Russia quietly launched a new medium-range passenger jet, the MS-21, on Sunday (28 May), which it hopes will boost its aviation industry. The jet, which is Russia's first attempt into the production of a commercial jet since the Soviet era, carries the hopes of the nation in rivalling aviation giants like Boeing and Airbus.
The aircraft made its first flight from the Siberian city of Irkutsk, the base of the jet's manufacturer the Irkut Corporation. Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin took to Twitter to announce the maiden flight, writing "Our swallow learned to fly."
Irkut said in a statement that the MS-21 successfully completed a 30-minute flight, flying at 300km an hour at an altitude of 1,000m. Russian president Vladimir Putin's press secretary told state media Tass that Rogozin informed Putin of the aircraft's successful flight over the phone.
The jet's test flight was not announced to the media and comes on the heels of China testing its new passenger jet C919, indicating the growing competition in the aviation industry.
According to the aircraft's manufacturers, the MS-21 can carry up to 211 passengers and travel for up to 6,000km. Irkut said that the twin-engine aircraft will come in two versions, one which can seat around 211 passengers and another which will hold up to 165 passengers.
Putin reportedly reached out to Irkut's director Oleg Demchenko to congratulate him on the "momentous occasion".
Although the jet's manufacturer claimed that the aircraft was "superior to existing counterparts in terms of flight-technical characteristics and efficiency," Western aviation experts were surprised at the parameters of the test flight, in terms of the low altitude and the brief duration of the flight.
Reuters cited an unspecified jet maker as deeming the MS-21 as a "genteel flight".
"It suggests they either have severe limitations or may have had something happen and decided to come back," said an anonymous Western flight test engineer told Reuters.
However, Irkut said that it has already received several contracts. Russian defence conglomerate Rostec has reportedly agreed to buy 85 jets.