MIAMI — Over 26 years ago, the Montreal-based company, Bombardier launched its first family of commercial passenger aircraft, the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ), which consists of the CRJ-100, CRJ-200, CRJ-700, and CRJ-900.
Let’s take a look at the history of the CRJ on the 26th anniversary of the CRJ-100 maiden flight.
The CRJ family traces its origins to the Canadair (now Bombardier) Challenger 600 business jet, which first flew in 1978. The company initially considered stretching the aircraft for cargo use by Federal Express, as well as for passengers with a capacity of up to 24 people in a 2-2 layout. Canadair ultimately canceled these plans in 1981 but still envisioned commercial air use for the design.
In 1986, Bombardier absorbed Canadair, and in 1987, the company revisited the concept for a small commercial jet. The familiar Canadair Regional Jet label came in 1989 with the launch of the program. The prototype was a 19 ft, 5 in (5.92 m) stretch of the original Challenger 600 with a reinforced modified wing, and it was powered by General Electric GE-CF34 engines. The airplane conducted its maiden flight on May 10, 1991 with the CRJ-100 designation.
The Original CRJ Family
Testing consisted of three aircraft and certification came in 1992. The CRJ-100 entered service with Lufthansa on November 27, 1992. Of note, the first prototype crashed after going into a spin on July 26, 1993, but this had no major impact on the program.
The CRJ-100 measures 87 ft, 10 in (26.77 m) in length, and its wingspan is 69 ft, 7 in (21.21 m). It typically seats 50 passengers. With the development of longer-range variants, Bombardier improved the original range by 40%. The longest-range variant is the CRJ-100LR, which can fly up to 2,003 nmi (2,205 mi or 3,710 km). Bombardier also developed a business jet variant.
The CRJ-200 retains all the features of the -100, but it uses improved GE CF34-3B1 engines. The -100 and -200 have a maximum ceiling of 41,000 ft (12,496 m) and a typical cruising speed of Mach 0.74 (424 kt, 488 mph, or 785 kmph). In addition, Bombardier developed a package freighter version of the CRJ-200.
The -100 and -200 amassed a total of 1,054 orders, but their economics during periods of high fuel prices resulted in airlines looking for turboprops of a similar size, including Bombardier’s Q400, or larger, more efficient regional jets.
The CRJ-100 and -200 were successful, but they faced 50-seat competition from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer with its ERJ-145 which has a configuration of 1-2 versus the CRJ-200s 2-2. Moreover, Embraer and European manufacturers Fokker and British Aerospace offered regional jets with 70 to 100 seats. In 1995, Bombardier began to sturdy further development of the CRJ family and formally launched the CRJ-700 in January 1997. This stretched variant would seat an average of 70 passengers in a 2-2 economy class setting.
The first CRJ-700 flew on May 27, 1999 and entered service with French airline Brit Air in 2001. The CRJ-700 measures 106 ft, 8 in (32.51 m) in length, and it has a new larger wing with leading edge slats. The aircraft also has a slightly wider fuselage with a lowered floor, compared to the CRJ-100 and -200, which generated passenger complaints because of a lack of headroom.
Initial CRJ-700s used CE CF34-8C1 engines, while later models used the improved CF34-8C5 engines. The longest range variant of is the CRJ-700ER, which can travel up to 1,504 nmi (1,731 mi or 2,786 km). Bombardier also introduced a business jet version called the Challenger 870.
In 2008, he CRJ-700 saw further improvements derived from the development of the longer CRJ-900. This upgrade is known as “NextGen” and improvements included a revised cabin and improved economics. The CRJ-700 is also faster than the -100/-200 with an average cruising speed of Mach 0.78 (448 kt, 515 mph, or 829 kmph). Airlines have ordered a total of 334 CRJ-700s.
With a fuselage measuring 119 ft, 4 in (36.4 m) the CRJ-900 raised the seating capacity to 90 in a 2-2 economy class configuration. Besides the lengthened fuselage, this member of the CRJ family introduced major improvements, such as improved cabin temperature control, with the auxiliary power unit (APU) supplying more air to the air conditioning packs, and full authority digital engine control (FADEC), which allowed constant maximum operating efficiency for its GE CF34-8C5 engines. FADEC also eliminates the additional weight of traditional controls and cables.
Mesa Air, at the time operating for America West Airlines, launched the CRJ-900. The prototype first flew on February 21, 2001. Bombardier introduced the “Next Gen” improvements in 2007, and these carried over to the CRJ-700, as mentioned earlier. Mesaba Aviation, then operating for Northwest Airlink, was the launch customer for the CRJ-900 “Next Gen”.
Some carriers, such as Delta Airlines, had contracts with its regional carriers that limited the number of passengers, which meant its CRJ-900s could only seat 76 people. The airline modified the seating arrangement to 12 first class and 64 coach seats. Bombardier developed a subvariant, the CRJ-705 to help airlines with this contractual requirement. Air Canada Jazz, which has this stipulation, was the launch customer, with 16 orders, and is the only customer so far.
The CRJ-900 has a wingspan of 81 ft, 6 in (24.85 m), compared to the 76 ft, 3 in (23.24m) wingspan of the CRJ-700. The wing also has additional leading edge slats. In addition, its typical cruising speed is Mach 0.80 (459 kt, 528 mph, or 850 kmph) Moreover, the CRJ-900LR is the variant with the longest range – 1,515 nmi (1,743 mi or 2,806 km). To date, airlines have ordered almost 400 CRJ-900s.
The CRJ-1000 is the newest member of series, and it brought the family into the 100-seat category. Bombardier initially designated this airplane as the CRJ-900X and launched it on February 19, 2007. Brit Air and Spain’s Air Nostrum were the launch customers. The maiden flight took place on July 28, 2009. A fault in the rudder controls delayed delivery of the CRJ-1000 from the first quarter of 2010 to the fourth.
Customers to date have ordered 70 examples. The aircraft measures 128 ft, 4.7 in (39.13 m) in length, and it has a wingspan of 85 ft, 10.6 in (26.18 m). Furthermore, it shares the -700s cruising speed of Mach 0.78 (448 kt, 515 mph, or 829 kmph), and has the same 41,000 ft (12,496 m) ceiling of the other members of the CRJ family. The CRJ-1000 is powered by GE CF34-8C5A1 engines. Finally, its maximum range is 1,622 nmi (1,867 mi or 3,004 km).
The CRJ-100/200 50-seaters are in the process of retiring, but the larger CRJ-700/900/1000 variants continue to receive aerodynamic improvements from Bombardier and will remain airborne for many years to come.