Text & Pictures: Serge Van Heertum & Johny De Visch  © sbap 2014
We can see this giant aircraft on regular way at different places in the world but also in Belgium, mostly at the military base of Melsbroek. Designed in the 1970’s, this aircraft remain an impressive machine…but what is the history and usage of this amazing aircraft?

History and developments
The Antonov An-124 Ruslan (Ukrainian: Антонов Ан-124 "Руслан") (NATO reporting name: Condor) is a strategic airlift jet aircraft. It was designed by the Antonov design bureau in the Ukrainian SSR, then part of the Soviet Union. The An-124 is the world's highest gross weight production cargo airplane and second heaviest operating cargo aircraft, behind the one-off Antonov An-225 (an enlarged design based on the An-124).
During development it was known as “Izdeliye 400” (Product 400) and An-40 in the West. First flown in 1982, civil certification was issued on 30 December 1992. In July 2013, 26 An-124s were in commercial service with 10 more on order.
During the 1970s, the VTA (Military Transport Aviation) arm of the Soviet Air Force had a shortfall in strategic heavy airlift capacity. Its largest planes consisted of about 50 Antonov An-22 turboprops, which were used heavily for tactical roles. A classified 1975 CIA analysis concluded that the USSR did "...not match the US in ability to provide long-range heavy lift support."
The An-124 was manufactured in parallel by two plants: the Russian company Aviastar-SP (ex. Ulyanovsk Aviation Industrial Complex) and by the Kyiv Aviation Plant AVIANT, in Ukraine. Design work started in 1971 and construction of facilities began in 1973. Manufacturing on the first airframe began in 1979. Ultimately this project brought together over 100 factories contracted to produce systems and parts.
The first flight took place in December 1982 and the first exposure to the West followed in 1985 at the Paris Air Show.
Russia and Ukraine agreed to resume the production in the third quarter of 2008. In May 2008, a new variant—the An-124-150—was announced; it featured several improvements, including a maximum lift capacity of 150 tons. However, in May 2009, Antonov's partner, United Aircraft Corporation announced it did not plan production of An-124s in the period 2009–2012. In late 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered production of the aircraft resumed. It is expected that Russia will purchase 20 new aircraft.

Design
Externally, the An-124 is similar to the American Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, having a similarly designed fuselage but slightly shorter, a slightly greater wingspan, and a 25% larger payload. Instead of the Galaxy's T-tail, the An-124 uses a conventional empennage, similar in design to that of the Boeing 747. The An-124 has been used to carry yachts, aircraft fuselages, a 109 tons locomotive from Canada to Ireland in September 2001, and a variety of other oversized cargoes. The aircraft is able to kneel to allow easier front loading; and has an onboard overhead crane capable of lifting up to 30 tons of cargo, and items up to 120 tons can be winched on board.
Up to 150 tons (150 long tons; 170 short tons) of cargo can be carried in a military An-124 ; it can also carry 88 passengers in an upper deck behind the wing center section. The cargo compartment of An-124 is 36×6.4×4.4 m (118×21×14 feet),about 20% larger than the main cargo compartment of the C-5 Galaxy, which is 36.91×5.79×4.09 m (121.1×19.0×13.4 feet). Due to limited pressurization in the main cargo compartment (24.6 kPa, 3.57 psi), it seldom carries paratroopers. Pilots have stated that the An-124 is light on the controls and easy to handle for an aircraft of this size. Some airports require pavement protection from the heat and blast effects of the An-124's auxiliary power unit.

