Recent reports that the Mitsubishi Regional Jet is scheduled to make it's first flight this May were quietly squashed with a notice that this announcement was not from within the company. As the first test flight has already been pushed back three times, does this spreading misinformation point to even more delays?
The MRJ, a small jet that can seat between 70 and 90 people, will be the first passenger aircraft designed and produced in Japan since the turboprop YS-11 was created half a century ago. Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and is based at Nagoya Airfield in Aichi Prefecture of Japan. The company claims they will not build any aircraft larger than the MRJ since MHI is a major supplier to Boeing, including the manufacturing of wings for the Boeing 787.
Designs for the aircraft, which closely resemble the Brazilian Embraer Regional Jet, were officially presented in 2007 and production officially began in 2010. The first flight, scheduled after the design was finalized, was to take place in the second quarter of 2012.
Early delays were due to structural changes when carbon fiber was abandoned as a major airframe component and large portions of the fuselage needed to be redesigned. Later, problems in the procurement of engines and other components were cited as the cause of a second delay, but were denied by Pratt & Whitney, who manufactures the engines, claiming they were on schedule.
The latest and third major delay to the program resulted from the company's failure to forecast the effects of new U.S. Federal Aviation Administration procedures introduced in 2009 to validate regulatory compliance of production processes. Slight controversy followed this announcement since it was made nearly a year after compliance was finalized. The thought was the compliance information was withheld in case other issues popped up and coordination with FAA regulation changes was used as a scapegoat. Mitsubishi announced after this third reschedule that the first flight would take place by summer 2015 while the first delivery would take place by summer 2017.
Early this year , the first engine run tests verified the total operations of the aircraft's various systems including hydraulic, fuel, air conditioning, electric systems and power system operated within design parameters. The company also performed the wing up-bending test on a test aircraft. During the testing, the maximum load that the aircraft is expected to experience while flying was applied to the wing of the test aircraft, which was calculated from simulation of all flight conditions. The wing up-bending test produced anticipated results.
The manufacturer also recently signed an agreement with Japan Airlines for delivery of 32 aircraft bringing the total confirmed orders to 223. This contract adds to the previous orders from their first customers All Nippon Airways in addition to agreements to purchase from Eastern Air Lines and Air Mandalay, and is a positive sign towards the completion of production.
Contrary to reports, the company has not set an official date for the first test flight of the MRJ, but has stated they are committed to the success of the first flight with an on-track progress of the upcoming tests. Its hard to say exactly what tests are yet to be completed and if Mitsubishi will be able to penetrate the market, but needless to say, a new passenger jet will be a milestone for Japanese aviation. In the mean time, Embraer's new E2 family of regional jets has been able to dominate the small RJ market using a very similar Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan.
MRJ public rollout ceremony in October 2014
First static test of load limit on the main wing.
Photos AP and Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation