May 29, 2012: The Russian Air Force is upgrading seven of its 25 An-124 "Ruslan" transports to the An-124-100M standard. This upgrade includes strengthening the air frame, installing new electronics, and increasing range to 5,400 kilometers. A new type of brakes enables the aircraft to reduce its landing distance by 30 percent. This makes more airfields able to handle the aircraft. Three An-124s have already completed their upgrade, and once all seven are done, another ten air force An-124s will be upgraded. The air force has also ordered ten new An-124-300s, which will be able to carry 30 tons more (for a total of 150 tons). Three years ago, after three years of planning, production of the An-124 was resumed. At least 70 will be produced initially, and they will sell for about $200 million each.
Designed at the end of the Cold War, only sixty were built then. But the market for aircraft that can carry oversize cargo has grown twice as fast as the air cargo market in general. The An-124, and the U.S. Air Force C-5, are the only two transports that can handle oversize material. And the An-124 is the only "jumbo" available for charter. Six years ago it was proposed that An-124 production be resumed. Another fifty, or more, aircraft were to be produced, starting in 2008. That was delayed because there were problems raising the required cash (at least half a billion dollars). Now the government has come up with the money and all the resources (suppliers of components) have been organized.
The An-124 is the world's largest production aircraft and can carry a payload of up to 150 tons. The An-124 cruises at a speed of around 800 to 850 kilometers per hour. It can carry a maximum payload of around 4,500 kilometers, or carry ten tons of cargo and more fuel for up to 14,000 kilometers. There are around 28 An-124s doing commercial work, with another 25 in military service
In the late 1980s, a modification of the An-124, the slightly larger An-225, was built. With two extra engines and a larger wing, the An-225 can carry over 250 tons. A second An-225 was being built when the Cold War ended. Construction was halted but demand for An-124s has been so strong that the second An-225 is now 60 percent complete and waiting for more cash. New An-225s would cost over $250 million each. These are a bargain compared to the $225 million cost of a new American C-17 cargo aircraft. The C-17 also only carries around 79 tons of cargo. If sales of the new An-124 take off, more An-225s may be available as well.