Ukrainian Antonov Aircraft Company completed its tests of the new AN-70 four-engine turboprop Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) airlifter, the company said in a press release this week. The tests were carried out from the factory field just northwest of the centre of the capital of Kiev (Kyiv), together with specialists from the Ukrainian government.
The ground and flight tests verified that the AN-70 met all operational requirements it has been promised to meet. With the last test flight on 31 March of this year, Antonov’s test pilots have amassed 122 flights since the flight program restarted after modifications to the AN-70 in September 2012. However, during the number of flight hours has only been 220, illustrating lack of state funds and technical issues including problems with the contra-rotating propfan engines. Before those modifications, the AN-70 prototype flew 753 flights with a total of 930 hours and 48 minutes of flight time.
Flight crew, Antonov staff and engineers of the State scientific and test center (SSTC) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine jointly tested the functioning of the aircraft’s systems and equipment, its STOL capabilities, the navigation systems, the construction’s strength and projected service-life with stress tests and the transport of various types of cargo. Aleksandr Pakholchenko, leading test pilot of the SSTC, oversaw the main flight test program.
The main operational task of the AN-70 will be airlifting armed forces and materiel into and out of combat situations, including landing and take-offs from unpaved airstrips no longer than 800 metres (about 2,400 feet), besides providing regular air logistics to the armed forces. Secondary the big STOL aircraft should be able to carry out medevac, humanitarian, emergency response and disaster relief mission.
The AN-70 is said to have a cruise speed of 405 knots (750 kmh) and a max speed just 15 knots above that. To aid in its STOL capability the aircraft can fly as slow as 65 knots (about 120kmh). Its range with 35 tons of cargo is 2,700 nautical miles (5,000 km) and its service ceiling just under 40,000 feet.
With all flight tests complete, “the AN-70 is recommended to be added to the armory as well as to be launched into serial production” as the test team puts it. Question is, when this will happen. There are currently only two prototypes built and with the cash stricken Ukrainian armed forces trying to beef up its overall military readiness, the AN-70 project is not the highest priority of the government in Kiev. Money is much needed to keep the current combat aircraft in the air and re-introduce stored fighter and attack helicopters to the front-line units.
The reason for this sudden increase of expenditures for the combat force is of course the military-political stand-off with Russia, since February this year, and anti-government uprisings in the east of Ukraine. Russia is said to have a requirement of 40 to 60 AN-70s, the Ukrainian Air Force initially wants three to six aircraft and commercial cargo companies like Volga-Dnepr might by a few. But as long as the conflict between the neighbouring countries continues and Ukraine remains to be stripped as short of cash as it is, the near-future of the AN-70 doesn’t look very bright.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger with source information from Antonov Aircraft Corporation