Want to buy a
bunch of heavy lifters dirt-cheap? Russia is offering 21 An-124s for sale.
These belonged to the Russian Air Force, and are considered underutilized and
too expensive to maintain. In essence, this fire sale can land someone a nice
airlift fleet, or help someone who currently has one, to supplement it very cheap. The An-124 is
about the size of a U.S. C-5B, has a range of 16,500 kilometers and can carry
up to 122 tons. It cruises at 865 kilometers per hour. The Russians built 56 -
with the last five airframes being completed earlier this decade.
This is one of the best
heavy-lift aircraft in the world, with 30 percent more range carrying the
maximum payload than a C-5B Galaxy. While the Airbus A380F can carry 30 tons
more, and has and about twice the range, it is not exactly designed to carry a
lot of military cargos, like tanks or armored fighting vehicles. The same is
true of the 747-400F freighter. The C-5 and An-124 have ramps in the stern and
bow, allowing a crew to just drive the vehicle in and then drive it out when
they get to the destination.
The An-124 has carried a
number of odd cargos. It was the plane used to ferry the EP-3 from Hainan
Island after the 2001 crisis involving a collision with a Chinese J-8. It also
was used to haul American helicopters to Afghanistan. It is also moved A380 and
Boeing 777, while these aircraft were being built. In essence, if someone needs
to haul about 150 tons, they usually turned to a leased An-124.
NATO has six of these aircraft
leased to supplement the airlift fleets of its member nations. It is a good
bargain - the AN-124 can carry twice the cargo for less money. However, Russian
support in the past has been iffy, and the aircraft has had four crashes (out
of a fleet of 56). Compare that to five C-5s lost out of a fleet of 131
aircraft, and no losses for the C-17 (with one surviving a SAM hit). With
Antonov's efforts to develop support capabilities similar to those of Western
aircraft manufacturers like Lockheed and Boeing, the 21 An-124s for sale will
provide a boost to anyone looking for a credible airlift capability. Russia is
selling four An-124s right away, apparently to see what the market will bear.
The remaining 17 will be sold before the end of the year. A new An-124 would
cost about $200 million. A smaller American C-17 costs about $225 million.-
Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)