With Kiev’s relationship with Moscow now non-existent, Antonov aircraft is looking to inject western technologies and spare parts into its giant An-124 Condor and An-225 Mriya designs. So instead of having one giant plane constructed under one giant design philosophy, they’ll both now be a mix of both West and East. Neat.
Doing so would not only ease these aircraft’s spare parts woes, but it could result in new sales for the the Condor, a jet whose capabilities remain in high demand.
A highly visible success that resulted from the end of the Cold War was the re-tooling of a portion of the USSR’s massive airlifters for civilian and military charter purposes. The timing was fantastic, as just-in-time manufacturing was becoming all the rage, military budgets were shrinking, and by the time the war in Afghanistan heated up, An-124s, and its one-off bigger brother, the An-225, were hard at work supplying huge amounts of cargo to both war zones.
Today, these behemoths can be found delivering jet engines to Boeing, moving huge drills, submarines, rockets and doing jobs like hauling Royal Army helicopters to the El Centro naval air base for hot-and-high training.
Russian firms Volga-Dpner and Polet Cargo operate the An-124 for charter purposes, but with Russia’s changing geopolitical position, the success of these charter players may slide into jeopardy. Still, the Russian Air Force utilizes the type heavily, with around 15 of the jets operating regularly and more in storage. Recently, Russia’s An-124 fleet was critical in opening up the “air bridge” between Russia and Syria as Russia began prepping to execute air strikes in support of the Assad regime.
Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines operates seven An-124s, as well as the massive An-225, the largest cargo plane in the world, and simply the largest plane ever, depending on how you measure it. Sadly, production of upgraded An-124s was well on its way to becoming a reality, then Russia invaded Crimea, which shot the Ukraine-Russia cooperative project down in flames. Like other Ukrainian businesses still intertwined with their ex-Soviet overlords, Antonov has struggled since relations between the two countries evaporated.
Westernizing the Condor has been floated in the past, quite aggressively actually, including plans to get rid of the type’s Progress D-18T turbofan engines and replacing them with General Electric CF6s. Yet the jet’s avionics are the most pressing need when it comes to operating Condors independently of questionable supply chains that run through Russia. They can also reduce the crew needs of the aircraft, which are intensive. Smaller previous upgrades have reduced the cockpit crew from six to four, but a more extensive avionics refit could reduce that number to as little as two, while also greatly enhancing the type’s reliability. Sourcing new mechanical and expendable spare parts also remains a major issue when it comes to keeping the Condors and the single Mrryia flying without Russia’s help.
During a recent NATO transportation and rapid reaction force summit, Aviation Week reports that Oleksandr Kiva, vice president and deputy general designer at Antonov, told the attendees “the political situation has dramatically increased the need for Western parts.”
As such, Antonov is moving forward with modifying the An-124 to fit into a new, westernized supply chain. The first aircraft outfitted in this new configuration will fly next year after being installed on a Condor that is going through deep maintenance. Test flights will start shortly after that. Antonov’s charter pilots are also their test pilots, so this will help accelerate the testing process.
This initiative could result in a boom or a bust for Antonov. On one side of the coin, if successful, such a dramatic change in suppliers could blaze the way to more Condors being ordered by various potential customers. On the other hand, it could put even more fiscal pressure on a company that is already struggling to adapt to its home country’s rapidly changing geopolitical position in the world.
NATO countries in particular, who have relied heavily on the Antonov’s fleet for war-zone and training logistics, also has a lot to lose if a stable supply chain for the Condors and the Mriya cannot be established. Hopefully this dichotomy will only help Antonov in its endeavor.
As for that second An-225 airframe that so many hope would one day fly (pictured here), with the Russians out of the picture and the $100 million plus price tag placed on making it happen, seeing Mriya number two fly looks to be a just dream one again. Although, this is strangely fitting considering the world’s largest aircraft translated name – “Dream.”
Contact the author Tyler@Jalopnik.com
Photo credits, in order top to bottom: Aleksandr Markin, Sergey Kustov, Dmitry A. Mottl. Dmitry A. Mottl, Vasiliy Koba all via wikicommons.