Antonov State Company announced its readiness to work with US companies on the creation of a new plane during a visit to its offices by a delegation of representatives of the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure earlier this week. Specifically, the company proposed the joint development of the Antonov An-77 – a 'westernized' upgrade of its An-70 four-engine medium-range transport aircraft.
According to the company, the new plane "can occupy [the] gap" between the US military's C-130 Hercules, which has a payload capacity of up to 21 tons, and the C-17 Globemaster III, which has a capacity of 76 tons. The An-70, an aircraft that got stuck at the prototype stage of development following the collapse of the Soviet Union, has a theoretical payload capacity of 47 tons.
The development of the An-70 began in the late 1980s, with the plane meant to complement the Ilyushin Il-76 (which, depending on the variant, has a maximum payload of between 42 and 60 tons). Throughout its development, the An-70 was accompanied by a series of unhappy incidents. Three months after its maiden flight in December 1994, the plane's single prototype was lost in a mid-air collision with a chase plane, killing its seven-man flight crew. The crash was blamed on human error. The company began testing of a second prototype in the late 1990s.
The An-70 was meant to become a workhorse for the Ukrainian and Russian militaries, with Russia contributing over 60% of the $5 billion invested into the project between the 1990s and the mid-2000s. As time wore on, the Russian military began marking concerns with the program, and ultimately decided against using the An-70 as its medium strategic airlifter.
Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Dmitri Drozdenko, a military observer and contributor to Arsenal of the Fatherland – a Russian military publication, suggested that like their Russian and German counterparts, US aircraft manufacturers will also be unlikely to show any real interest in the An-77 project.
"A delegation from the US Congress visited the Antonov factory, but I don't think American business is at all interested in this plane, the same as European business. The reason for this is that this aircraft would be a direct competitor to both America and the European Union," the expert noted.
In Drozdenko's estimation, whatever concessions Kiev might make to try to convince US companies to join the project, they won't be enough.
"Ukraine today is concerned not so much with the economic properties of business as with politics. I believe that the task of the current government is to destroy industry in the country as much as possible –including the famous Antonov Design Bureau. It has already factually 'gone under the knife'. It's enough to consider how the management has changed, what planes are produced. Antonov is rushing around, trying to offer its products to the Arabs and to others. But no one needs them. This plane [the An-70] was needed by Russia as a medium transport. But Russia got out of that situation, upgrading the Il-76, and Antonov, with a good plane, is left with no prospects."
The company's most famous aircraft include the An-124 Ruslan and the An-225 Mriya ('Dream') heavy and super-heavy lift transport planes. The latter is famed for having the largest wingspan of any aircraft in operational use, and for having been used to piggyback the Buran, the USSR's answer to the US Space Shuttle program. Antonov sold the Mriya's technical documentation to China last year.