The launch of the An-22 military transport turboprop aircraft in 1965 marked a new stage in the confrontation between the USSR and the USA in the Cold War. This heavy military transport aircraft, capable of lifting loads up to 88.45 tons, forced the United States to redouble its efforts, which led to the appearance of the turbojet Lockheed C-5A Galaxy. The new military transport aircraft significantly increased the capabilities of the United States in the field of strategic transportation compared to its adversary, and the USSR could not ignore this situation. 21 July 1966, the Central Committee of the CPSU issued a decree, which formulated the requirement for a transport aircraft capable of carrying 100-120 tons of payload.
A month later, the first of the two directives (the second followed in September) was issued to the Kiev Mechanical Plant (as Antonov Design Bureau was at that time), according to which it was necessary to create a turbojet aircraft that surpasses C-5А in performance. The chief designer of the design bureau A. Ya. Belolipetsky led a group of designers, who initially considered projects with a swept wing, T-shaped tail, and four turbojet engines, while the An-22 fuselage remained the same. Marked An-122, the new project allowed 80 to transport tons of cargo to a range of 3500 km. In October, 1967, Mr. O. K. Antonov, and V. F. Eroshin handed over the project to the Military-Industrial Commission at the Council of Ministers of the USSR, but it was quickly rejected because it did not give significant advantages compared to An-22 and was still behind from its American rival.
Alternative projects began to be developed, and by the middle of 1968, Antonov focused on two projects that received the name An-124 and An-126, which could carry 120 and 140 tons of cargo, respectively. Both projects were distinguished by the use of the most up-to-date technology available; the An-126 was distinguished by six engines and a nose opening opening upwards. However, the government decided that the development of a six-engine aircraft posed a high technological risk, and it was rejected in favor of the smaller An-124 with four engines.
Birth of An-124
The Antonov group was assigned a large-scale task not only to create a plane, but an aircraft whose payload would be twice as large as its predecessor. In addition, they had to reduce the number of man-hours required for maintenance, as well as increase operational autonomy. Work on the project was carried out at the end of 1960-x - the beginning of 1970-x, and a full-size mock-up was created in 1973. However, it turned out that various aspects of the program did not correspond to the overall task, and the work was suspended. Since the program was progressing slowly, then in 1976, Oleg Antonov decided to completely revise the project. He reformulated the objectives of the entire program and issued a new technical task, which were also approved by the CPSU Central Committee and the Council of Ministers. To distinguish the previous version of An-124 from the new, it was given the name "Ruslan".
Work resumed, and engineers focused their efforts on the large wing of the aircraft. Opinions are divided. One part of the designers believed that the wing should be a traditional swept with a thin profile, others called for a supercritical profile, which was considered a step forward. He allowed the use of a thicker wing without increasing aerodynamic drag, in addition, it was easier to produce, and the additional volume allowed to increase the stock of fuel and flight range. The main argument against the supercritical wing was the following: it had never been used on Soviet aircraft before and presented a rather high technical risk. But Oleg Antonov decided that the benefits were worth it, and approved the project.
Due to the size of the proposed An-124 project, it was also believed that the aircraft needed an electric remote control system (EDSU), which made it possible to control a large aircraft in all flight modes. Designers spent a lot of time to determine the size of the cargo compartment, making up any possible combination of military and civilian cargo on a specially created stand for this. And again, Oleg Antonov ultimately fixed the dimensions of the cargo compartment, the width of which was 6,4 m. Other approved design features were the rear ramp and the reclining nose just in front of the pilot's cabin, which allowed for through loading operations. At the same time, the nose landing gear could “squat”, thereby facilitating the loading of bulky cargo. In order to facilitate the transportation of cargo in the cargo compartment on board, two girder cranes with a load capacity of 5 t were installed onboard the aircraft.
As soon as the overall dimensions of the An-124 were approved, a double-deck fuselage was also approved, with each deck having its own sealing system. All compartments with equipment were grouped on the upper deck behind the pilot's cabin, which made it possible to eliminate faults on the ground or in flight. Antonov turned to the Zaporozhye Progress Design Bureau with a request to develop an engine for the aircraft. The design bureau, led by chief designer V. A. Lotarev, developed the D-18T engine with a 23 kN engine, i.e., more than the General Electric TF39-GE-1 engine installed on the C-5A Galaxy. Designed primarily as a military transport aircraft, the An-124 was equipped with two independent auxiliary power units installed from each side in the fairings of the main landing gear, which allowed all engines to start simultaneously.
