Air Transportation: An-70 Returns From The Dead


February 20, 2008: After two years of stalling, Russia has agreed to put up the needed $300 million to revive the An-70 transport aircraft development program. Venezuela tried to help the Antonov aircraft company, two years ago, by offering to buy a dozen of their new An70 transports. But Russia, which was having political problems with Ukraine at the time, refused to go along. Since the late 1980s, when the An-70 was in development, it has been pitched as a low cost alternative for nations needing C-130 or A400M type medium military transports.

The An70 is a powerful prop-driven aircraft. While the C-130 can haul 20 tons, and the A400M 37 tons, the AN-70 can carry 47 tons (for up to 1,350 kilometers.) Carrying 20 tons, the An70 can travel 7,400 kilometers. The aircraft also excels in one area the Russians were always good at; the ability to operate from unpaved, and short, runways. The Russian-Ukrainian company developing the AN-70 expected to sell lots of them to countries like India and China, and others that want the most for their money in a rugged military transport.

The An70 has a top speed of 800 kilometers, a range of 8,000 kilometers and is intended as a replacement for the venerable, and popular, An-12. The An70 has been in development since 1984, and that effort was interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite the cut in funding, the first flight took place in 1994, and a second in 1997. The project limped along on a much reduced budget. The first prototype crashed in 2001, and part of the problem was design flaws with its D-27 turboprop engines. The Soviet Union always had problems with designing and building durable and reliable aircraft engines. These problems have not been resolved, and some Russian aircraft companies buy foreign engines for their transports.

Antonov, a Ukrainian company, kept An70 development going through mid-2006, and maintained good relations with the Russian government. Russia said it wanted to concentrate on further developing its own Il-76 jet transport. But there is still a demand for propeller driven transports. The new program plans to have the An-70 ready for production by late next year.




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