The Antonov An-124 Ruslan (Ukrainian: Антонов Ан-124 «Руслан») (NATO reporting name: Condor) is a strategic airlift jet aircraft. It was designed by the Antonov design bureau in the Ukrainian SSR, then part of the Soviet Union. The An-124 is the world's second highest gross weight production cargo airplane behind the Boeing 747-8F and world's third heaviest operating cargo aircraft, behind the one-off Antonov An-225 (a greatly enlarged design based on the An-124) and the Boeing 747-8F.
During development it was known as Izdeliye 400 in house, and An-40 in the West. First flown in 1982, civil certification was issued on 30 December 1992. Over 40 are in service (26 civilian models with airlines and 10 firm orders as of August 2006) and 20 were in commercial use in 1998 in Ukraine, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Libya.
|A Polet Airlines An-124 approaching Sheremetyevo International Airport (July 2011)|
|National origin||Soviet Union|
|First flight||26 December 1982|
|Primary users||Russian Air Force
|Unit cost||US$70–100 million|
|Developed into||Antonov An-225|
During the 1970s, the VTA (Military Transport Aviation) arm of the Soviet Air Force had a shortfall in strategic heavy airlift capacity. Its largest planes consisted of about 50 Antonov An-22 turboprops, which were used heavily for tactical roles. A classified 1975 CIA analysis concluded that the USSR did "...not match the US in ability to provide long-range heavy lift support."
The An-124 was manufactured in parallel by two plants: the Russian company Aviastar-SP (ex. Ulyanovsk Aviation Industrial Complex) and by the Kyiv Aviation Plant AVIANT, in Ukraine. Design work started in 1971 and construction of facilities began in 1973. Manufacturing on the first airframe began in 1979. Ultimately this project brought together over 100 factories contracted to produce systems and parts.
The first flight took place in December 1982 and the first exposure to the West followed in 1985 at the Paris Air Show. Series production ceased with the breakup of the Soviet Union. The last five unfinished airframes left from the Soviet times were completed in 2001 (1), 2002 (1), and 2004 (3).
Since the type was initially designed only for occasional military use, original An-124s were built with a projected service life of 7,500 flight hours with possibility for extension. However many airframes have flown more than 15,000 flight hours. In response to complaints by commercial users, the An-124-100 version has been built since 2000 with an improved service life of 24,000 hours. Older airframes are being upgraded to this standard. Additional retrofiting is being performed to extend its service life to 40,000 flight hours. The Kyiv Aviation Plant AVIANT offers upgrades to the Аn-124-100М-150 version.
Russia and Ukraine agreed to resume the production in the third quarter of 2008. In May 2008, a new variant—the An-124-150—was announced; it featured several improvements, including a maximum lift capacity of 150 tonnes. However, in May 2009, Antonov's partner, United Aircraft Corporation announced it did not plan production of An-124s in the period 2009–2012. In late 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered production of the aircraft resumed. It is expected that Russia will purchase 20 new aircraft.
Externally, the An-124 is similar to the American Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, but has a 25% larger payload, and instead of the Galaxy's T-tail, the An-124 uses a conventional empennage, similar in design to that of the Boeing 747. The An-124 has been used to carry locomotives, yachts, aircraft fuselages, and a variety of other oversized cargoes. The aircraft is able to kneel to allow easier front loading; and has an onboard overhead crane capable of lifting up to 30 tonnes of cargo, and items up to 120 tonnes can be winched on board.
Up to 150 tonnes (150 long tons; 170 short tons) of cargo can be carried in a military An-124; it can also carry 88 passengers in an upper deck behind the wing centre section. The cargo compartment of An-124 is 36×6.4×4.4 m (118×21×14 ft), ca. 20% larger than the main cargo compartment of C-5 Galaxy, which is 36.91×5.79×4.09 m (121.1×19.0×13.4 ft). Due to limited pressurization in the main cargo compartment (24.6 kPa, 3.57 psi), it seldom carries paratroopers.
Pilots have stated that the An-124 is light on the controls and easy to handle for an aircraft of its size.
Some airports require pavement protection from the heat and blast effects of the An-124's auxiliary power unit.
Germany led the recent effort to lease An-124s for NATO strategic airlift requirements. Two aircraft are leased from SALIS GmbH as a stopgap until the Airbus A400M is available. Under NATO SALIS programme NAMSA is chartering six An-124-100 transport aircraft. According to the contract An-124-100s of Antonov Airlines and Volga-Dnepr are used within the limits of NATO SALIS programme to transport cargo by requests of 18 countries: Belgium, Hungary, Greece, Denmark, Canada, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland, France, Germany, Czech Republic and Sweden. Two An-124-100s are constantly based on full-time charter in the Leipzig/Halle airport, but the contract specifies that if necessary, two more aircraft will be provided on six days notice and another two on nine days notice. The contract was valid until 31 December 2010. The aircraft proved extremely useful for NATO especially with ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Russian cargo company Volga-Dnepr has contracts with Boeing to ship outsize aircraft components to their Everett plant. The An-124 is used for airlifting (in fully assembled form) the massive General Electric GE90 turbofan engines used on the Boeing 777 airliner. Rolls-Royce also contracts the Antonov An-124 to transport the Trent family engines to and from their test facilities worldwide.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) contracts the An-124 to transport the Atlas V launch vehicle from its facilities in Decatur, Alabama to Cape Canaveral. ULA also uses the An-124 to transport the Atlas V launch vehicle and Centaur upper stage from their manufacturing facility in Denver, Colorado to Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base. Two flights are required to transfer each launch vehicle (one for the Atlas V main booster stage and another for the Centaur upper stage). It is also contracted by Space Systems Loral to transport satellites from Palo Alto, CA to the Arianespace spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Airbus Transport International, a subsidiary of Airbus, has selected another Russian cargo company, Polet Airlines as "designated carrier" to the company. Polet expects its three An-124-100s will transport astronautic equipment manufactured by EADS, which is Airbus' parent company, and components of the Airbus A380 superjumbo. The Rolls-Royce Trent 900 is the only A380 engine that can be transported whole in a Boeing 747F; the competing Engine Alliance GP7200 engine needs a larger aircraft, like the An-124, for shipping in one piece.
In September 2009, a total of 28 An-124 aircraft were in airline service, with a further 10 firm orders.
As of 2011, four An-124 hull-loss accidents have been recorded, with a total of 97 fatalities: