By Charles F. Moreira, Editor
The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AICC) will take delivery of an Antonov AN-225 aircraft from the Antonov Corporation in 2019, followed by licensed production of modernised versions of the giant aircraft and its Progress D-18T turbofan engines at the AICC’s production plant in Sichuan Province. Antonov is Ukraine’s leading aircraft manufacturer and at the same time Antonov could draw heavily upon AICC’s extensive production base in Sichuan.
China already has had similar dealings with Ukraine-based companies, including outright purchases or licensed production of a number of Ukrainian aviation and naval platforms. These include the ex Varyag aircraft carrier, the Zubr hovercraft and the Antonov An-178. Antonov has also assisted China with design and technical advice for production of the Chinese ARJ-21 region jetliner and Y-20 heavy transport aircraft.
Under terms of the first phase of the agreement signed between the two companies at the Diayou state guesthouse in Beijing on 30 August last year (2016), Antonov will complete construction of a partially completed An-225 in Ukraine and deliver it to China. This AN-225 will be redesigned to meet China’s requirements, including to have a rear loading ramp and a single tail, instead of the current two. It is believed that China could finance most of the US$300 million required to compete production of this aircraft.
Under the second phase, Antonov will transfer the AN-225’s and its engine’s technology to the AICC for licensed production of subsequent AN-225s in China. The first flight of the China version is expected around the mid-2020s.
According to Popular Science, China could use its AN-225s for commercial, humanitarian and military purposes. Commercial uses could include the quick shipment of huge, heavy and bulky cargoes, ranging from construction equipment to consumer goods.
Video courtesy of Arsel Özgürdal You Tube channel
It could also be used in disaster relief operations, not only to fly in large amounts of aid but to also fly in key infrastructural equipment such as power generation and water treatment plants that are normally too big for other airlift.
For military purposes, the AN-225 is large enough to carry helicopters, tanks, artillery, fighter jets and ballistic missiles to anywhere in the world. China could also use them as a mid-air launch platform for spacecraft or a mothership for drone operations.
The AN-225 will help China build up its global airlift capacity. Just as it has done for its global sealift capacity, as part of its One Belt, One Road initiative.
With a wingspan of 88 metres and 84 metres long and weighing 640 tons, the six-engined AN-225 also called the Mriya, is the world’s largest aircraft capable of carrying 250 tons payload which exceeds by far the payloads of any other large military or commercial cargo aircraft available today. In comparison, the four engined Lockheed Martin C-5M Super Galaxy with a 67.91 metres wingspan and 75.53 metres wingspan has a maximum payload of 285.000 pounds or 142.5 tons. It is used as a strategic heavy lifter by the United States Air Force.
The Soviet era AN-225 first flew in 1988 and was designed to carry the Soviet Union’s reusable space shuttle, the Buran which could weigh up to 150 tons on its back. There were also plans for the AN-225 to carry and launch the Soviet Union’s yet unbuilt space planes and other re-usable spacecraft from mid-air.
However, those plans for the AN-225 were cut short by the collapse of the Soviet Union on 25 December 1991 and the end of her space programme, leaving only one operational AN-225 and one partially completed airframe. The AN-225 was put in storage for 11 years until it was restored and put into commercial service in 2002 and rented out to fly super heavy cargoes like gas and wind turbines, large industrial plant equipment, locomotives, train coaches, giant electricity generators as well as military supplies for NATO forces in the Middle East.
Some may say that China is buying outdated foreign technology but from her track record with imported high-speed trains and civil airlines which we have reported on earlier, we are confident that China will learn and soon develop her own giant heavy lifter aircraft like the AN-255 based upon the latest technologies.