The wide-body CR929 should be considered Sino-Russian: the letter C stands for China, and the R stands for Russia. The joint venture for the development and assembly of winged aircraft is called CRAIC, China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation Limited. The number 929 also carries a certain sacred meaning for the Chinese public - the number 9 denotes eternity, and the index 929 is a logical continuation of the COMAC name for the narrow-body C919. But for Russian users there is continuity, albeit not so obvious. Look, the MS-21 that has not yet reached the operation in the project has modifications 200/300/400, and the CR929 variants will be with additional indices 500/600/700. Graceful, isn't it? It is fair to say that the aircraft is being developed primarily for the market of the countries of Southeast Asia. CRAIC is also headquartered in China - it was opened in Shanghai on May 22, 2017.
According to the plan, work on the new machine is geographically divided: in Russia, the center section and wing consoles with mechanization are being developed, and in the PRC (more precisely, in the COMAC company) - the fuselage and tail. At the same time, the Russian side very much hopes that work on integrating the machine into a single whole will still go on in our country. Also in Russia, engineers will be fully responsible for all the avionics and logic of the control systems. The developments in vacuum infusion techniques we got with the MC-21 black wing will also find their place in the CR929. How much is the story of the wide-body aircraft worth? As noted by the head of the UAC Yuri Slyusar, in general, it is planned to spend no more than $ 20 billion, of course, dividing the costs between the countries 50/50. However, if you remember the constantly growing spending on the SSJ-100 and MS-21 projects, you can hardly believe in it. At the peak of Slyusar in September 2018, Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov spoke when he announced the total cost of only 40 billion rubles.
The partner countries, according to the minister, will invest 20 billion each in just three years. In general, the integrators of the aircraft project cannot be envied: the aircraft has two chief designers, and the design bureaus are located almost at different ends of the continent. In Moscow alone, there are plans to bring together more than 800 specialists of various profiles, both from the Russian and Chinese sides, under one roof of the Sukhoi Civil Aircraft and the UAC. The developers plan in Russia to involve in the project Aerocomposite JSC to assemble the wing, Irkut and specialists in wide fuselages from Ilyushin. In this sense, it is easier for the Chinese, they do not run the risk of running into foreign sanctions and therefore attract foreign "assistants". So, on October 26, 2018, the joint venture Kangde Marco Polo Aerostructures Jiangsu in Zhangjiagang was founded with the Italian Leonardo.
They will be engaged in the development and production of composite fuselage sections. And already on December 26 of the same year, the Chinese partners had an experimental composite part of the fuselage 15 meters long and 6 meters in diameter. By the way, according to preliminary plans, the share of composites in the aircraft structure may exceed a record 50% (for SSJ100 - 10%, MC-21 - about 30%). CR929 has not actually left the preliminary design stage, and in China they are already fantasizing about its military version. In particular, there are thoughts about building a strategic tanker and AWACS aircraft.
Step by step
So far, the most interesting controversial point in the CR929's history is the site selection for the huge composite wing. The problem is that it is not included in the An-124 cockpit, no one will give money for the development of a specialized aircraft for transportation (and it will never be recouped), but somehow it is necessary to deliver it to Shanghai on the assembly stocks. The possibility of delivering a part from Ulyanovsk in disassembled form is being considered, but this entails difficulties with the design and makes it heavier. Trying to deliver a wing by water is ridiculous - just look at the globe. One thing remains: to build a new production near China, presumably near the port of Vladivostok. And these are separate and considerable investments. Where will they be found and what will Russia do afterwards with two factories specializing in composite production?
At the moment, the development process for the CR929, according to officials, is going according to plan. In the near future checkpoint Gate 3 will be passed. That is, the preliminary study is coming to an end and determined with the main suppliers of onboard systems. At the previous point of Gate 2, which the developers successfully passed at the very end of 2017, they defended the technical concept or philosophy of the future machine. And here the issue with engines remains unresolved. They are considering ready-made options from GE (GEnx-1B76) and Rolls-Rolls (Trent 7000 or 1000E), which you can install under the wings even now, but Russian and Chinese engineers want, of course, their own product. An alternative for the distant future will be the promising PD-35 with a thrust of about 35 tons, but it will take about 8-10 years to wait. Therefore, you will have to choose between the American and British proposals. In addition to choosing the power plant, engineers before the end of this year need to work out the nuances of aerodynamics, choose materials for the construction and carefully work with future buyers to pass Gate 3.
Air China, China Eastern and China Southera are expected to become the main customers - it is in this sector that CR929 plans to squeeze the Boeing and Airbus duopoly. In total, China will be able to buy about 1,200 aircraft in twenty years, while in Russia there will be orders for a maximum of 120 aircraft during the same time. And this is the best case. The first supply contracts and agreements of intent in CRAIC are awaiting already at the technical design stage. It is then that the project will face the most serious multi-billion dollar spending, the first delays in the development stages and the first unforeseen expenses. Actually, everything that we saw and observe with the SSJ100 and MS-21 projects. According to the most cautious opinions, we will see the first prototypes of the car in the sky around 2023-2025. At the moment, the developer is not yet going to deviate from the key concept of the CR929.
This long-haul wide-body aircraft is supposed to be built in three modifications of the basic version CR929-600 for 281 passengers in a three-class version, for 291 people in a two-class version and 405 in a single-class version. There is also an "extreme" option for 440 people, who will be placed in seats with a compacted arrangement. Apparently, a fragment of just such a cabin caused a grin from Erdogan at the MAKS-2019 air show. The Russian President then showed the Turkish leader a full-size model of an aircraft compartment 22 meters long, 5.9 meters wide and 6.5 meters high, which was brought specially for the Moscow air show from China. The real CR929 will be a large machine - the takeoff weight in all versions will be equal to 245 tons, the wingspan is 63.9 meters, the length of the "six hundred" version will reach 63.8 meters, and the height is 17.4 meters. The flight range, depending on the modification (short 500, medium 600 and long 700), will vary from 10,000 to 14,000 kilometers.
No matter how trite it sounds, CR929 will have a hard time conquering the sales market. Of course, both in Russia and in China it will be possible to turn on the administrative resource and force the companies to look at the novelty, but in other sales markets Boeing and Airbus will remain unshakable. Newfangled chips such as an ultralight composite body and unique fuel efficiency will not help here. It is necessary to create a global service system for the fleet and build a reputation. And this, unfortunately, is not included in the financial plan of the CR929 project.