The An-124 Ruslan (Nato reporting name Condor), designed by the Antonov ASTC, based in Kiev, Ukraine, is a very large cargo transport aircraft. It is manufactured by Aviant State Aviation Plant, Kiev, and Aviastar, Ulyanovsk, Russia.
The Ruslan is designed for long-range delivery and air dropping of heavy and large size cargo, including machines, equipment and troops. The development of the first AN-124 airframe commenced in 1979.
The An-124 completed its maiden flight in December 1982 and entered service in January 1986. The aircraft was first showcased at the Paris Air Show in 1985. It was accredited with civil certification in 1992. Around 60 aircraft have were built. The Russian Army operates 25 An-124 aircraft.
Five An-124 Ruslan aircraft were used by Antonov’s airlift subdivision Antonov Airlines to deliver cargoes from China to European countries during the first half of 2020.
An-124 Ruslan transport capabilities
The unique transport capabilities and the high performance of the aircraft have been proven in operation.
20 An-124-100 of Antonov Airlines, Volga-Dnepr, Poliot and other airlines transport different cargoes all over the world; for example: 90t hydraulic turbines, large Liebherr autocranes, American Euclid dump trucks, the fuselage of Tu-204 passenger transporter, a 109t railway locomotive, and a sea yacht more than 25m long.
Volga-Dnepr Airlines of Russia has ten plus five An-124 aircraft on order. Polet Airlines of Russia operate eight An-124 aircraft.
Aviant State Aviation Plant in Kiev completed an An-124-100 from parts in stock which was sold to the United Arab Emirates in 2004.
Seven An-124-100 aircraft were operated by Antonov Airlines, based at London Stansted Airport, in partnership with Air Foyle HeavyLift. Antonov Airlines did not renew the contract for this partnership in June 2006 and instead signed an agreement with Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Aviastar for the modernisation and construction of the An-124.
In September 2004, the governments of Russia and the Ukraine announced that series production of the An-124 would be restarted. Up to 80 An-124-100M upgraded aircraft are to be jointly manufactured by Aviastar and Aviant between 2007 and 2020. The Russian Air Force received three An-124-100M aircraft in 2012 another three in 2019.
Volga-Dnepr Airlines placed an order for five An-124-100Ms in August 2005. Supplemental type certification was received for the aircraft in June 2007, allowing operations with 402t maximum take-off weight and 150t maximum payload. The An-124-100M’s flight range was increased to 4,000km and the crew reduced to three.
A preliminary agreement was signed between Russia and Ukraine in April 2008 to resume the An-124 aircraft production.
Antonov was contracted by Volga-Dnepr Airlines in August 2011 to overhaul the fleet of An-124-100 Ruslan into An-124-111VD standard. The modernised aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 402t, a cargo lift capacity of 150t, a flight range of 5,000km with a 120t payload and a minimum crew of three. It is powered by advance 3M series D-18T engines compatible with the FADEC system.
An-124 orders and deliveries
Customer orders for the An-124 include Russian Air Force (25), Libya Arab Air Cargo (two), Antonov Airlines (seven), and Maximum Air Cargo (one).
Volga-Dnepr Airlines awarded a contract to state-owned joint stock company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) in 2008 to deliver 40 An-124-100M aircraft.
UAC started delivering the new AN-124 Ruslan to the Russian Air Force from 2014 under the state arms procurement programme. The deliveries are scheduled for completion by 2027.
An-124 very large cargo aircraft design
The design of the AN-124 began in 1971. The aircraft fuselage has a double-deck layout. The cockpit, the relief crew compartment and the troop cabin with 88 seats are on the upper deck. The lower deck is the cargo hold. The flight deck has crew stations arranged in pairs for six crew: the pilot and co-pilot, two flight engineers, the navigator, and the communications officer. The loadmaster’s station is located in the lobby deck.
The An-124 aircraft is fitted with a relatively thick (12%) swept-back super-critical wing to give high aerodynamic efficiency and, consequently, a long flight range.
The construction includes extruded skin panels on the wing, extruded plates for the centre-section wing panels and monolithic wafer plates for the fuselage panels. The aircraft structural members are made of composites that make up 1,500m² of the surface area.
Multi-leg landing gear and loading equipment ensure self-sufficient operation of the aircraft on prepared concrete runways and on unpaved strips.
The landing gear is self-orienting and incorporates a kneeling mechanism, which allows an adjustable fuselage clearance to assist the loading and unloading of self-propelled equipment.
The onboard system of cargo handling equipment makes it possible to load and unload the aircraft without the help of ground facilities. The para-dropping and cargo handling equipment comprises two travelling cranes, two winches, rollgang and tiedown equipment. The aircraft is often compared to the US Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy. The An-124 has a transportation capability 25% higher than that of the C-5A and 10% higher than the C-5B.
The two cargo hatches are a distinctive structural feature. The fuselage nose can be hinged upward to open the front cargo hatch and there is a cargo hatch in the rear fuselage.
All systems are quadruple redundant. The onboard equipment provides the capability to execute airlift and para-drop missions by day and at night, in visual flight rules and instrument flight rules (VFR and IFR) weather conditions. There are 34 computers functioning aboard the aircraft, combined into four main systems: navigation, automatic piloting, remote control and monitoring.
The integrated flight control and aiming-navigation system comprises an autonomous navigation system, altitude and air-speed indicating system, combat formation flight control equipment, short-range radio navigation and landing system, global positioning system, automatic radio compass, ground surveillance radar, forward-looking weather radar, optical and TV sight, and IFF equipment.
An-124-210 and An-124-100M
Antonov, Aviastar and Air Foyle of the UK jointly submitted a proposal to the UK MoD for leasing of new versions, the An-124-210 and An-124-100M. An-124-210 will be equipped with a Rolls-Royce RB211-52H-T engine; An-124-100M with series 3 D-18 engines, produced by Progress Design Bureau in Zaporozhe.
These engines allow an increase in service range of 10% and reduced take-off distance.
The An-124-210 is a 120ft (36.5m)-long cargo freighter. The floor width and height of aircraft is 21ft (6.4m) and 14.4ft (4.3m) respectively, with 10.5ft (3.2m) below the crane.
The An-124-100M aircraft has the capacity to travel 4,500km at a height of up to 10,000m carrying a maximum load of 120t. The aircraft is 36m long and 4.4m high. It can operate under 60°C below zero and 45°C above zero.
Both versions will be equipped with digital instrumentation and displays from Honeywell of the USA and Aviapribor of Russia, enabling the crew size to be reduced from six to four. Also fitted are a traffic alert collision avoidance system (TCAS 2000), ground proximity warning system and satellite communications system.