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Antonov Design Bureau Business Information, Profile, and History

aircraft transport military soviet

Tupoleva Street 1
03062 Kiev
Ukraine

History of Antonov Design Bureau

Ukraine-based Antonov Design Bureau, a scientific and technical complex named after Oleg Konstantinovich (O.K.) Antonov, designs transport, regional, and special purpose aircraft. The bureau is engaged in designing and building new prototype aircraft and modifications of earlier designs, providing their operational support and follow-up engineering work on the aircraft service life extension. Specifically, Antonov offers basic and conversion training of flight and maintenance crews, sends high-skilled specialists to render assistance in mastering the aircraft and training local personnel, provides international air transportation of cargoes including oversized ones on a charter basis, participates in the international co-operation in the field of aircraft and equipment design and manufacture, and develops land transit vehicles. Among its designs are the An-124 and the An-225, the world's largest plane, which can carry things no other aircraft can. The An-124 was originally designed for military use, while the An-225 was designed to carry the Soviet space shuttle. These giants have been marketed in the West since the late 1980s. Besides enjoying a corner on the outsized air freight market, Antonov aircraft have made possible previously inconceivable logistical undertakings, and their ability to quickly transport huge pieces of equipment across the world has saved mining, construction, and manufacturing industries from costly downtime.

1930s Origins

O.K. Antonov had a line of basic training gliders under production even before he graduated the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute in 1930. His very first glider was named the OKA-1 Golub. Antonov then joined the Moscow Glider Factory as chief engineer, and was later named its chief designer. His first powered glider design to enter production was 1937's OKA-33 (LEM-2).

The glider factory closed in 1938. After being rejected by the Zhukovskii Military Air Academy, Antonov began working for A.S. Yakovlev, an eminent Soviet designer, where he was given the task of developing the Fieseler Fi 156 Storch, a German utility aircraft being produced under license in Lithuania. Later, during World War II, Antonov saw his A-7 assault glider produced before rejoining the Yakovlev design bureau in 1943 to oversee production of the Yak-3 fighter in Novosibirsk.

On May 31, 1946, Antonov established his own design bureau after being given the task of developing a new utility plane to be powered by a 730-horsepower engine. The resulting design, the An-2, first flew in August 1947 and was a monumental success, in spite of its antiquated styling (a biplane with fixed landing gear). For the An-2, Antonov and his assistants were awarded a Stalin Prize and 100,000 rubles in 1952. The An-2 was exported mostly throughout the Eastern Bloc and Third World, and examples would remain in use for at least another 50 years. The aircraft was unique in being the only biplane made in large numbers anywhere after the war. By 1960, 5,000 An-2s had been built in the Soviet Union; the plane was also in production under license in China and Poland. Its production run lasted nearly 20 years.

In the Soviet system, aircraft manufacturing facilities were typically separate from the firms that designed them. However, the Antonov bureau did make its own prototypes and did production runs of certain types (the An-26, An-30, and An-32) in Kiev at the Aviant aviation plant. Plants producing Antonov aircraft included Ulyanovsk on the Volga (the An-124) and the Kharkov plant in the Ukraine (the An-72 and An-74). The An-28 transport was built in Poland.

Furthering Soviet Transport in the 1960s-70s

Having moved to Kiev, Antonov continued to work on gliders after World War II to some extent, but became best known for developing transport aircraft. Most Antonov aircraft, like the twin-engine An-8 and its the four-engine successors, the civil An-10 Ukraine and military An-12, were designed to operate from concrete and unpaved runways, including grass landing strips.

Antonov started developing the An-10 and An-12 aircraft in 1955. The An-10 airplane flight tests were begun on March 7, 1957. On December 16 of the same year, the AN-12 transport performed its maiden flight at Irkutsk aviation plant. The An-12 was a phenomenally successful mid-sized military turboprop transport which began operations in 1956. In 1962 the creators of the An-12 airplane were awarded with the Lenin Prize and O.K. Antonov was given the rank of General Designer. The resulting An-12 was very similar in appearance to the Hercules and a little less capable. Nevertheless, it represented a huge leap forward in Soviet transports.

The An-14 Pchelka ("Little Bee"), first produced in 1958, was a smaller twin-tailed, twin-engine utility aircraft with short take-off and landing capability. However, most of Antonov's subsequent output would be large planes, some of them true behemoths.

