MOSES LAKE — Right now, a view from the ground is as close as civilians can get to riding on the Mitsubishi Regional Jet.
The Japanese aircraft company announced this week it’s more than halfway through the test program for the new plane. U.S. and Japanese journalists were invited on a two-day junket to Grant County International Airport, where Mitsubishi runs its experimental flights.
The jet seats 76 to 88 people depending on model, for city-hopping commuter flights. Mitsubishi test pilots have logged more than 2,000 hours of flight on the MRJ, sometimes in rough conditions.
"For me personally, it's just been very interesting to spend a lot of time in ice, when on the line, you typically try to stay out of that stuff and get out of it as quickly as you can," said Capt. Martin Trout, a Mitsubishi test pilot. "We'll spend a lot of time in ice, and then come out with a good amount of accumulation and go through clear-air maneuvers to demonstrate the good flying qualities and characteristics of the aircraft."
"What I like about the MRJ is the shape of the aircraft — a lean, very nice, beautiful looking aircraft," test pilot Capt. Yoshiyuki Yasumura said through a translator. "Also we have a very wide front side of the cockpit, which gives me a lot of viewing capability, which is very important for awareness for pilots."
Mitsubishi Aircraft built its Moses Lake flight-test center in 2014. The MRJ's first test flight happened a year later in Nagoya, Japan. Since then the company's undergone some delays in preparing for certification, including an engine shutdown during a test flight off the coast of Oregon last year.
Airlines have ordered more than 200 MRJs and hold options for 170 more, but the first models likely won't take commercial flight until at least 2020. That will keep test pilots like Yasumura and Trout busy at the Moses Lake airport for a few years to come.
Jefferson Robbins: 679-7013