Air Transportation: Three Efforts To Get It Right

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May 19, 2021: Russia has finally developed a replacement for its 1950s era An-24 twin-engine turboprop military transport. The new aircraft is the Il-112V and it is the third effort to produce a worthwhile successor to the An-24/26. The first attempt was the Chinese MA60 which entered service in 2002 but had safety and reliability problems and never attempted to be certified for use in Western countries. Most went to Chinese commercial and military users. Export customers were found for 57 them in parts of the world (Africa, Asia and the Pacific) where certification was less stringent than in the West. There were a lot of accidents and by 2016 nearly half were out of service because of safety concerns, maintenance problems or unsatisfactory performance. China is trying to rehabilitate the reputation of the MA60 by an upgraded version for a Coast Guard maritime patrol aircraft.

Meanwhile Russian firms had produced two An-26 replacements; the An-140 and Il-112. The An-140 won design competition and turned out to be a disaster. Although the An-140 first flew in 1997 and entered service in 2002, its record was dismal. Iran was also granted a license to build the An-140 in Iran as the Iran-140.

The Iran-140 was to initially be assembled in Iran from components imported from Russia. The plan was that Iranian component manufacturers would eventually replace the Russian components. That never happened because the first six Iran-140s had frequent reliability problems and one crashed in the Iranian capital. Iran tried to fix the problems but by 2014 Ukraine, where the AN-140 was designed and built, had ceased An-140 cooperation with Russia because of a Russian invasion that seized one province (Crimea) and half of two others in the easter Ukraine Donbas region. The military stalemate in Donbas continues. While there was also another factory in Russia producing the An-140, that was shut down because of reliability and safety concerns. Between Russia and Iran only about 35 An-140s were built before everyone gave up.

At that point Russia turned to the Il-114 and that project was revived as the Il-112V. In 2011, when the An-140 was selected over the Il-112, the Il-112 had not made its first flight. Taking note of the problems the An-140 encountered, Russia-based Voronezh Aircraft Company, part of the government owned UAC (United Aircraft Corporation) took their time in completing development and first flight took place in 2019. More tinkering followed to make the first prototype 800 kg lighter. The second flight took place in 2021. Further weight reductions were carried out and the second prototype was two tons lighter than their original prototype. More test flights are planned even though mass production was authorized and is to start in 2023.

UAC has been extremely careful in completing the development of the Il-112, which was designed by Ilyushin Design Bureau. The Soviet Union used such design bureaus to design new aircraft, with production of prototypes by aircraft factories that worked with the design bureaus to get new aircraft into production. The design bureaus were merged into the UAC, along with most Russian aircraft manufacturers in 2006. This was meant to make Russian aircraft developers and builders profitable and capable of producing aircraft that meet Western safety standards and are able to compete for sales with Western and Chinese firms.

The Russian Air Force is the initial customer for the Il-112V and plans to order as many as seventy to replace aging An-26s. If that military version is successful, more will be ordered and a commercial version developed and built for domestic and export customers. The Il-112V model concentrated on military needs and is equipped with modern electronics, thereby reducing crew size from three to just a pilot and co-pilot/loadmaster. The Il-112V has defense systems to protect against heat seeking missiles and is capable of all-weather operation.

The 21-ton Il-112V has a larger interior volume than the An-26 and can carry 44 troops compared to 38 for the An-26. The engines are more fuel efficient and of a more modern design than those used in the An-26 and An-140. The Il-112V makes use of more lightweight modern materials that are now commonly used in commercial and military aircraft. Cruising speed is 450 kilometers an hour and range on internal fuel is 2,400 kilometers carrying 3.5 tons and 1,700 kilometers with a max load of five tons. Max altitude is 7,600 meters (25,000 feet). Max endurance is over six hours for ferry flights.

The 1950s An-24 design was upgraded in the 1960s to the An-26 and 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 An-26 version began production and over a hundred 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 built. 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. Cruising speed is 440 kilometers an hour and endurance over five hours. The crew consists of two pilots and a loadmaster. Antonov built the original An24 series to be simple, rugged, and easy to use and maintain. They succeeded. Seven decades later it should not be surprising that about 500 An-24 series aircraft are still working. That's not the first time this has happened. After 90 years there are still about hundreds of American DC-3 transports working in odd (and often remote) parts of the world.

 


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