1166 Russia's Myasishchev has turned to general aviation in a bid to save its future

Paul Duffy/MOSCOW

A general aviation aircraft named after a piece of porcelain carries the future hopes of Russian design bureau Myasishchev, more noted for the two large bombers it produced in the 1950s and 1960s and the M-17/M-55 high-altitude aircraft now used for research. Myasishchev was never particularly famous, even in the former Soviet Union, and its development work on advanced aerodynamics is little known.

The bureau's departure from its usual business was prompted by the realisation that something had to be done if Myasishchev was to survive. General designer Valeri Novikov took that decision in 1991, knowing that budgets for military and research projects were shrinking - and unlikely to improve - and that other areas had to be found to generate work.

The idea for the M101 Gzhel light turboprop (named after a piece of porcelain from the Russian city Gzhel) came from one of the bureau's chief designers, Yevgeni Charski, who foresaw that general and business aviation could play a major role in developing the new Russia.

Over the next few years, Charski and his team came up with four or five concepts, ranging from a two-seat turboprop crop sprayer to a 24-passenger twin turboprop commuter airliner. The first design conceived was the Gzhel, seating six to eight people, which was offered initially with a single piston engine - a mock-up was shown at the 1992 Moscow air show. The next show, in 1993, featured a mock-up of the M101T, equipped with a 560kW (760shp) Motorlet/Walter M601F turboprop. This aircraft resembled the Socata TBM700.

"When we started the design work," says Charski, "it looked to be an easy task, and it wasn't very difficult with the experience available to us in the bureau." What the bureau had not taken into account, however, was that Russia's aviation authorities and its certification body, the Aviaregister, were only just beginning their work for general aviation.

"We had to work closely with them to develop the concept of private and business aviation," says Charski. "For example, our pilots worked in our design bureau, and thus had the papers and knowledge of airport requirements to have ramp access and reach the aeroplane. But it was another question for the passengers, who hadn't even tickets, to get through. Certainly, some aerodromes, usually where there was sports aviation, had found answers. But most had not."


Charski designed the M101 for several different roles; he expected it to serve as a six/seven-passenger airliner on local routes and he provided a large door on the left side of the fuselage to allow up to 600kg of cargo, or a stretcher, to be carried. It was also designed to be fitted with a "club four" business interior, with two seats facing aft and two facing forward. It could also be fitted for photography or survey work.

At the start, several different layouts were examined. A Bonanza-style V tail was studied, and the original powerplant was a 268kW Textron Lycoming piston. Tests eventually led to a classic empennage, with a swept-back fin, while the availability of suitable turboprop engines resulted in the M601F being selected.

Novikov was conscious that, as with all other design bureaux in Russia, the facilities at Myasishchev were adequate only for the construction of one or two prototypes, so he began looking for partners for the programme in 1992. Agreement was reached with Vladimir Pomolov, general director of the Sokol production factory at Nizhne Novgorod, for the two companies to work together to develop and produce the Gzhel. Some funding for the project was provided by the city of Gzhel.

To keep costs down, it was decided to build the prototype at Nizhne Novgorod, to begin work on establishing a production line and to build three pre-production examples. Several Myasishchev engineers were assigned to work with Sokol staff. Lack of money caused delays, but construction of the first aircraft (RA-15001) began in the latter half of 1994 and it was completed in February 1995. No government funding was available, and the project began with short-term Russian bank loans. Later, Inkombank provided guarantees of $6 million for the M101. More came from the design bureau and Sokol, while a Czech bank has agreed to invest $16 million. A further $6 million is expected to come from Western European sources.

Initially, a three-bladed propeller was fitted, but Hamilton Standard offered its five-bladed V-510, which improved performance, and this was adopted. It also lowered perceived noise levels and offered reverse thrust. Hamilton Standard and Czech partners have set up the Avia Hamilton Standard venture in the Czech Republic to produce this and other propellers.