Lotarev D-18T cutaway

Operational history
Germany led the recent effort to lease An-124 for NATO strategic airlift requirements. Two aircraft are leased from SALIS GmbH as a stopgap until the Airbus A400M is available. Under NATO SALIS program NAMSA is chartering six An-124-100 transport aircraft. According to the contract An-124-100 of Antonov Airlines and Volga-Dnepr are used within the limits of NATO SALIS program to carry cargo by requests of 18 countries: Belgium, Hungary, Greece, Denmark, Canada, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland, France, Germany, Czech Republic and Sweden. Two An-124-100 are constantly based on full-time charter in the Leipzig/Halle airport, but the contract specifies that if necessary, two more aircraft will be provided on a six days notice and another two on nine days notice. The aircraft proved extremely useful for NATO especially with ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) contracts the An-124 to transport the Atlas V launch vehicle from its facilities in Decatur, Alabama to Cape Canaveral. ULA also uses the An-124 to transport the Atlas V launch vehicle and Centaur upper stage from their manufacturing facility in Denver, Colorado to Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base. Two flights are required to transfer each launch vehicle (one for the Atlas V main booster stage and another for the Centaur upper stage). It is also contracted by Space Systems Loral to transport satellites from Palo Alto, CA to the Arianespace spaceport in Kourou, French Guyana.
Airbus Transport International, a subsidiary of Airbus, has selected another Russian cargo company, Polet Airlines, as designated carrier to the company. Polet Airlines expects that its three An-124-100 will transport astronautic equipment manufactured by EADS, which is Airbus' parent company, and components of the Airbus A380. The Rolls-Royce Trent 900 is the only A380 engine that can be transported completely in a Boeing 747F. The An-124 has visited 768 airports in over 100 countries (amount established in 2013).

Variants
 

An-124 Ruslan : Strategic heavy airlift transport aircraft

An-124-100 : Commercial transport aircraft

An-124-100M-150 : Commercial transport version fitted with Western avionics

An-124-102 : Commercial transport version with an EFIS flight deck

An-124-130 : Proposed version

An-124-135 : Variant with one seat in the rear and the rest of the cargo area (approx. 1,800 square feet) dedicated to freight

An-124-150 : Planned new variant with several new features

An-124-200 : Proposed version with General Electric CF6-80C2 engines, each rated at 59,200 lbf (263 kN)

An-124-210 : Joint proposal with Air Foyle to meet UK's Short Term Strategic Airlifter (STSA) requirement, with Rolls-Royce RB211-524H-T engines, each rated 60,600 lbf (264 kN) and Honeywell avionics. STSA competition abandoned in August 1999, reinstated, and won by the Boeing C-17A.
An-124-300
: variant ordered by the Russian Air Force with new avionics, a new improved braking system and a payload of 150 tons.

Crew

6

Propulsion

4 Turbofan Engines

Engine Model

Lotarew / Lotarev D-18T

Engine Power (each)

230 kN

51706 lbf

Speed

909 km/h

491 kts
  565 mph

Mmo (max. Mach)

Mach 0.77

Service Ceiling

12.000 m

39.370 ft

Range

5.400 km

2.916 NM
3.356 mi.

Empty Weight

175.000 kg

385.809 lbs

max. Takeoff Weight

405.000 kg

892.872 lbs

Wing Span

73,30 m

240,5 ft

Wing Area

628,0 m²

6760 ft²

Length

69,10 m

226,7 ft

Height

20,78 m

68,2 ft

(Johny De Visch)
A real giant (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)

Nose open (Serge Van Heertum)

(Serge Van Heertum)
(Johny De Visch) (Johny De Visch)

(Johny De Visch)

(Johny De Visch)
The retractable nose landing and stabilizer (Serge Van Heertum) Main gear with 10 wheels (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) A wheel as to be replaced (Serge Van Heertum)
Engine inspection and oil refill (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) The refueling control panel (Serge Van Heertum)
Lotarev D-18T engine (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)

The roof hoist allowing to unload heavy loads (Serge Van Heertum)

Under Antonov engeneer supervision
(Serge Van Heertum)
7 tons container unloading (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)

Simply amazing, the best place for the next party!  (Serge Van Heertum)

(Serge Van Heertum)

The cockpit with on left side the navigator post and on the right the flight engeneer panel  (Serge Van Heertum)
Many thanks to the crew for the welcome on board  (Serge Van Heertum)

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