Fake or Real? Russia’s Super Transporter

The Kremlin-related TV channel ‘Russia Today’ presented viewers images of a monster transporter, able to carry up to 200 tons per flight. Meanwhile, aviation experts are fiercely debating if this project is mere propaganda or based on real plans.

Images of the Super Transporter  /  source: A. Komarov, Volga-Dnepr Group
Images of the Super Transporter / source: A. Komarov, Volga-Dnepr Group

If constructed, it would by far be the largest and most capable cargo aircraft the world has ever seen. According to ‘Russia Today’ the supersonic plane will be able to fly at a maximum velocity of up to 2,000 km/h, cover distances ranging 7,000 km and uplift 200 tons of civil or military goods. “With this aircraft in service our military could reach each angle of this globe within hours or transport large numbers of commercial goods needed by the industry,” trumpeted one of the TV channels presenters while introducing the project.
However, what are the chances that this futuristic craft will really be manufactured one day? When taking a closer look at the concept major doubts pop up.

Absence of technical support
The paramount question is if the Russian aviation industry is technically able to build such a monster lifter. This must be seen against the background of failed projects in recent times and the absence of both expertise provided by western firms and sophisticated avionic solutions needed to get such a mega transporter airborne. 
As to the first aspect it can be said that major projects like Suchoi’s Superjet 100 passenger plane and plans to jointly construct a fighter aircraft together with India haven’t really become success stories so far, particularly after India stepped out of the deal. Furthermore, most of the country’s military planes in operation date back to the days of the former Soviet Union without technically revolutionized models having been introduced since then.
Last but not least the expenditures for planning and constructing the now displayed super transporter should play a major role for deciding in favor or against this project. With Russia’s coffers near to empty it is very doubtful that Putin and his political supporters will decide to spend hundreds of billions of rubles for getting the project to become real.

Supersonic cargo lifters?
Who needs them anyway, except maybe for Russian military uses?
Freight rates would have to go up over one thousand percent to even get anywhere near breaking even on such a transporter.
Russia did not get very far with their Tupolev supersonic passenger planes some decades ago. Furthermore, the Ilyushin freighter IL-96T, introduced in August of 2007 to a broader public at Moscow’s air show MAKS has been a complete failure.
Let‘s stick with a reborn Cargo Airship. It can stay in the air for up to five days, carry large loads, is relatively cheap to manufacture and the cargo carried is not worried whether it gets to its destination in 3 hours or 3 days.
This certainly looks like a PR hype on the part of someone.
Taking all these aspects together there seems to be little chance that the big airship will take off one day. At least not within the next ten years, as loudly proclaimed by ‘Russia Today’.

Heiner Siegmund

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