On 31 March, 1995, Myasishchev test pilot Viktor Vasenkov took the M101T on its first flight from Nizhne Novgorod's factory airport. With the undercarriage down, as is normal for a first flight in Russia, the aircraft was airborne for 20min. Vasenkov reported good handling qualities. On subsequent test flights, some small handling problems were noticed, but Charski says that these were easily solved, and later pilot reports indicate that it is a pleasure to fly.


Shortly after this, the certification programme began. The second flight, with gear retracted, was from Nizhne Novgorod to Moscow Tushino, a grass airfield inside the city limits and, from there, the aircraft flew to Myasishchev's base at Zhukovski, from where most of the certification flights have been made.

The first public demonstration of the M101 was made at Flight International's Russian Aerospace 95 conference in April 1995 in Moscow, the third day of which was at Zhukovski. The following month, it was displayed at the Paris air show. Later, it was demonstrated at shows in Berlin, Moscow and Prague.

By now, avionics were being selected. An all-Russian instrument flight rules (IFR) package was picked for the home market, while an AlliedSignal Bendix/King suite and a Rockwell Collins global positioning system are also available. Other Western equipment includes a USstarter/generator and voltage regulator and a German battery.

Most of the certification work to achieve Russian AP 23 approval has been completed. Charski describes AP 23 as "more demanding" than USFederal Aviation Administration FAR Part 23 approval, which Myasishchev intends to seek later. The bureau expects to receive AP 23 certification later this year. "It would have been sooner," he says, "but, while in the past we could ask for, and get, assistance in solving any problem from any research body, now we must specify exactly what we want, pay for it, and then receive data only for our exact needs. And we often have to wait to get the money first."

Four M101Ts have taken part in the approval programme, the last part of which was for IFR conditions testing. On 23 January, two aircraft were delivered to the State Research Institute of Civil Aviation, the GosNII GA, to begin the year-long operational trials required for certification. These are being flown by Feniks Air, carrying short-range freight loads from Sheremetyevo's cargo base. "The Aviaregister has not yet fully defined its IFR requirements for general aviation, so we can't be sure that this aspect has been completed," says Charski.

Production has already begun - the first 15 aircraft are on the line at Nizhne Novgorod and most are due to be completed by year end.

"We have demonstrated the Gzhel to Russia's military forces," says Charski. "They have an interest, but don't have any money as yet. But our first orders are now under negotiation. Perm Airlines is planning to buy five aircraft for use on short routes. In December, talks began with a Russian company interested in leasing. Russia's Inkombank is funding this programme.

"The basic equipped aircraft will sell at about $1.3 million [about half the price of a TBM700], and the leasing company is planning to offer it at $250 per hour, including maintenance, but all other costs are for the user. Despite some reports saying that we have reached agreement to have the aircraft built and marketed in the West, nothing has as yet been confirmed."

Now Charski and his team are working to develop a product support programme, with the focus on organisations that already support the Antonov An-2 and Yakovlev Yak-18 and Yak-52.


The pressurised M101 has a maximum cruise altitude of 25,000ft (7,600m) and a maximum cruise speed of 270kt (500km/h).

"It is obviously not quite in the same category as these other types, so we will need to ensure their capability before they will be allowed to work on the Gzhel," explains Charski.

Initially, Myasishchev will market the Gzhel in Russia and other former Soviet countries, and plans to sell it internationally when "suitable partnerships" are in place. "We are also working on interior options, including those to Western standards," says Charski. "But we have a lot to do to develop our home market. If, for example, a business user wants to fly from Moscow to Krasnodar, he can do that in a couple of hours. Then he can go to his meeting; but it will take him or his pilot another day to get clearance to fly back to Moscow. We will have to develop the culture of business flying or owner flying here first. The executive jet operators here are all regarded as airlines, and thus have an easier, or more usual, task in flight planning."

With operational trials under way, the Gzhel is attracting enquiries from other airlines. The Gzhel is not only Myasishchev's first general aviation aircraft, it is also a pathfinder for Russia's fragile business and general aviation market.

Source: Flight International