On 28 May 2017 the Russian made airliner Irkut MC-21 made its successful maiden flight in Irkutsk. Developed by the Yakovlev Design Bureau and produced by Irkut, it is the largest design bureau project in 40 years.
The previous record holder was the Yak-42, the first airliner produced in the Soviet Union to be powered by modern high-bypass turbofan engines. The first of three Yak-42 prototypes, which was fitted with an 11-degree wing and registered SSSR-1974, made its maiden flight on 7 March 1975. It was followed by a second prototype, (SSSR-1975 – CCCP-1975 in Cyrillic) with the 23-degree wing and a cabin with 20 rows of windows instead of 17 in the first prototype. Both these improvements were chosen for production.
The registration was later changed to CCCP-42304 and the plane flew to Paris for the 1979 Le Bourget Air Show.
Two years later, having exhausted its role as a test airplane, in September 1981 CCCP-42304 was retired and “parked” at the Exhibition of Soviet National Economic Achievement (VDNKh) in Moscow, where it remains, to this day as a permanent exhibition you can visit (for free).
Then, for reason I completely ignore, in May 2015 the plane registration was changed to RA-19751 (which still adorns the tale today).
What used to be the airplane cabin is now devoid of seats and it has been transformed into a relatively large open space to house various exhibitions. This particular plane actually never carried passengers (remember: it was a prototype), so that part was not of historical significance.
The cockpit, on the other hand, has been preserved exactly the way it was in 1979-1981 and visiting it today really gives a sense of how much avionics and instruments have progressed in the last four decades, especially if you compare it to a modern day cockpit, such as that of its “successor”, the aforementioned MC-21.
The Yak-42 had a profound role in the late 70s, early 80s Soviet aviation. It was intended to be a replacement for a large number of ageing aircrafts, such as the Tupolev Tu-134 jet as well as the Ilyushin Il-18, Antonov An-24 and An-26 turboprop airliners. While the new airliner was required to operate out of relatively small airfields while maintaining good economy, as many Soviet airports had been upgraded to accommodate more advanced aircraft, it did not have to have the same ability to operate from grass strips as Yakovlev’s smaller Yak-40. The requirement resulted in the largest, heaviest and most powerful aircraft designed by Yakovlev, until the even larger MC-21 took flight in 2017.
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