The construction of the mighty "Ruslan"
The construction of the first prototype of the An-124 was preceded by an extensive program for the improvement and experimental testing of individual components. In an unprecedentedly short time, around 3500 nodes were tested, which were used to create a full-scale test bench. For static tests of individual nodes, which took place at the Kiev Mechanical Plant of Antonov Design Bureau, more than 60 thousand hours were spent.
The assembly of the first prototype of the An-124 began at the Kiev Aviation Plant in 1979, almost at the same time, they began to re-equip production for the production of mass-produced aircraft. For the release of An-124, almost 100 contractors were attracted, but the Tashkent Aviation Production Association named after T. Kh. Chkalov (TAPOiCH). TAPOiCh was responsible for the release of wing tips, center-section and large-size fuselage frames, which were assembled from Tashkent to Kiev in two specially converted An-22. The construction of the aircraft was nearing completion, but the engines had not yet been delivered. The development of the D-18T was behind schedule, and the first tests at the stand were completed just three months before the first flight.
October 24 1982, the first prototype was ready and before the eyes of the invited guests and workers rolled out of the production plant with a non-standard registration USSR-680125 (serial number 01-01). Due to security reasons, the first taxiing and speedy runs were made at night. During the first runs, it became clear that the engines are still in the early stages of development and still require a lot of work. Two months later, the prototype was towed to the runway of the Kiev / Svyatoshino factory airfield and made a series of high-speed runs under various weather conditions.
After their completion, he remained on the runway for another two hours, waiting for better weather. As soon as it improved, the factory test pilots V.I. Teresky and A.V. Galunenko decided to bring the D-18T engines to full power, and the An-124 took off for the first time. During the first flight, the crew conducted a series of tests to determine aircraft stability and overall controllability. The only problem occurred during the landing, when in the cockpit strong vibrations from rocking (“shimming”) of the double nose landing gear began to be felt, causing minor damage.
At the first stage of testing, during which the 141 flight was performed for a total of one hour 251, a problem was discovered that pursued Ruslan in its early years. The low gas-dynamic stability of the D-18T engines, especially in takeoff mode, could lead to a surge and then a simultaneous stop of the engines. A year after the flight of the first prototype, the second prototype made its first flight with the registration USSR-680345 (serial number 01-03). Registration then changed to USSR-82002, and in May 1985, the aircraft was presented to the Soviet media. Two weeks later, he made his debut in the West at the Paris Aviation Salon, after which he received the NATO code "Condor".
In a desperate attempt to create a good reputation for the An-124 and refute Western opinions about the capabilities of the aircraft, Oleg Antonov organized a series of record flights designed to confirm the certificate of the aircraft. 26 July 1986 V.I.Tersky with the crew set the 21 new record in the course of one flight of the first prototype, including the absolute record in terms of carrying capacity and height: 171 219 kg were raised to the height of 10 750 meters, which significantly exceeded all C-5A achievements Galaxy. The third An-124 USSR-82005 (serial number 01-107) joined the test program, and it was the first aircraft of Ulyanovsk construction.
On October 13, the program suffered a heavy blow when a second prototype was lost in a disaster. During tests for controllability at maximum dynamic pressure, a collision with a bird caused the destruction of the nose cone, followed by the destruction of the bow, whose debris got into the engines. Unable to return to the airport, the plane crashed in a forest near Kiev, all those on board died. Fortunately, this disaster did not affect the test program, and on December 30, 1992, the Interstate aviation The committee issued the An-124 type certificate.
Start of operation
Initially, the plans envisaged the construction of the first batch of An-124 in Kiev, but at 1983 the Soviet government decided to expand its production in Ulyanovsk at the Ulyanovsk aviation-industrial complex (now OJSC Aviastar-SP). Production at the first stage should have been 90 units.
