First COMAC 919 narrowbody jet nears completion

Wing to body and mostly composite vertical tail assembled, as first airframe aims for flight by end of 2015.

Final assembly work on the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC, Shanghai, China) C919 narrowbody commercial airliner has kicked into high gear, with assembly of the first prototype airframe almost complete. Pictures released to Flightglobal show an almost complete airframe joined from nose through to the tail. Wing-to-body join is also complete, with vertical and horizontal stabilizers attached to the aircraft's tail.

The C919 vertical tail — manufactured by AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC, Liaoning, China) — comprises a vertical stabilizer and a rudder, made mostly of composite materials, except major attachment fittings which are titanium alloy. COMAC reports that composite materials have better fatigue resistance and corrosion resistance, which can greatly reduce the structural weight, improve the performance, lifetime, safety and maintainability of the aircraft and extend the time interval for field maintenance. All of this helps to reduce the aircraft operational maintenance cost and the life-cycle operating cost.

On its website, COMAC has stated, “While we need to catch up to the 787 and A380 in material technology, the C919 has a competitive advantage over the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. Titanium alloy is 10% of the C919's structural weight, compared with 2.2% in the 737 and 4.5% in the A320. At present, the proportion of composites used in the C919 is higher than that for the 737 but a little lower than for the A320. The C919 also includes an aluminium-lithium alloy.”

At last reporting, the first C919 aircraft is still resting on struts, although the main landing gear and forward landing gear appear to have been installed. The aircraft's wingtip devices have also yet to be installed. No other aircraft are pictured in the final assembly center area. A Comac spokesman told Flightglobal that no systems have been installed on the aircraft.

Over the last six months the Chinese aircraft manufacturer has been taking delivery of the jet's major structures, with final assembly work officially started last September. Comac has publicly stated that the aircraft's first flight target is end of 2015. The company spokesman said that timeline remains the goal, however major works such as the installation of the avionics, flight control and hydraulics systems still remain to be done. The various systems also have to be integrated and tested.

Meanwhile, testing is in full-swing on the C919 iron bird test rig, with more than 50 test engineers and technicians involved. One COMAC official told Flightglobal last year that the iron bird is scheduled to undergo two cycles of tests before the C919's first flight. Another official said delays are expected, however, because system integration will be complex for COMAC.

So far, the company has secured 450 commitments from 18 companies, most of which are local airlines and leasing firms.

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