Antonov began an oversized cargo service in the late 1960s using the An-22 Antei ("Anteus"). Their first cargo deliveries contained equipment necessary for oil drilling and mining. The An-22 Antei, which debuted at the Paris Air Show in 1965, had a capacity of 180,000 pounds and a wingspan of 211 feet. It would remain the world's largest aircraft until Lockheed unveiled its C-5A Galaxy in 1968. The An-22 Antei could carry the largest pieces of equipment in the Soviet arsenal, including tanks and SAM launchers. It also carried its own cargo handling equipment on board, which greatly extended its flexibility in military operations. An-22 production was curtailed in 1974 after 64 were built.

The An-24 was a medium-haul, mid-sized twin-engine turboprop transport comparable with those found in the West. This plane incorporated advanced welding techniques and other manufacturing refinements. Developed in the late 1950s, the An-24 would be used by many airlines in the Soviet Bloc, Africa, and the Middle East. A total of 1,335 were built, and the An-24 performed more than 30 percent of passenger transportation volume in the former Soviet Union. This exceptionally successful aircraft became the basis for such derivatives as the An-26 freighter, the An-30 aerial photography airplane, the An-32 high-mountain aircraft, and others.

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union not only attained parity with but surpassed the West in its ability to transport troops, at least as far as Eurasia and the Middle East were concerned. However, an Ilyushin-designed aircraft, the jet-powered Il-76, replaced the An-12 as the leading Soviet heavy transport. Antonov was more successful during this time with smaller transports. The high-wing, twin-engine An-72 was developed for military uses in the 1970s, and it would remain in production for more than 20 years.

Growing Capacity in the 1980s

In the 1980s, Antonov designed and built a huge military transport that would eventually extend the barriers of commercial air freight. Named after Pushkin's mythical giant, the four-engine An-124 Ruslan (called the Condor by NATO, after the largest flying bird) had a wingspan of almost 242 feet, a length of 228 feet, and a height of 70 feet.

With a maximum payload of 120 metric tons, the An-124 was the world's largest plane and had a greater capacity than the American-made C-5 or the Boeing 747, the next largest commercially available freighter at the time. Using the An-124 aircraft as its basis, Antonov specialists developed and certified its civil version--an An-124-100 aircraft intended for commercial cargo carriages. Typical cargoes included locomotives, boats, jet engines, other aircraft components, and a variety of industrial and mining equipment. In time, the An-124 payload was increased to 150 metric tons, and by 2000 over 50 of the aircraft had been built.

Piotr Vasilyevich Balabuyev succeeded Oleg Antonov as the bureau's General Designer in 1984. Balabuyev headed the An-225 design team, which was working on a carrier for the Soviet space shuttle Buran. The An-225 would become the world's largest operational aircraft, with a maximum payload capacity of 551,000 pounds--twice that of a C-5. Loads that would not fit inside the An-225, such as the space shuttle, could be carried on its back.

The An-225 Mriya (Dream) first flew on December 21, 1988, and made its international debut at the 1989 Paris Air Show carrying the Buran in piggyback fashion. The novel aircraft's design was actually based on the An-124: the fuselage was stretched 40 feet and the number of engines was raised from four to six. The wingspan was 290 feet, nearly a football field in length. The cargo bay was 141 feet long.

Another unique feature of the An-225 was its landing gear, which had a maximum gross takeoff weight of 1.4 million pounds. Thirty-two wheels were used; the rear 16 wheels of the main gear were steerable as well as the four that made up the nose gear, which could be lowered, allowing the plane to "kneel." The Buran program was cancelled in 1993 due to a lack of funds, however, and the An-225 was shelved for seven years.

Antonov's outsized cargo business intensified in the late 1980s. Charters were at first arranged directly with Antonov or through the Soviet Union's Aviaexport import/export organization. A British firm, AirFoyle Ltd., became Antonov's general sales agent for An-124-100 leases in Europe, North America, and the Persian Gulf in July 1989. This territory was expanded to include the entire world in September 1993, with An-22 and An-12 freighters added to the agreement. In 1990, Antonov was awarded an Air Operator's Certificate, clearing the way for it to start its own cargo airline, which became known as Antonov Airlines. An air maintenance business was soon launched as well; this and the airline would soon account for an estimated 70 percent of annual revenues. An-124-100s were also operated by Russia's Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Polyot Air Cargo.

