INTERVIEW: Frigate Ecojet team still enthusiastic about project

The Frigate Ecojet is expected to be quieter than the competition The four-engined airliner's design team is waiting for suitable powerplant options to emerge

Alexander Klimov, director of the Frigate Ecojet project, explains the concept behind the non-conventional passenger airliner

A couple of years ago you aggressively promoted the Frigate Ecojet project, the highly elliptical fuselage aircraft, as an efficient solution for the market segment which Boeing later called Middle of the Market (MoM). It is a medium- to short-range airliner, which has the operational economy of a widebody aircraft. More recently, however, your activity has somewhat reduced. What happened?

We bumped into a problem, which we had been aware of since the very dawn of the project. And it is not on our side either. For Frigate Ecojet, we need engines in the 18- to 23-ton thrust range, but what we have now are the obsolete Progress D-18T, Rolls-Royce Trent 500 and RB211, and Pratt & Whitney PW2000 options.

We have been waiting, and are still waiting, for the Aviadvigatel PD-18R and PS-90A20 to emerge, but these have not yet materialized. Boeing, for its 797 project which I aimed to replace both the 757 and 767 models, is talking to the world’s leading powerplant specialists, but the development phase would take anywhere between three and five years. So we decided to take a different approach, and Boeing basically gives us a head start for these years, because the 797 targets the same segment as our project. But we will make a four-engine aircraft.

You know the saying though that four engines is out of fashion. We see how the newest four-engined 747-8i is ceding market to the 777X and A350 twins, and this is even affecting the A380 sales, albeit in a different market segment…

Well, we are not on a catwalk you know. Quads naturally lose to twins for as long as they do not offer any convincing competitive advantages. One vivid example is the four-engined A340, which is going out of production while the A330 and A330neo are thriving. Overall optimization of the aircraft is more important than the number of engines. The four-engined version of Frigate Ecojet, which we dubbed Freejet, will have the same engine options as the new generation of narrowbodies: the PD-14, PW1400G, and CFM LEAP-1. Four engines unload the wing and allow for a lighter primary structure. Such engines can be mounted under the wing on long pylons, allowing for a one-piece slat and directing the fan slipstream away from the flaps, thus reducing noise levels.

The Frigate Ecojet team insists on four engines for the future airliner

Alexander Klimov, Frigate Ecojet project director

Our Freejet will be 15 dB quieter than the future ICAO Chapter 14 requirements. Thanks to a higher thrust-to-weight ratio, the required field length will not exceed 2,500 m, so the aircraft could be operated from city airports. Besides, we will implement the electric aircraft technology, meaning electro-hydrostatic and electromechanical actuators, an electric taxi system, electric air conditioning and anti-icing. This will eliminate the need for an air-bleed system, and will make the engines more efficient.

According to our estimates, the electric aircraft concept can reduce fuel burn by 8% to 12%, cut the take-off weight by 6% to 10%, and lower the direct operating costs by between 5% and 10%. As a result, we will get an aircraft with a seating capacity of between 250 and 300 passengers, and a range of 4,500 km. These performances are for the variant with the wing tanks only. But if we load fuel into the center wing tank as well, we will get a long-range version capable of flying to up to 8,000 km, and that is a significant part of the long-haul air transport segment. Also, this is all we can achieve in the framework of one baseline design. So the concept we are offering allows for a reduction in operating and ownership costs.

We believe that the airplane of the future must not only be “smart” (as in: incorporating digital technologies), environmentally friendly, and quiet, but also next to free of charge for the passengers to use. This is the only way commercial aviation can accomplish its mission in providing global mobility for travelers.

This brings the “free lunch” saying to mind…

We are striving to achieve a radical reduction in the aircraft-related costs, and are doing so with the help of the new digital economy. Today, a project can only be successful if it was designed as a platform from the start.

Before the end of the year we will be launching our TeTrA portal, a digital stock exchange to provide space for both free-of-charge and paid technology sharing related to design, production, MRO, operations, and ancillary revenues. Similar projects are being developed by Airbus and Boeing, but it seems to me that those are aimed primarily at intercepting new promising technologies before competitors can get a hold of them.

What we are trying to create is a digital design bureau, an open platform, which would make use of distributed design and other advanced technologies, thus reducing the cost of our Freejet’s development, production, and operation.

“We believe that the airplane of the future must not only be ‘smart’, environmentally friendly, and quiet, but also next to free of charge for the passengers to use”

Where does the Freejet fit in with the development strategy of the Russian aerospace industry? Are you counting on government funding?

It does not fit in at all. I will not comment on the projects currently under development by the United Aircraft Corporation, those are contemporary aircraft at best. We, by contrast, are making an aircraft of the future. We are not interested in government funding at all, we are working with private investors. Our Freejet will be created with the help pf digital distributed economy, not with budget money.

By Alexey Sinitsky

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