The regional aviation market is in the midst of a substantial shift. With increased demand for point-to-point routes and rapid economic development in global markets, the industry is poised for enormous growth in the coming years.
The regional aviation market is in the midst of a substantial shift. With increased demand for point-to-point routes and rapid economic development in global markets, the industry is poised for enormous growth in the coming years. But challenges are evident as well. Regional operators will need to address aging fleets, corresponding maintenance cost increases and the effects of volatile (as of late, rising) fuel prices. And in the segment’s largest market, the United States, they will have to manage ongoing scope clause restrictions.
The Mitsubishi Regional Jet has gotten off to a strong start in 2018. The first major test of the year was for high altitude testing, an important benchmark that gauges whether engines, auxiliary power and other important aircraft systems can perform well in thin, low density air.
In 2017, the MRJ development program made significant strides. A re-organization at Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation offices earlier last year strengthened program teamwork, which led to notable testing progress and a successful debut at the Paris Air Show.
While the MRJ continues on its path toward type certification, we take a look back at the important milestones the program has achieved in 2017.
It’s a sunny and hot July afternoon in Eastern Washington, and Kenji Okimoto is racing down the runway of Grant County International Airport. Okimoto, a vice president at Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation America who runs operations support at Moses Lake Flight Test Center, is looking to position himself near the right runway so he can take a group of guests to observe today’s take-off of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ). Air traffic control switched the runway due to a change in the wind conditions.
At the Moses Lake Flight Test Center in Washington, FTA-4 underwent cargo smoke testing between April 7 and April 22, 2017. To set up the test, engineers at Moses Lake installed a smoke machine and flexible hoses inside the cabin, along with lights, smoke detectors, and cameras to monitor real-time smoke generation. During the test, the hoses that were routed under the floor of the aircraft pushed smoke towards the test areas in the cargo compartment and the amount of smoke was controlled using the video cameras.
During the flight load survey tests, more than 250 pressure sensors and strain gauges affixed to the aircraft measured the maximum loads on its external surfaces and components. Throughout the test flights, the crew maneuvered the aircraft to reach specified G-loads, maximum rudder deflection, and roll and side slip thresholds as our engineers monitored the data and Japanese aviation authorities witnessed and approved the test via the telemetry room.
At McKinley Climatic Laboratory on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, FTA-4 underwent extreme temperature tests between February 28 and March 17, 2017. After initial set up, temperatures sunk down to -40° C for five full days of extreme cold testing. Following this, the testing team removed their winter coats and swapped in their t-shirts, and ratcheted the heat up to 50° C for several more test days. Among other systems, the test and data gathered is used to validate the performance of the Environmental Control System (ECS). “Pull-Up” and “Pull-Down” tests, which begin in a cold or hot soaked condition, measured the ability of the system to control the cabin and flight deck to a comfortable temperature within a specified time.
Flying the aircraft at varying altitudes and speeds beyond maximum operation limits, the high-speed flutter test demonstrated sufficient margin on the normal operating envelope of the MRJ. Testing for flutter – a phenomenon that occurs when aerodynamic forces cause rapid self-excited destructive vibration – required a heavily instrumented aircraft operated by well-trained crew that was monitored by engineering specialists on the ground.