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
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.