Dubai Airshow

Superjet Applies Power to Overcome U.S. Trade Restrictions

 - November 9, 2021, 2:00 AM
A current-iteration Superjet 100 performs aerial maneuvers during the flying display at the 2021 MAKS air show outside Moscow. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Ten years after the Sukhoi Superjet 100 won type certification, the Kremlin is trying to breathe a new life into the program by spending Rouble 130 billion ($1.83 billion) on the development of a version with reduced foreign content called the Superjet-New. Half of the sum will go to the indigenous PD-8 turbofan, meant to replace the PowerJet SAM.146 now appearing on current production airplanes. 

Schedules call for the development of the SSJ-New to end in 2022. Both the airplane and engine would gain certification a year later and enter commercial service in 2024.

The need in the Superjet-New arises from the fact that Sukhoi cannot sell current production airplanes to states affected by Western economic sanctions such as Iran and Syria.

Historically, the Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) effort, later rebranded Superjet, arose from an idea to create an internationally competitive airliner by mating a Russian airframe with Western systems. The aircraft would thus embody the best of the two worlds, with Sukhoi contributing its vast extensive expertise in airframes and flight control algorithms.

The idea worked to some extent, as 183 aircraft have undergone assembly so far, of which 154 remain in operation with about 2 million flight hours logged, according to the manufacturer. In reality, however, the active fleet is somewhat smaller due to the effect of Covid-19 on airlines. For instance, the largest type operator outside Russia has recently canceled all flights; Interjet of Mexico used to operate 22 SSJ100Bs, of which 16 remain grounded.

But even before the pandemic, the program experienced difficulties, never achieving a desired manufacturing rate of 60 airframes annually. Production spiked twice, at 36 in 2014 and at 33 in 2017. The pandemic reduced the output to 18 in 2019, 11 in 2020, and 10 in 2021.

Although the type failed to attract much interest in the global market, it became popular with domestic carriers. Aeroflot group operates 58 SSJ100s, Azimuth and Yamal 15 each, GazpromAvia 10, and Red Wings seven.  Over the past three years, Aeroflot and its affiliate Rossiya signed for a total of 115 SSJ100s due for delivery by 2027. Red Wings added 59 and Azimuth firm orders for 27 and “soft” commitments for another 15.

While the demand in the domestic market proved relatively high, that from abroad did not, even from what the West considers pariah states. In 2018, Iran Air Tours and Iran Aseman signed for a total of 40 airplanes. But the Persian order stalled in 2019, after the U.S. refused to grant Sukhoi an export clearance. Today, more than half of a Superjet’s content comes from outside Russia. The U.S. content exceeds 10 percent, which is the threshold set by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Furthermore, the airplane carries some critical U.S. technologies in its onboard systems supplied by European vendors.

To bypass the obstacle, Sukhoi proposed the SSJ100R, which would have lowered the U.S. share to a passable level. Later, the manufacturer dropped the plan in favor of an almost completely indigenous version. In December 2020 it applied to the Russian civil aviation authorities with a request to conduct certification of the RRJ-95NEW-100 (aka Superjet-New), describing it as a major design change to the 2010 type certification.

The KRET Corporation continues work on completely indigenous avionics set by repackaging technology developed for the Irkut MC-21 narrowbody, while the Ramenskoye design house plays the role of system integrator. As a part of the effort, the OKBM experimental design bureau in Voronezh developed a control system module responsible for the wing’s deflectable surfaces. Plans call for a completely new control system to be ready in 2022.

Meanwhile, the most expensive and technologically challenging part of the Superjet-New effort lies with the PD-8. To cut development time and costs, developers decided to keep the existing SAM.146 cold section developed by NPO Saturn in Rybinsk. At the same time, a Russian engine core based on that powering the PD-14 for the MC-21 would replace the Snecma DEM.21 engine core in the SAM.146.

Because of its partnership with General Electric in CFM, Snecma cannot independently produce engines with a thrust range occupied by the CFM56 and Leap family. Therefore, the most powerful 1S18 version of the baseline SaM146 delivers 17,416 pounds of thrust. It powers the long-range “LR” variant introduced in 2012.

The SSJ-100LR has a gross weight of 109,016 pounds, as opposed to 101,146 pounds for the initial SSJ100-95B, allowing for a range of 2,470 nm versus 1,645 nm. Both “LR” and “B” versions share the same fuselage with a factory standard cabin for 98 passengers or 108 in a high-density layout. Since NPO Saturn carries no obligations on engine power, it plans to produce PD-8s rated between eight and 10 tons. Potentially, that would give the Superjet a further increase in range, as well as allow for a stretch version seating more passengers. 

The PD-8 first appeared at Moscow’s MAKS’2021 air show in the form of an experimental gas generator. Its datasheet lists dry weight at 1,690 kg (3,726 lb), or 18 kg less than that for the SAM146-1S18, and a 3 percent improvement in specific fuel consumption in cruise. The PD-8 will also power the Beriev Be-200 amphibian.