Ukrainian aircraft design expertise to the highest bidder

Ukraine exported major conventional arms worth $1.344 billion in 2012 becoming the fourth largest arms exporter in the world, according to the data published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Three largest suppliers of major conventional weapons in 2012 were the United States ($8.760 billion), Russia ($8.003 billion), and China ($1.783 billion).

Antonov State a global leader in aircraft design

A major export is military aircraft designs. China bought the services of Antonov State to help build the Y-20 transport aircraft. The Antonov State Company, is a Ukrainian aircraft manufacturing and services company based in Kyiv. Antonov’s particular expertise is in the fields of very large airplanes and airplanes insensitive to runway quality. Antonov is the most common airplane brand on the planet, with total of 22,000 aircraft built and thousands of planes currently operating in the former Soviet Union and the developing countries.

The Antonov 124 is the largest airplane that was ever mass produced and there are versions that can carry 150 tons.

Oleg Antonov died in 1984 but he left a legacy of superior aircraft design capability in the Ukrainian company.

China’s Y-20 66 ton transport

China’s domestically-produced Y-20 transport aircraft successfully completed its maiden flight on Jan. 26, 2013 The Y-20’s first flight suggests that China is on the way to joining the U.S., Russia and Ukraine as the fourth nation to independently develop and fly a heavy military transport aircraft. Its development represents a meaningful step toward China being able to develop a more robust ability to project aerial power, both in the form of air transport and aerial refueling. It also offers a large airframe that could eventually provide a foundation for building airborne early warning aircraft and large air tankers capable of supporting long-range strike fighters. Finally, the Y-20 transport could eventually be exported to friendly nations, and perhaps beyond if AVIC can build and sell it for less than the cost of competitors such as the Russian IL-76. The PLAAF currently operates 20 IL-76s, and has reportedly ordered 30 more.

The Y-20 has three aircrew, a 15-meter height and 47-meter fuselage length, a 66-ton maximum load capacity and a maximum takeoff weight of just over 200 tons. Its capacious cargo hold can “carry the vast majority of combat and support vehicles of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including the PLA’s heaviest tank, the 58-ton Type-99A2.

China’s high performance engine gap

China is developing a high-thrust turbofan called the WS-20 to fill this role as part of a major aeroengine resource and technology push. While progress will likely take time, reports suggest China could invest up to 300 billion yuan ($49 billion) in jet engine development by 2035. Acquisition of foreign technology and breakthroughs in recruiting foreign experts could help accelerate China’s jet engine development.

Financial considerations and a belief that Chinese jet engine makers are behind the Russian technical curve will likely motivate Russia to permit transfers of additional jet engines over the next 2-3 years despite the significant risk AVIC will reverse engineer key portions, if not the entire powerplant. Meanwhile, Ukrainian engineers are already readily available, and their Russian engineering counterparts are also becoming available.

C919 (150 passengers) and ARJ21 (90 passenger) Jets

Lufthansa, Ryanair, Turkish Airlines and Indonesia’s Lion Air have unveiled commitments for a whopping 591 narrowbody (Airbus 320 and Boeing 737) jetliners. Ryanair used negotiations for China’s COMAC C919 to get a lower price from Boeing.

China’s 150 passenger C919 has over 380 orders but only from domestic sources in China.

The ARJ21 regional jet, China’s first self-developed turbofan regional passenger jet with 70-90 seats, is expected to get the airworthiness certification successfully and be delivered to its launch customer in 2014.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has refused to certify the C919’s airworthiness until the ARJ-21 is first approved, making it highly unlikely that the aircraft will meet its 2016 deadline for starting deliveries. FAA certification is essential if the Chinese wish to sell the C919 to foreign airlines.

Trying to catch up to Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed and Other established Aircraft players

To develop and build the ARJ-21 and C919, China cobbled together several competing aircraft manufacturing groups into a single consortium, known initially as the AVIC I Commercial Aircraft Company (ACAC). Members of ACAC included the Shanghai Aircraft Research Institute, the Xi’an Aircraft Design and Research Institute, the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group (CAIG), the Xi’an Aircraft Industry Group (XAIG), the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC), and the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (SAMF). The Shanghai and Xi’an research institutes were responsible for designing the aircraft, while workshares were distributed among the four manufacturing companies accordingly:

CAIG: nosecone
XAIG: wings and fuselage
SAC: tail assembly, pylon and vertical stabilizer
SAMF: horizontal stabilizer and final assembly

China’s aircraft engine industry is expected to see swift development over the next few years in the wake of a major technology breakthrough in making turbine disks.

The China North Industries Group on its website, a company within the group, the Inner Mongolia North Heavy Industries Group, has successfully put its 36,000 metric ton (tonne) ferrous metal vertical extruder into operation to fill the gap for large-tonnage machines in handling the extrusion of powder metallurgy (P/M) alloy materials in China.

The turbine disk constitutes one of the most crucial parts of an aircraft engine, while high-temperature P/M alloy materials are key to producing high performance, high durability, and reliable turbine disks. The smooth operation of the 36,000 tonne extruder is believed to have served as a valuable stepping-stone for the industry to sharpen its manufacturing techniques. The machine also makes it possible to produce such key engine parts in vastly greater numbers, which should significantly improve the country’s self-sufficiency in such parts.

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