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Russian Aircraft Designers Tested Yesterday's Engine

Russian Aircraft Designers Tested Yesterday's Engine

16.12.2009 — Analysis


Flight testing of the PS-90A2 engine built by the Perm design bureau of Aviadvigatel (Aircraft Engine) OJSC has been completed in November. It helped designers test several technologies that they are going to use for the fifth generation engine. However, experts believe that it is too early or rather too late for hurrah's: it was Pratt and Whitney (USA) that managed to enhance PS-90A's capacity. They have already tested a brand new engine and won the tender for supplying it to the Irkut Corporation. The RusBusinessNews correspondent has found out why the Perm people are tailing along.

PS-90A2 is Russia's only fourth generation engine (although certain experts reckon it among the "three plus" class). The Perm people started developing it in the tough 1990s when the military industry sector plants found themselves in the whirlpool of industry restructuring. Because of the absence of orders and the lack of working capital they didn't manage to complete their work on time. As a result, the Russian specialists only managed to demonstrate the achievements of 1990s in the field of engine building at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

After the flight testing Alexander Inozemtsev, chief designer at Aviadvigatel OJSC, and Igor Shevchuk, chief designer at "TUPOLEV" PSC, signed a statement saying that the engine meets the set specifications. No serious problems occured during the flight. As to those which were not serious, Alexander Semyonov, deputy chief designer at Aviadvigatel OJSC, preferred not to comment on them, having explained that this is their company's own business.

Yuri Tyurin, department head at FSUE (Federal state unitary enterprise) State Scientific Research Institute for Civil Aviation, told RusBusinessNews that a mechanism as complicated as an aircraft engine is bound to have some minute drawbacks irrespective of who built it. What is really important is that the Perm design team managed to come closer to building a fifth generation engine.

However, Valeri Poklad, chief designer at "TUPOLEV" PSC , says that it's too early to shout "hurrah": the certificate has not been issued yet, and it is only operation that will prove the regulatory compliance of the engine's functionality. The certification of the engine and the TU-204 SM airplane on which it will be installed has been postponed until 2010, according to Alexander Lanshin, sector manager at FSUE "Central Institute of Aviation Motors" (CIAM). Currently, as part of certification testing, CIAM is preparing to study the engine's operation in icing conditions, so as to remove the restriction on flights in regions with temperatures of -30 degrees Centigrade. The work will be completed in March-April 2010. After that an annex to the certificate will be issued.

Alexander Lanshin believes that it would take 100-200 thousand operating hours to be able to say whether the engine is a success or not. In any case it's too early to speak of a breakthrough in engine building. The engine has not undergone any radical changes: to achieve this, the gas-dynamic duct has to be changed. However, the designers didn't change it simply because it's not what they were after. They focused on enhancing the engine's reliability and resource which were and still are severely criticised by airlines. So it happened that the troubleshooting took unreasonably long; meanwhile, the world's leading design bureaus have gone way ahead. Experts believe that in order to catch up with them, the Perm aircraft designers need to improve the propulsion and economic performance of the engine, and reduce the emission of hazardous substances, which would require a substantial alteration of the engine. As a result, the project may not even pay off.

Alexander Semyonov explained to RusBusinessNews that refining the PS-90A2 didn't make any sense, since the designers were developing a new PD-14 engine which is going to be 15% more efficient than its predecessor and will be installed on domestic aircraft: the civilian MS-21 and the Ilyushin-214-based medium range military transport SVTS.

Whilst the Perm team promises to demonstrate a new gas generator, their competitors at Pratt and Whitney have already competed full-scale testing of the PurePower PW1000G engine equipped with a fan-drive gear system which significantly reduced fuel consumption and noise as well as NOx emissions by 50%.

The evaluation unit has successfully passed the integrity test, which has proven the results of laboratory studies; this must have caused the Irkut Corporation to declare Pratt and Whitney the winner in the tender for supplying the engine for the MS-21 project.

Experts say that the Americans' victory will not affect the Perm designers' work: "United Aircraft Corporation" JSC, of which Irkut is a member, and MC "United Engine Building Corporation" Ltd. of which Aviadvigatel is a subordinate, have signed an agreement stipulating that, despite the results of the tender, the Russian designers will continue their work. In the course of time aircraft with different engines will be present on the market. This is the industry's routine practice: for instance, three different companies supply engines for Boeing 777.

However, experts are very cautious speaking about the competition between the Perm people and the world's leading engine builders. The root cause for failures of the PS-90A baseline engine is the low quality of its components. Therefore, the first thing the designers did when they started the upgrade was to order the turbine from Pratt and Whitney and purchase bearings, fine filters and several other components abroad. So far it is completely unclear how these would fit into the Russian design.

The Russian aircraft industry's key problem, according to the experts, is the low technical culture. In addition to outdated equipment, the Russian production facilities entirely fail to comply with technical regulations.

The fact that discipline and process compliance are hardly Russia's forte has been proven by the story of the new submarine-based Bulava (Mace) missile which has repeatedly refused to fly. Several causes for the fiasco of the FSUE "Moscow Combustion Engineering Institute" were named. In addition to systemic errors, mistakes were also made during production stage. Leonid Shalimov, director general of FSUE "NPO avtomatiki" (Automation Scientific and Production Association), has reported that the analysis of the product from a Urals pipe maker which participated in the project had detected foreign inclusions in the structure of the material. Evidently the metal makers fail to recognize that the sterility of the production facility is an indispensable condition for the aerospace equipment functionality.

Experts are sure: altering the design of an engine is not enough; learning how to make quality products is also important . With their existing technical culture, Russian engine builders will find it extremely hard to compete against Western companies.

Vladimir Terletski




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