The passenger jet, which the PLA may well adapt for military use, is likely to draw on expertise from the Russian side, some of it dating back to the Soviet era
Efforts by Beijing and Moscow to develop a wide-body passenger jet known as the CR929 are reportedly off to a good start following the September launch of a joint venture between Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac) and Russia’s United Aircraft Corp.
One aspect observers are keen to watch relates to how much China will have to rely on Russian technology in developing key components such as the plane’s jet engines, as the country’s indigenous single-aisle airliner, the C919 – which is currently undergoing certificate of airworthiness tests – has been mocked as a Chinese plane made of imported parts.
Chinese news portal Netease has acknowledged that the tie-up involves “money for technology” for Comac, as its Russian partner will take charge of developing the plane’s engine.
It is believed the CR929 team will draw significantly from the development of the Ilyushin Il-86, which was designed and built by Ilyushin, a subsidiary of Russia’s United Aircraft Corp, in the 1970s. It was the USSR’s first wide-body airliner and the world’s second four-engined wide-body airliner and has enjoyed an almost impeccable safety record through decades of commercial use.
Russian engine maker Aviadvigatel will modify the design of its PD-14 turbofan family for a heavy-lifting engine capable of producing 35 tons of thrust to propel the CR929’s fuselage, which will be almost on a par, size-wise, with that of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
China’s C919 uses engines from CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and the French company Safran.
What we know so far about the CR929 is that it will be 53.5 meters long and 13.5 meters high, with a wingspan of 55.6 meters. Maximum takeoff weight is 220 tons and it can normally fly 9,500 kilometers in one go, at a speed of 950 km per hour, while carrying 290 passengers.
The CR929-600, an extended range variant, will be able to fly up to 12,000 km, according to NetEase.
Observers say the People’s Liberation Army may model adapt the CR929 or simply “transplant” various equipment onto its spacious cabin for a range of military uses, just as the US Air Force does with its militarization and retrofitting of civilian aircraft.
For instance, the soon-to-be-delivered KC-46 Pegasus tanker, an aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft, is being developed by Boeing from its 767 widebody jet airliner.
The PLA used to lack key logistic aircraft and has been anxious to plug gaps in its troop and equipment deployment capabilities by emulating Soviet planes such as the four-engined Antonov An-12. The Chinese version is known as the Y-8 and can be used as an electronic-warfare aircraft.