February 11, 2012:
The Russian Air Force received the first of seven An-140-100 transports. These twin turboprop aircraft are built in Ukraine. Since introduced in 2007, the 19 ton An-140 has been used mainly as a civilian aircraft (it can carry 52 passengers). The An-140s sold to Russia are modified for military use. The civilian version sells for about $9 million each, but the militarized version (sturdier landing gear, more electronics, configured to carry five tons of cargo) increases the price to about $12 million. This is about half the price of a similar Western aircraft. That economy comes at a cost, as five of the 35 An-140s delivered so far have crashed. However, two of those were An-140s built under license in Iran.
The 19 ton An-140 has a range of 1,300 kilometers and a cruise speed of 460 kilometers an hour. The military version will probably be able to carry about five tons of cargo. There are 24 An-140s on order from several countries. Russia is buying them, in part, to improve diplomatic and economic relations with Ukraine. But the Russian Air Force also wants to rebuild its air transport fleet and replace existing An-24s. The An-140 is a radical upgrade of the 21 ton An-24.
While first developed in the late 1950s, the An-24 design was upgraded in the 1960s to the An-26. The latest version is the An-32. The original An-24 transport entered service in the early 1960s. Over 1,100 AN-24s were built, and over 500 are still in use. About ten percent of An-24s were lost in accidents.
Before the end of the 60s, some 600 of an improved version, the An-26, were built and over 200 are still flying. It's easy to confuse the An-24 and An-26 and journalists (and government officials) often do so. In the 1970s, even more powerful versions (An-30, An-32) entered service but only about 360 of these were made. India was the principal customer for the 27 ton An-32, which is basically an An-26 with better engines and modifications for tropical operations. This version can carry 6.7 tons of cargo or up to 50 passengers. Max speed is 540 kilometers an hour and range is 2,500 kilometers. The crew consists of two pilots and a loadmaster. The An-140 also carries a loadmaster when in all-cargo mode.
Antonov built the original An-24 series to be simple, rugged, and easy to use and maintain. They succeeded. Four decades later it should not be surprising that nearly a thousand An-24 series aircraft are still working. That's not the first time this has happened. After 70 years there are still several hundred DC-3 transports working in odd (and often remote) parts of the world.
But with age comes problems. Engines, and other parts of these aging aircraft, are prone to fail at bad moments. A major problem with the An-24 is the shortage of spare parts. The network of factories producing the spares fell apart when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The parts supply network has been slowly rebuilt, with many factories outside of Russia now producing needed components. Quality of these parts varies, which adds to the sense of adventure one has when flying in these aircraft.