MONTREAL -- We sat down yesterday at Bombardier Aerospace headquarters with Mike Arcamone, who succeeded Gary Scott as president of the commercial aircraft division earlier this year. It's Arcamone's first job in the aerospace business after spending a career in the automotive manufacturing industry.
In the preparations for CSeries final assembly, Arcamone has implemented what some might consider an 'old-school' device: the wooden mock-up. On my tour of the Y hangar at Bombardier's Mirabel factory, this blogger saw a full-scale, highly detailed pine-and-plywood mock-up of the 110-to-130-seat CS100. There was even a wooden mock-up of an auxiliary power unit sitting on the floor -- possibly waiting to be installed in the nose cone. So don't call it the Spruce Goose, but maybe the Pine Mime?
We cannot immediately remember the last commercial aircraft programme to build a full-scale wooden mock-up for production purposes. Last year in Brazil, your blogger was allowed to walk inside a wooden fuselage mock-up of the Embraer KC-390. But that device was an operational simulator, created to allow the Brazilian air force a device for simulating cargo loads and paratroop jumps in a realistic structure.
For Bombardier, the wooden mock-up (aka, ahem, the Pine Mime) is part of a deliberate strategy to have a simulation back-up for almost everything to do with the CSeries. Bombardier has built a successful business with regional jets, turboprop airliners and business jets, but it's never attempted to build anything on the scale of the 110-145-seat CSeries family. The company is being exceedingly cautious. In the complete integrated aircraft systems test area (CIASTA), the Aircraft 0 is nearly fully-commissioned, and is perhaps best described as an Iron Bird on steroids. Bombardier hopes to receive certification credit for simulations performed on the ground on Aircraft 0, and perhaps reducing the 2,400h flight test programme to save time if the final assembly process is delayed.
First flight of the CSeries flight test vehicle (FTV-1) is scheduled in December, with entry into service following 12 months later. Arcamone told journalists and analysts yesterday to focus on whether Bombardier meets the latter milestone and not the former. Final assembly of FTV-1 is not scheduled to begin until September. Assembling the systems, wings and fuselage components together was supposed to take five months, but now Bombardier says it can be done in four.
Which brings us back to Arcamone's Pine Mime, the CS100 wooden mock-up inside Mirabel's Hangar Y.
Showing off the structure, Francois Minville, vice president of CSeries manufacturing, acknowledges the anachronistic nature of the wooden mock-up idea: "Is it the first time Bombardier has build a wooden aircraft? The answer is yes.Maybe in 1942 when we build aircraft for Canadair, but this is the first time. But the learning is incredible. We'd rather have that than have the surprise when we build the first aircraft. I am expecting to reduce the learning curve by half."
We asked Minville: "We've been to several manufacturers who've said that CATIA has allowed them to bypass this kind of thing, but you're saying it is still necessary to build a modern aircraft to go back and build a full-scale wooden mock-up?"
Minville replied: "I'll tell you that if you look carefully at what some of our competitors are doing I would guess that over the next few months and years you'll see something similar -- maybe not to that magnitude but something very similar. And, again, not to diminish the requirement or the added value that a tool like CATIA will bring you, but it's a different level. What we're looking at is non-value-added while you are building the aircraft. If you're within [a ten-thousandth of an inch tolerance level], for example, this is not going to show you. This is not for the 10 and 20-thousandth precision on parts. You're looking at your sequence of work. You're looking at your standard work, and how can you improve on health and safety. So it's different things."