Published on September 5th, 2016 | by Jim Lee0
Antonov An-225 Mriya programme to resume production?
In a brief statement on 31st August, the Antonov Company confirmed that it had signed a co-operation agreement on the Antonov An-225 Mriya (‘dream’) programme, with the Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (AICC). In the agreement, both parties expressed their intensions for long-term cooperation, which could see the massive Mriya, resume production. Negotiations between the two enterprises are said to have been ongoing since May 2016.
As an initial step and as part of this agreement, a second “modernised” and partially completed An-225 airframe, will be completed, and will be delivered to AICC. This airframe has been sitting around at Aviant-Kiev’s Aviation Plant at Svyatoshino airfield, in its incomplete state, for the last twenty odd years. This agreement is subject to “proper contracts”.
A second stage of the agreement, again subject to “proper contract”, will see “the organisation of the joint series production of the An-225 in China under licence,” to the Antonov Company. The two companies did not reveal any further details about the agreement and would not comment on project deadlines, or the planned numbers of aircraft, which will be built in China.
China’s CCTV Channel, in a comment on its Facebook page, said that the Antonov Company sold all manufacturing rights and technological documents for the aircraft to the China Aerospace company, adding that the first An-225 could be produced in China as early as in 2019. Antonov’s press service later dismissed these reports as untrue.
The Antonov An-225 was designed to airlift the Energia rocket’s boosters and the Buran space shuttle, for the Soviet space program. It was developed as a replacement for the Myasishchev VM-T Atlant, of which only two were built and during the last years of the Soviet space programme, the An-225 was employed as the prime method of transporting the Buran space shuttle. It can carry ultra-heavy and oversize freight, up to 250,000 kg (550,000 lb) internally, or 200,000 kg (440,000 lb) on the upper fuselage. Cargo on the upper fuselage can be 70 metres (230 ft) long. It is powered by six turbofan engines and is the longest and heaviest airplane ever built, with a maximum take-off weight of 640 tonnes (710 short tons). It also has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in operational service. The aircraft holds the absolute world records for an airlifted single item payload of 189,980 kilograms (418,834 pounds), and an airlifted total payload of 253,820 kg (559,577 lb). It has also transported a payload of 247,000 kilograms (545,000 pounds) on a commercial flight.
The aircraft also features an increased-capacity landing gear system with 32 wheels, some of which are steerable. This enables the aircraft to turn within a 60 metres (200 ft) wide runway. Its nose gear is also designed to kneel, so cargo can be more easily loaded and unloaded. The pressurised cargo hold is 1,300 m3 (46,000 cu ft) in volume; 6.4 metres (21 ft 0 in) wide, 4.4 metres (14 ft) high, and 43.35 metres (142 ft 3 in) long.
The An-225 first flew on 21st December 1988, as CCCP-480182, with a 74-minute flight from Kiev. It was constructed by stretching the fuselage of the four-engined An-124, lengthening the wing and adding a split tail. The lengthened wing allowed an additional two engines, with the aircraft been flown with six ZMKB Ivchenko-Progress D-18 turbofans.
The aircraft appeared at the Paris Air Show in 1989 and at the following year’s Farnborough air show, as CCCP-82060. Work on a second An-225 was undertaken during the late 1980s, also for the Soviet space programme. It differed from the first by having a rear cargo door and a redesigned tail with a single vertical stabilizer, which was considered more effective for cargo transportation. Unlike the An-124, the An-225 was not intended for tactical airlifting and is not designed for short-field operation.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the cancellation of the Buran space programme, CCCP-82060 was placed in storage in 1994.
However, earlier in 1989, the Antonov Design Bureau had set up a holding company as a heavy airlift shipping corporation, under the name ‘Antonov Airlines’ based in Kiev. This was at a time when the Soviet government was looking to generate revenue from its military assets. It began operating from London Luton Airport, in partnership with the Air Foyle HeavyLift. with a fleet of four An-124-100s and three Antonov An-12s.
The need for aircraft larger than the An-124 became apparent in the late 1990s and in response, the original An-225 was re-engined, modified for heavy cargo transport, and placed back in service under the management of Antonov Airlines, as UR-82060. It was certified on 7th May 2001 for commercial use, after restoration to flying status;
By 2000 however, the need for additional An-225 capacity had become apparent and it was decided, in September 2006, to recommence construction of the second An-225. Although scheduled for completion around 2008, by August 2009, the airframe had not been completed and work was again abandoned.
So what are chances of a Chinese built An-225 Mriya being successful, given the difficult nature of the international cargo market at present? With the slow sales of the even smaller An-124, who is going to buy this six-engined monster? By comparison, Airbus suspended work on a freighter version of its Airbus A380F freighter, after orders were cancelled by FedEx and UPS. If commercial demand does indeed prove weak, there is always the possibility of the aircraft being operated by China’s military – but in what numbers?
Also in late August, the establishment the state-owned Aero-Engine Group of China was announced, with the intention of reducing China’s dependence on Western commercial engines and Russia for its military propulsion needs. Quoted by Xinhua, President Xi Jinping called the new creation of the company a “strategic move” aimed at “developing China’s reputation as a global aviation power”. Could Chinese engines power a future An-225 built by AICC and if so will it be produced in numbers that make commercial sense?