Some good news came to Ukraine’s famous, albeit struggling aircraft manufacturer, Antonov, today. Saudi Arabia has announced that they are going to purchase 30 of the company’s new AN-178 jet transports. This is the first military order for the type and the largest single order to date.

The An-178, with its sharp nose and and high-set tail, looks like the result of a Dornier 328 Jet mating with a C-17. Yet it is just one of a few similar concepts being developed around the globe, namely in India, Japan and Brazil. All of which aim to bring twin-jet performance to a mission-set largely accomplished by quad-prop or twin-prop aircraft in the past.

What makes the An-178 different than its competition is that it was developed from an airliner, the An-148/158 series, a regional jet airliner capable of landing on rough fields. As a result of this unique evolution, the An-178 is far more mature than a clean-sheet design. Just under 60 of the airliners have been ordered, one of which Kim Jong Un’s apparently enjoys to fly, or act least act like he is flying.

Where the An-148/An-158 series has sputtered when it comes to sales, the cargo derivative of the type may very well end up being much more successful. Older Antonov aircraft, many of which were built in the Soviet days, are in need of replacement. Their rough-and-tough characteristics and family association makes the An-178 a likely successor. Some of these aircraft include the An-32 and An-74 series of transports.

Additionally, the An-178 helps fill an interesting niche for air arms and cargo carriers that have a need for a highly flexible regional transport that can haul large cargo at jet speeds, while still not sacrificing when it comes to rough-field performance. Currently, no western aircraft offers this mix of capabilities.

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The An-178 is capable of carrying 32,000 pounds over a range of 620 miles, or 20,000 pounds over a range of 2,500 miles. It can cruise at 445 knots and has a rear cargo ramp for easy loading. It features an airframe that makes large use of composite materials and also has a fly-by-wire flight control system with a back-up mechanical one.

Although the An-178 will likely not break any world records, and it is not the most capable of the similar designs being developed, Antonov has put a lot of usability into a hardy regional cargo aircraft package, one that is likely to be very competitively priced. Currently, there are ten aircraft also on order from Silk Airlines as well.

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As part of the An-178 deal, Saudi Arabia’s Taqnia Aeronautics will jointly market the aircraft to other Arab gulf states alongside Antonov. The two companies have increasingly cooperated on aviation projects in recent years, including developing a special missions variant of the An-148 airliner according to Flightglobal.com.

With Saudi Arabia being the military juggernaut of the region, and with increasing cooperation among Arab states when it comes to military issues just being announced, Antonov’s pointy twin-jet military hauler could find an interesting niche in a troubled region.


Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.

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Photo credits: Top photo via Vasiliy Koba/Wikicommons, An-148 photovia Alex Beltyukov/Wikicommons