fehrm

By Bjorn Fehrm

18 March 2016, ©. Leeham Co: Last week we covered the early days of flight control when the pilot controlled the aircraft’s movable surfaces (called movables; e.g. stabilator, rudder, ailerons, spoilers…) without the involvement of computers.

We will now continue with more advanced control systems, all based on the electrical signalling of the intentions of the pilot to the movables. As the modern Fly-By-Wire (FBW) control systems modify the aircraft’s basic flying behaviour, we need to start with understanding what that behaviour is. Then we can understand how different FBW systems go about modifying these characteristics.

One could think that an aircraft is made to fly nice and stable, should the pilot take a few seconds and admire the view. Nothing could be further from reality.  All normally stable aircraft which do not employ flight computers or autopilots to enhance the normal stability would go into a rather nasty dive after a while.

Why this is so and what is done to help the pilot in modern FBW systems is the subject of today’s and next week’s Corner.

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PNAA Conference Day 1: Aerospace Clusters

  • Feb. 9, 2016: Today is the first of three days of conference meetings organized by PNAAthe Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA), in Lynnwood (WA). We’re providing live reporting throughout the three days.

Aerospace clusters are evolving throughout the world, said Kevin Michael, vice president of ICF International.

California is on the decline. Two new clusters on the rise are Mexico and the Southeastern US. The Netherlands and Singapore are successful, long-term clusters.

California was the premier aerospace cluster for decades, but its demise began when Lockheed chose Georgia as the location to build the C-130. The founding of Airbus was not good news for SoCal, and neither was the end of the Cold War. The acquisition of McDonnell Douglas by Boeing in 1997 further precipitated the decline of SoCal.

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Minuscule demand for Boeing 747-8F

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One of Boeing’s white tail 747-8Fs. This, and another that has been stored, was painted in the livery of the Seattle Seahawks. Boeing photo.

Jan. 25, 2016, © Leeham Co. Boeing’s decision to cut the production rate on the 747-8 is not a surprise. It’s only a surprise that it took officials so long to do so.

The company continues to cling to the hope of a recovery in the global air cargo market to sustain the program. This is unlikely, however.

The business case for the 747-8F is minuscule.


  • The metrics of the global freight market have simply changed too much.
  • Load factors for freight remain stuck below 45%.
  • Yields continue to be low.
  • Shifting trends from main deck freighters to using lower deck space on the big passenger airlines continues to grow.
  • Low fuel prices, temporary though they may be, diminish the new for new 747-8Fs.
  • Low capital cost 747-400 Passenger models stored in the desert or soon to be exiting the world’s fleet, along with stored 747-400Fs, provide ample opportunity for cheap freighters.

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C-17: the end of an era

Dec. 1,2015: The last C-17 flew off the Boeing production line in Long Beach (CA) last week, ending aircraft

The final C-17 before taking off from the Long Beach (CA) production plant Boeing acquired in the McDonnell Douglas merger of 1997. MDC designed the C-17. Los Angeles Times photo.

production at the former McDonnell Douglas plant that began delivering Douglas DC-8s at the start of the jet age.

It’s the end of an era that lasted six decades.

Prior to producing the DC-8 at Long Beach, Douglas Aircraft Co. built its long line of piston airliners at the Santa Monica (CA) Airport.

The DC-8 was followed by the DC-9, DC-10, the DC-9 Super 80 series, the MD-11, the MD-90 and the final commercial airliner at Long Beach, the MD-95/Boeing 717. The C-17 was the only military aircraft built here.

Here’s a photo array dedicated to this storied history.

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Northrop wins, Boeing/Lockheed lose bomber contract

Oct. 27, 2015: Northrop Grumman, builder of the B-2 bomber in the USAF inventory, was awarded the contract to build the next generation long-range bomber, which is yet to be named. For the moment, we’ll call it the “B-3.” For now it’s official name is the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB).

The Seattle Times has this story.

This is a big blow to Boeing, whose declining defense business was already in trouble from defense cutbacks and previous contract losses. The contract is worth $80bn.

Boeing’s strategy in acquiring McDonnell Douglas Corp back in 1997 was to even the revenue stream between commercial and military, in which Boeing then had a small portion and MDC was predominately military. Boeing was a sub-contractor to Northrop on the B-2, gaining a lot of its composite experience there which ultimately benefited development of the 787.