Coping with Change in the 1990s

Antonov continued to develop regional airliners. In April 1989, the firm's designers began work on a stretched version of the 17-passenger An-28. The result, the An-38, had its first flight five years later. Its development was made more pivotal to the company given cutbacks in military budgets following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Also on the drawing board at that time was a large civil airliner called the An-218.

The An-74, a civil modification of the An-72 designed for extreme conditions, began production in 1991 with Antonov maintaining high hopes for the export market. A successful range of multipurpose aircraft was developed from the An-74, including the An-74TK-300 passenger-cargo aircraft, which could carry up to 68 passengers or ten metric tons of cargo.

The An-140 regional passenger turboprop aircraft, developed to replace the An-24, made its first flight in 1997. Having close to the An-24's passenger capacity (52 seats), the An-140 surpassed its predecessor in passenger comfort level and performance: flight range was 75 percent greater; flight speed was 20 percent higher; and fuel efficiency was almost twice as great. The An-140 also required 30 percent less runway. It was manufactured at the Kharkov State Aviation Manufacturing Company (KSAMC), the Samara AVIACOR Joint Stock Company, and the HESA plant in Isfahan, Iran, and started regular passenger service in March 2002.

An end to government subsidies in the early 1990s plunged the Antonov bureau into a period of crisis. To raise cash, the bureau turned to making trolley buses, in partnership with the Kiev-based Aviant Aviation Factory. "Our task is to preserve our scientific brains until all this craziness is over," said General Designer Piotr Balabuyev in The Economist, which reported that the company was also making equipment for dyeing leather and making false teeth.

Development work on the An-70, a replacement for the mid-sized An-12 military transport, extended from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s. The An-70 aircraft comprised the best features of Antonov transports to date. The Ivchenko Progress Design Bureau designed a D-27 propfan engine especially for the An-70, which, when combined with a contra-rotating propfan specially designed by Aerosila Joint Stock Company, ensured 30 percent less fuel consumption than other turbofan engines.

The An-70 performed its maiden flight on December 16, 1994. The first prototype was lost in a collision, however, and the second model did not fly until April 1997. The aircraft entered the bidding to become a new military transport for Germany, France, Italy, and Spain; in the end, however, these countries went along with their NATO allies and settled on the Airbus A400M. Still, Russia and the Ukraine were buying the An-70, whose components were being sourced from factories in Russia as well as the Ukraine; in fact, Russia was to account for most of the plane's equipment. The first customer was the Czech military. In 2002, it was announced that the Czech Republic would receive three An-70s, partly in exchange for Soviet-era debts owed by Russia.

A Dream Reborn in 2001

In 2001, Antonov, the Kharkov State Aviation Manufacturing Co. (HGAPP), and Motor-Sich JSC, manufacturer of the An-225's IVCHENKO Progress Design Bureau jet engines, joined to bring the Mriya out of retirement. Ironically, the An-225's first commercial flight, on January 2, 2002, was to carry 216,000 MREs (meals ready-to-eat) from Germany to U.S. military personnel in the Persian Gulf.

A number of near-rivals were appearing to challenge the market for very large cargo aircraft. The Airbus A380, scheduled for launch in 2006, was a bit smaller than the An-225, but was not expected to be able to carry outsize cargo. Boeing was working on a commercial version of its C-17 transport, with a projected $200 million price tag.

Antonov was also developing a line of regional jets (small airliners) in cooperation with a number of partners in Russia and Ukraine. The An-148 was expected to fly in 2004.

Principal Subsidiaries: Antonov Airlines.

Principal Competitors: Airbus Industrie; Boeing Co.; Ilyushin; Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems; Tupolev; Volga-Dnepr Airlines.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1946: Antonov Design Bureau is established.
  • 1947: The first An-2 agricultural biplane performs its maiden flight.
  • 1952: Antonov Design Bureau moves from Novosibirsk to Kiev.
  • 1956: The An-8 twin turboprop military transporter performs its maiden flight.
  • 1957: Two aircraft--the An-10 Ukraine passenger aeroplane and the An-12 military transporter--perform their maiden flights.
  • 1965: The An-22 Antei, then the world's largest plane, makes its first flight.
  • 1982: The massive An-124 Ruslan makes its first flight.
  • 1988: The world's largest operational plane, the An-225, takes to the air.
  • 1989: AirFoyle begins marketing An-124 cargo charters in the West.
  • 1997: The An-140 passenger aircraft first takes to the air.
  • 2002: A refurbished An-225 begins making commercial flights.
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