By the end of this year, "Ilyushin" aims to have developed Russian components for its AN-124 "Ruslan" modernization project, according to the head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation Denis Manturov in a recent interview with "Interfax."
Before the Boeing 747-8F was developed, the AN-124 Ruslan was the largest heavy weight transport aircraft in the world, and the second heaviest operating cargo aircraft (after the An-225). Developed by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukraine, a total of 36 AN-124 units were manufactured during the period of existence of the Ulyanovsk Aviation Complex. Though discontinued in Russia since 2003, repairs and maintenance of its airworthiness continue and the AN-124 also remains the largest military transport aircraft in service today.
Extending the Russian fleet’s lifespan to the end of the 2040s
On 07MAY19, a contract was signed with Ilyushin in Russia for the creation a super-heavy transporter to replace the AN-124 Ruslan.
"Since 2017, Ilyushin Design Bureau has been working on the development of a deeply modernized super-heavy military transport aircraft AN-124-100M at the request of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia. On-board radio-electronic equipment and general aircraft systems are being modernized. Implementation of these measures will enable the AN-124 aircraft to be considered as "Russian" in the near future," Manturov said.
In June 2018, Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Borisov announced that the existing fleet of AN-124 Ruslan aircraft will be upgraded. At the time, he stated the necessity to establish a substitute to the Ukrainian D-18T engine, so that these would no longer require importing. The head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, later pronounced that the modernization of the existing AN-124 fleet would extend their usage until the end of the 2040s.
3.5 billion rubles to flow into Russian substitute parts for a modernized AN-124 “Ruslan” by 2022
The Ilyushin Aviation Complex plans to modernize the AN-124 Ruslan by 2022, converting the AN-124-100 military transport aircraft into the AN-124-100M and having it tested. Testing will be carried out at the Ulyanovsk-based Aviastar-SP enterprise, which previously produced Ruslans. According to the information on the state procurement portal, the implementation of these experimental design works (R&D) will cost about 3.5 billion rubles.
"The technical design protection for the modernized aircraft is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2019, and work is being carried out in accordance with the plans," Manturov stated.
Who will do it better?
Earlier, the Antonov Design Bureau had stated that only the aircraft designer "has all the technical knowledge and necessary information about the design, properties, life, service life and airworthiness of AN-124-100 aircraft, including test and analysis data necessary to maintain structural integrity ".
In January of this year, AirlinerWatch* reported that Antonov had declared their own mission to recommence production on the AN-124, aiming for assembly of the first aircraft before the end of 2019, according to Sergei Omelchenko, First Deputy Director General of Ukroboronprom, (state-run defence company), speaking on the Ukrainian TV channel Direct. At the time, he explained that Ukroboronprom was actively cooperating with several international companies to start the reproduction of the aircraft and underlined that the assembly would be carried out without the use of Russian components.
“We are at the final stage of completing the entire electronic components, and we hope that they will be finally adopted by the engineering and design group of the Antonov to begin the assembly of the first aircraft this year”, Omelchenko said in January.
In fact, Antonov had signed an agreement with the Boeing subsidiary Aviall back in 2018 for the serial production of manufacturer's new generation regional jets An-148/158/178s, whereby Aivall would supply Antonov with a broad range of components and provide after-sales support. Antonov was working towards Aviall also sourcing equipment and material to produce more parts locally.
Will the real AN-124-100 please come forward!
On Antonov’s website, the message published on 29AUG19 is clear: “ANTONOV COMPANY DOES NOT TAKE PART IN CREATION OF NEW AIRCRAFT DEVELOPED BY ILYUSHIN DESIGN BUREAU” and refers to the Interfax.Ru article mentioned above. The company points out that airline designers generally base their modifications on their own aircraft models, and that the AN-124-100 was designed by Antonov, and – as per international regulations – therefore, Antonov holds the designer status and the AN-124-100 Ruslan type certification. Whilst they do not forbid the modification of the AN-124-100, they do point out that any equipment changes carried out by the Ilyushin Design Bureau, will affect aircraft performance in comparison to the basic model, leading to a new aircraft type. This new aircraft will require a new designation – in particular, one without reference to AN, since Antonov will not be held liable for the safety of an aircraft that has been developed without their participation.
While Antonov move to resuming AN-124-100 production without Russian parts, and Ilyushin move to developing the AN-124-100 without Ukrainian parts, it remains to be seen if the modified AN-124-100 can indeed call itself that, or eventually “RU-124”?