Unless Boeing finds grounds to challenge the contract award, prevails and wins a second competition, its Defense unit will continue to shrink.

Goldman Sachs, as with many other investment banks, called this a big win for Northrop.

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Pontifications: 50% of something or 100% of nothing: something to consider at Bombardier

By Scott Hamiltn

By Scott Hamilton

Oct. 19, 2015, © Leeham Co. Bombardier is dominating the aerospace news lately, given the reports of talks with Airbus about selling a stake of the CSeries program to the European company; a report that it planned to approach Embraer for a business tie-up; and on Friday, a long analysis by Reuters about BBD’s financial challenges.

Last week I chronicled Bombardier’s history predicament of how it got to where it is today, a very deep hole that the new management—which only got on the scene last February and which has spent much of the year reorganizing the company and hiring a new team—has to dig out of. It’s not an easy task and it won’t come overnight.

Let’s take yet another look at things, given the continued headlines last week.

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Bjorn’s Corner: USAF Tanker program

By Bjorn Fehrm

By Bjorn Fehrm25 September 2015, ©. Leeham Co: When Scott Hamilton asked me to give my view on his article “Pontifications: Duelling refuelling tankers” I accepted. I was not involved in the project and was only following it casually over the years.

I will also not give my view on what would have been the most suitable tanker for the US Air Force. I simply don’t have the relevant military competence for that, having never operated my fighters with aerial tanking nor been in an aerial tanker aircraft.

Where I have relevant competence is in writing military specifications for important aircraft procurements and the excerpts I have seen from the tanker RFQ on key specification points don’t impress. Let me explain.

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A320 FAL “good for US aerospace,” says Airbus


Sept. 16, 2015, © Leeham Co., Mobile (AL): The opening of the Airbus A320 Final Assembly Line here achieves a major set of goals set by the company 10 years ago for its own strategic purposes, but officials are also mindful of the larger impact on US aerospace.

David L. Williams, VP Procurement, Airbus Americas. Photo via Google images.

Top executives point out that the Mobile plant reestablished a second commercial aviation assembly site in the US since the last MD-11s and MD-95s rolled out of the former McDonnell Douglas plant in Long Beach (CA) after its acquisition by The Boeing Co in 1997. Boeing continued production of the MD-11 until the end of 2000 (with deliveries occurring in 1Q2001). The last MD-95, renamed the Boeing 717, was produced in 2006. There were 200 MD-11s and 156 717s produced.

With nearly 10 years elapsing between that last 717 and the first A321ceo coming out of Mobile, Airbus officials say the creation of the FAL is not only good for Airbus and Alabama, it’s good for US aerospace.

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Embraer faces new challenge from MRJ90

Part 2

Paulo Cesar, president and CEO of Embraer’s commercial aviation unit. Photo via Google images.

Sept. 10, 2015, © Leeham Co. Embraer is the dominant producer of commercial aircraft in the 70-125 seat sector, having overtaken Bombardier in the last decade following the development and 2004 introduction of the E-Jet. Bombardier’s CRJ family struggles, hampered by a sales force that neglected it and the Q400 turbo-prop as attention focused on the new CSeries.

Embraer in recent years faced new competition. However, the early entries—AVIC’s ARJ21 and the Sukhoi Superjet SJ100, both in the 70-90 seat sector, proved little to worry about. The ARJ21, now eight years late, proved to be a technological and industrial dud, a project that was more about learning how to design and build an airplane than producing a commercially viable one.

The SSJ100, while winning favorable reviews, was and continues to be plagued by a poor production system and in recent years the political overhang of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its war in Ukraine.

Shortly, though, the E-190 faces a new challenger: the Mitsubishi MRJ90. It’s two years late, now forecasting an entry-into-service of 2017—just one year ahead of the redesigned E-190, the E-190 E2. The MRJ90, a 90-seat clean-sheet design, is Japan’s first commercial airliner since the NAMC YS-11 turbo-prop of the 1960s. The MRJ90’s first flight is scheduled for the second half of next month. Full flight testing moves to Washington State in the first quarter next year.

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