Russia-Ukraine Pact Set To Put The Ruslan Heavylifter Back In Production
The anticipated signing of a government-to-government deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Victor Yanukovich, is expected to kick-start a plan to resume production of Antonov’s An-124 Ruslan freighter. The text of the agreement has already been prepared, outlining the envisaged roles for aerospace interests in both countries, but government backing for the program needs to be confirmed, not least because Russia’s defense ministry would effectively be the launch customer under the provisional plan.
Russian vice-premier Dmitry Rogozin recently outlined plans for the country’s United Aircraft Corporation (Hall 1 Stand E8) to produce 60 new Ruslans by 2020 at its Aviastar-SP factory in Ulianovsk. The Russian government intends to seal its support for the revived program with a defense ministry order for 10 of the new-build aircraft and a commitment to pay for 22 in-service Ruslans to be overhauled and refitted. On top of this, commercial airlines Volga-Dnepr and Polet have indicated an intention to buy, respectively, 40 and six An-124s.
According to Volga-Dnepr vice-president Valery Gabriel, the airline is expected to award UAC a contract for 20 An-124s, provided Russia’s defense ministry places its order first. The $4 billion contract would have an option for 20 more Ruslans, with deliveries running through 2030.
Polet general director Anatoly Karpov told AIN that the airline has an interest in buying Ruslans, but Russia’s anti-monopoly laws prevent it from making a joint order with Volga-Dnepr, as it would prefer to do. Assuming Polet goes through with its own purchase of six An-124s and Volga-Dnepr and the Russian military confirm their orders, UAC would be very close to landing the 60-ship commitment it says is required to make the relaunched program viable.
Russia’s Ministry for Emergencies (Emercom) is considering a purchase of two new Ruslans at a price per airplane that the agency’s aviation chief, Gen. Rafael Zakirov, has estimated at $300 million. It is the relatively high unit price for the new Ruslans that has raised concerns about the project’s viability, especially after the Russian government indicated they need fewer Ruslans than previously expected. This has prompted UAC to increase the sticker price and ask commercial airlines for larger commitments.
Meanwhile, Volga-Dnepr and Ukrainian design bureau Antonov (Hall 2 Stand C22) have yet to reach final agreement on technical specifications for the new Ruslan. Antonov is pushing for it to be based on the existing An-124-300 version with an extended fuselage, but Volga-Dnepr prefers the An-124NG with a fuselage similar to the earlier production models. But they both, along with the prospective airframer UAC, agree that the new Ruslan should offer the following: a glass cockpit; full compliance to current and upcoming environmental standards; the necessary avionics be able to fly in a congested airspace over the U.S. and Europe; and a service life extended from 50,000 to 70,000 flight hours.
Also substantially agreed between Antonov and Volga-Dnepr is the crucial choice of a new powerplant. The most likely choice, according to the airline’s technical director, Victor Tolmachev, would be an improved version of the D-18T turbofan to be developed by Ukrainian aero engine companies Motor Sich (Hall 3 Stand B30) and Ivchenko Progress. But, also in contention is the new PD-30 geared turbofan being developed by Russia’s Kuznetsov.
In the first instance, what Motor Sich and Ivchenko have in mind is a Series 3M version of the D-18T featuring new cold and hot sections, a new digital control system, as well as noise and emissions performance that will be compliant with ICAO Chapter IV requirements. A version of this engine is already available as a retrofit option for the An-124-100M-150, which has a 150-ton payload, but further developments could be advanced to give new-generation Ruslans greater performance.
At Moscow’s Engines 2012 exhibition in April, Motor Sich president Vyacheslav Boguslaev told AIN that he believes the Russian and Ukrainian governments will get behind the new Ruslan program. His company is ready to invest $62 million in developing a far more fuel-efficient D-18T Series 4 engine that would enable the existing An-124 fuselage to greatly increase its range (with a 150-ton payload) from around 2,482 nm to almost 6,000 nm.
Further ahead, Motor Sich already sees the case for a completely new D-18T Series 5 turbofan. The Series 5 would have a fan diameter of around 10 feet and weigh 12,566 pounds, delivering 61,400 pounds of takeoff thrust (18,845 pounds in cruise) and specific fuel consumption (SFC) of 0.541 (pounds of fuel per hour per pound of thrust).
As the alternative engine choice for the Ruslan, the PD-30 offers greater takeoff thrust (65,000 pounds), but slightly lower thrust in cruise (up to 13,670 pounds). With a high-bypass ratio of between 7.65 and 8.7, SFC for the PD-30 is also low at between 0.535 and 0.548. The PD-30 weighs 1,235 pounds less than the D-18T. Its overall performance is reckoned to be similar to that of Rolls-Royce’s Trent series.
According to Kuznetsov–part of Russia’s United Engine Corporation–the PD-30 is a low-risk choice for the new Ruslan because it makes extensive use of off-the-shelf components and technologies proven on other projects. But it is not without innovation, such as a new high-power gearbox between the fan and the turbine operating at efficiency levels of up to 99.6 percent; wide-chord, hollow (honeycomb) fan blades; a low-emission combustor; monocrystal blades; blisks in the high-pressure compressor and booster; a chevron-shaped nozzle; all-composite nacelles, intakes and thrust reversers; and a Fadec.
The centerpiece of the PD-30 program is the use of a modified baseline gas-generator from the improved NK-32 engine that powers the Tupolev Tu-160 swing-wing strategic bomber. The use of a multi-fuel-injector-combustor has resulted in levels of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and HC being, respectively, 2, 10 and 15 times less than ICAO’s 2004 requirements.
Key technologies for the PD-30 come from the 33,000-hp unit developed for the An-70’s D-27 powerplant. Kuznetsov has issued manufacturing documentation for the PD-30, but says it needs another four or five years to mature the design for series production. The engine is also a candidate for Russia’s envisaged Airplane 2020 airliner and for that program Kuznetsov believes it could further reduce fuel burn by introducing higher bypass ratio and gas temperatures.