In addition to the first six copies of the first series, the 30 planes of the second, third and fourth series were to be released in Kiev, but before the transfer of production in Kiev, only 17 serial copies were released. One unfinished airframe remained in Kiev for many years, but in 2002, the Russian airline Atlant-Soyuz acquired the completed aircraft. Although at the last moment Atlant-Soyuz refused the deal, the buyer was found and the plane was transferred to the UAE Ministry of Defense, although it carries the Ukrainian registration UR-CCX (both in the text, in fact, UR-ZYD, as correctly indicated in the table - Periscope. 2). The first Ruslan built in Ulyanovsk was the aircraft with registration USSR-82005 (serial number 9773054516003), which made its first flight in October 1985.
As soon as the orders of the military disappeared, Antonov Design Bureau quickly realized the capabilities of An-124 for transporting heavy loads in the civilian freight market. Initially, the military "Ruslans" began to carry out freight transportation in the interests of commercial operators. But without the appropriate type certificate and on-board equipment that would allow the safe operation of the aircraft in international airspace, international aviation authorities prohibited the operation of the aircraft for civilian purposes. The design bureau had no choice but to develop a modified civilian version. The program was carried out jointly with Aviastar-SP.
First of all, all military equipment was removed from the aircraft, the cockpit, flight, radio and navigation equipment were modified. Production of the first civilian variant, which received the An-124-100 index, began at the Antonov Design Bureau Aviant Aviation Plant in Kiev in 1990. The first two aircraft produced: USSR-82027 (factory number 19530502288) and USSR-82029 (factory number 19530502630) were involved to an extensive flight test program that led to a type certificate.
Further improvements were made to comply with the ICAO rules, to which Russia joined. They included the installation of noise absorbing panels in the nacelles of the D-18T engines to meet the requirements of Chapters III and IV and the established emission levels. In 1996-1997, Aviastar began work on a deep modernization of the aircraft control system, including the installation of the 3M global positioning system and the airborne collision warning system TCAS-2000 manufactured by Honeywell Electronics, as well as the ground collision warning system. The power plant of the aircraft also underwent refinement in the form of installation of D-18T 3 series engines, and the number of the Ruslan crew was reduced from six to four people.
Volga-Dnepr Airlines became the first customer of the new version, having signed a contract for one copy in July 2003. The An-124-100М RA-82801 prototype left the Aviastar shop 16 in March 2004, and a month later, 11 April, made the first flight.
When the X-NUMX production ceased in 2004, 124 gliders were released by that time. Currently, the 56 "boards" remain in service. Of these, 38 is owned and operated by civilian operators, while 24 is reported to be part of the Russian Air Force. Of the remaining 14 aircraft released, 18 is currently in storage, and five were written off after flight accidents.
Back in September, the governments of Russia and Ukraine announced the resumption of production; The An-2004-124М variant was to be produced jointly by Aviastar and Aviant during the 100-2006 period. In July, Volga-Dnepr Airlines expressed interest in purchasing 2020 An-2008-40-124 from 100 and for the period up to 150 from the United Aircraft Building Corporation 2011.
By October, 2010, the UAC, announced that it had 62 orders for the new Ruslans. However, by the middle of 2011, the Ukrainian engine manufacturer D-18T Motor Sich JSC stated that the resumption of production was postponed to 2016, citing financial difficulties and workload of the Ulyanovsk plant. At the same time, the remaining Russian An-124 was being repaired and upgraded at Aviastar. 20 July 2011, the last copy owned and operated by Polet, completed the repair and was handed over to the company's flight center for pre-sales testing.
The resumption of production of An-124 remains in question - there is no evidence that at least one contract has been signed, but the program is not officially considered closed. There are a number of reasons to believe that the contract from the Russian Ministry of Defense with volumes from 10 to 20 An-124 is moving forward along with the modernization program of the aircraft remaining in the air force. According to some experts, the signing of this contract can serve as a way out of the impasse and give rise to mass production. Taking into account forecasts for the growth of the market of heavy and oversized cargo in the coming 20 years, there will be an increased demand for An-124, equipped with the most modern technologies and integrated systems.
Existing civilian operators An-124
Year of delivery
|Libyan air cargo|
|Maximus Air Cargo|