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First Chinese built COMAC C919 commercial aircraft flies with non-critical 3D printed parts

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The first COMAC C919 aircraft commenced its maiden flight at Shanghai Pudong International Airport successfully on May 5th, 2017. According to Bright Laser Technologies (BLT) one of the metal 3D printer manufacturers that participated in the project, several 3D printed titanium parts were installed on COMAC’s C919 to reduce the aircraft’s weight and increase its safety. Twenty-eight cabin door parts and two fan inlet structural parts were also installed on the aircraft.

It was 15:19 on May 5th, 2017 in Shanghai, China. Shanghai Pudong International Airport, which is exceptionally busy in ordinary days, held its breath, stared soulfully, and opened its arms: an airliner with blue and green painting to symbolize the earth on the rear fuselage lightly spread the wings of youth and steadily landed on the fourth runway. This is a historic moment. It indicates that the “Trunk Liner Dream” haunting the Chinese nation for a hundred years has finally made a historic breakthrough, and the blue sky finally has a trunk liner which is developed by China completely, in accordance with global advanced standards. It means that after nearly half a century of hard exploration, under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, China has gained the core competences of developing a modern trunk liner. This is not only a major historic breakthrough in China’s aviation industry but also a significant achievement made by China in deeply implementing the strategy of driving development by innovation and comprehensively promoting the structural reform of the supply side.


The C919 aircraft is the first single-aisle trunk liner developed by China completely in accordance with the airworthiness standards and the prevailing market standards. C919 aircraft is designed to be the most popular 150-seat single-aisle aircraft in the air transport market. The baseline version has a standard range of 4075 km and an extended range of 5555 km, with seats for 158 passengers in hybrid configuration and seats for 168 passengers in all economy-class configuration. By using advanced aerodynamic layout, structural material and airborne system, the drag of C919 aircraft is 5% lower than that of the similar type in service, the field noise is over 10 db lower than the fourth stage requirements of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the carbon dioxide emission is 12%-15% lower, the nitrogen oxide emission is over 50% lower than the emission level specified by ICAO CAEP6, and the direct operating cost is reduced by 10%. Up to now, a total of 570 C919 orders are obtained from 23 domestic and foreign customers. C919 aircraft has strictly implemented China Civil Aviation Regulations (CCAR) Part 25 Airworthiness Standards: Transport Category Airplanes (CCAR25). CAAC accepted the application for type certificate for C919 in 2010 and comprehensively carried out airworthiness examination. European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) accepted the application for a type certificate for C919 in April 2016.

The successful first flight of C919 aircraft means that China has made clustered breakthroughs in civil aircraft technology and gained the core competences of developing trunk liners. Since the research and development of C919 aircraft was started on July 2008, COMAC has taken the development path of “China design, system integration, international tendering, and gradual promotion of domestication”, adhered to the technical route of “Independent development, international cooperation, and international standard”, captured more than 100 key and core technologies including aircraft and engine integration, fly-by-wire system control law, active control technology and whole-aircraft refined FEA, established China civil aircraft R&D core competencies including design and development, final assembly and manufacture, customer service, airworthiness certification, supplier management and marketing by taking COMAC as a platform, formed a civil aircraft industry chain leaded by Shanghai and participated by nearly 200,000 people from more than 200 enterprises in 22 provinces and cities such as Shaanxi, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Liaoning and Jiangsu, and improved China’s capability to support the civil aircraft industry. COMAC has also promoted 16 international aviation enterprises to found 16 joint ventures with Chinese enterprises, which drives the industrial development of airborne systems including power unit, avionics, flight control, power supply, fuel and landing gear. 16 material manufacturers and 54 standard part manufacturers including China Baowu Iron and Steel Group Co., Ltd. have become the suppliers or potential suppliers of C919 program. A group of aviation industry supporting areas were set up in Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Hunan, Jiangxi and other provinces. A relatively complete industry chain that has innovation capability and independent intellectual property rights, centers on COMAC, unifies AVIC, radiates throughout China and faces to the whole world is under construction.


The successful first flight of C919 aircraft also means that China has made new significant achievements in implementing the strategy of driving development by innovation. Trunk liner is called “a flower in the modern industry”. With the delivery of ARJ21 aircraft for operation, the first flight test of C919 aircraft and the setup of Sino-Russian long-range widebody aircraft program, China civil aircraft industry is advancing rapidly towards marketization, industrialization and internationalization. Through the research and development of C919 and ARJ21 aircraft, China has mastered more than 6,000 civil aircraft technologies in 20 specialties and 5 categories, accelerated the group breakthroughs in key technologies such new material, modern manufacturing and advanced power, and promoted the development of many basic disciplines such as fluid mechanics, solid mechanics and computational mathematics.

A large quantity of advanced materials represented by the third-generation aluminum-lithium alloys and composite materials are applied in the China-made civil aircraft for the first time, accounting for 26.2% of the weight of the aircraft structure,which promotes the establishment of manufacturing and process system for special materials such as landing gear 300M steel, and facilitates the application of “green” advanced processing methods such as titanium alloy 3D printing and skin mirror milling. 36 domestic colleges and universities including Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Beihang University, and Northwestern Polytechnical University have participated in the technology research and development of C919 aircraft, a civil aircraft technology innovation system which gives priority to COMAC, takes market as guidance and integrates production, study and research as one was set up, and a path for the innovation and development of major national science and technology projects was preliminarily formed.

During the course of developing ARJ21 and C919 aircraft, our country has cultivated a backbone team for the development of civil aircraft with youth as the main body. Since its foundation in 2008, COMAC has insisted on the strategy of “Developing programs via talents and cultivating talents via programs”. The total number of COMAC employees has increased from more than 3,000 when the company was established to more than 10,000, and a group of civil aircraft leading talents and backbones was cultivated in the aircraft research and development practice with the post-80s and post-90s as the main body. Among all the employees, 2 experts are listed in “Ten Thousand Talents Program”, 40 experts are listed in “National Thousand Talents Program”, and more than 160 experts are listed in various national and local talents programs. During the process of tackling key research topics and overcoming difficult problems for more than ten years, COMAC has borne in mind the spirit of “two bombs and one satellite”, the spirit of manned spaceship, the spirit of servicing the nation with aviation and the spirit of craftsmen, adhered to the spirit of “settling down to, concentrating on and being infatuated with one’s job”, persisted in “struggling hard, tackling key problems, enduring hardship and devoting for a long term”, insisted on “mastery design, fine manufacture, service in good faith and constant perfection-seeking”, comprehensively carried out innovation, pioneering and creative practices in program research, program development, corporate governance, and party building, and fostered the spirit of Chinese trunk liner, which gave wings to the dream of letting Chinese trunk liner fly in the blue sky.

The maiden flight of C919 aircraft indicates that the program comprehensively enters the phases of development flight test and verification flight test. A total of 6 test aircraft of C919 development batch are put into flight test to comprehensively carry out the flight test related to stall, power, performance, control stability, flight control, icing, high temperature, and extreme cold. Meanwhile, two aircraft for ground tests are respectively put into test such as static test and fatigue test. The second flight test aircraft is scheduled to complete the first flight in the second half of the year.


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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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