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EconomyA unique aircraft may appear in Russia

A unique aircraft may appear in Russia

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Universal aircraft

In the late 80s, the Soviet aircraft industry faced the same question as the Russian one now. For regional transportation both within the country and abroad, an inexpensive, fast aircraft with modern on-board equipment was required. The initial analysis showed that there were two possible development options: to create an aircraft from scratch or to unify it in terms of key units with one of the aircraft types that exist and are used domestically.

The development of a 100-seat passenger airliner capable of taking off like the Yak-142 from almost any runway (including regional ones, the quality of which in most cases left much to be desired) was started with great enthusiasm.

Versatility is the keyword of this machine, so in order not to spend a lot of money on the development of the aircraft, which received the Tu-334 index, it was decided to borrow some elements from larger airliners.

To solve several problems at once, the Tu-334 was 60% unified with the Tu-204 passenger airliner. The fuselage of a small hundred-seat aircraft has the same section as the older model, but is half as long, and a significant part of it was made of composite materials, which facilitated the design and had a positive effect not only on fuel efficiency, but also on the rigidity of the wing.

First problems

To say that it was not easy to create such a machine, even with several aircraft factories and donor aircraft nearby, on the basis of which it was possible to design a new board, is to say nothing. The main difficulty crept up from where no one expected. It suddenly turned out that the wing area was too small for a vigorous takeoff and, in theory, could worsen the control of the board. At the same time, they tried to involve the French Aérospatiale (it later became part of the huge state corporation EADS) and the Italian Alenia in the project.

These companies are believed to have helped develop the larger wing. However, in reality, French and Italian engineers helped identify the main problem with the original design – an overweight of about five tons. There were two ways to solve this problem: either lighten the fuselage and power elements and redesign the aircraft, or install a larger wing area to increase lift and improve flight stability. For the sake of saving money and time, it was the second option that was chosen, and already in 1999, a promising passenger airliner took to the skies.

If the Tu-334 was so good, why didn’t it go into production?

In 2003, they presented the appearance of a serial machine, almost ready for production, and by 2005, when the Government gave the go-ahead for the production of the machine, all the solutions necessary for flights were created, tested and implemented.

Despite the fact that the Tu-334 consisted almost entirely of domestic components, Ukraine was to become one of the key participants in the project. The level of integration with the Ukrainian industry was quite high: some elements of hydraulics, electrics, as well as the heart of the machine were the D-436T1 engines of the Zaporozhye Design Bureau. It is believed that partly for this reason, the mass production of the machine began to be gradually abandoned, and after a series of five assembled fuselages, the program was frozen. It was replaced by the Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ-100) – a more globalized aircraft, the components for which were made in a number of European countries, as well as in the United States.

In 2019, when the sanctions flywheel was already underway, the Tu-334 project was criticized by the Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov. But the situation in 2022 can give the Tu-334 a new life, and in the most unexpected way.

Tu-334 vs. Boeing 737 and Airbus A320

The main problem of the Tu-334 is that if we start producing it now in parallel with the “anti-sanction” Tu-204 (the news about the production of which has already appeared), we will have to solve several key problems at once. The first is to modernize, or rather, re-create a complex of flight and navigation equipment. There is some groundwork in this direction, but we still need to grow to the level of unification with Boeing / Airbus on-board systems.

The second problem is the engine. Few people know, but when creating the Tu-334 advance project, it was planned to put two engines located under the wing on the first prototype of the aircraft. Then aviation security experts got involved, saying that this way the Tu-334 would “vacuum” the runway (all the dirt and water would get into the engines), and the layout of the units was changed.

Instead of the Ukrainian D-436s (in theory), the Tu-334 can be suspended under the PD-8, the engine for the new SSJ-New, which is being created in order to maximize import substitution. But you can forget about international flights for now. Not only because of the air space is closed, but also because it will take a long time to certify. In addition, the aircraft will almost certainly have to be redesigned for new engines. Again.

But the aerodynamic design of the Tu-334 has some advantages. For example, with much more modest dimensions, the design of the Tu-334 allows you to neatly fit the aircraft between the outdated Yak-142 and modern liners. The Soviet “business jet” had a little less than 10 tons of jet fuel in its fuel tanks, while the “Superjet” had 12,600 kg.

Tu-334 tanks also contain 10 tons of fuel, which, with the installation of more modern, economical engines and the processing of the flight control system, can increase the flight range by 10-15 percent – up to 3500 km compared to 3100 km, calculated initially. Similar modifications were created at the dawn of aircraft design. The version with an extended fuselage was called the Tu-334-200 and took on board up to 126 passengers, while flying 4 thousand km – 1 thousand km more than the base SSJ-100.

Tu-334 and Tu-204 – the concept of use under sanctions.

Despite the fact that the Tu-334 was created as an exclusively domestic aircraft, it was possible to install foreign engines on it. Some versions were supposed to install Rolls-Royce BR700 – long-certified, but frankly not the most modern engines. According to some reports, the only fully assembled Tu-334 is standing at the aircraft factory in Kazan, which, probably, can become the starting point in the post-sanction period for the development of domestic aviation.

However, the Tu-334 in the modern world has two problems at once. The first is MS-21. The second is SSJ-New. Significant funds have been invested in the development and production of these aircraft, and whether the Tupolevites will have an extra budget for finalizing a new aircraft, when it would be logical to design a new aircraft on the basis of 334, is a big question. But a year ago, no one thought that Airbus/Boeing would refuse to service and repair legally purchased aircraft and, in fact, completely deprive Russian airlines of access to foreign aircraft. Decisive times require decisive measures, and it is possible that the Tu-334 may soon be reborn into a new airliner.

Photo: Tu-334 at the MAKS-2007 air show Wikimedia / Sergey Ryabtsev / GFDL 1.2

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