The Antonov An-70 is a Ukrainian new generation medium-range transport aircraft. Development work on this heavy load and short take-off and landing aircraft began in the early 90s. The An-70 was jointly developed by Ukrainian and Russian companies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the Antonov design bureau suffered from funding problems, as well as many other military factories, and the An-70 project was close to a failure. Despite various difficulties two prototypes were created and the An-70 made it's first flight in 1994. This cargo aircraft is intended to replace the ageing An-12. It is broadly similar in terms of performance and capabilities to the Airbus A400M. At one time the An-70 was even proposed to replace the then-troubled A400M. It is also believed to be a main competitor to the upgraded Russian Il-76MF.
In 1999 during one of the test flights, An-70 came into collision with the An-72, which accompanied it. The An-72 managed to make an emergency landing, but the An-70 crashed and was completely destroyed. All crew members died. Investigation has found out, that the crash was due to mistake of the pilots, so this fact did not affected the project as badly as the second one. In 2001, 20-30 seconds after the take-off pilots had to make an emergency landing outside the airfield. As a result the airplane was badly damaged.
The An-70 has typical airlifter layout with four propfan engines. It is the first time, when a large cargo aircraft is powered by such kind of propulsion. Each Progress D-27 engine has a dual contra-rotating propellers (as on famous Tu-95 strategic bomber and the An-22 Antei heavy transport aircraft) and generates 14 000 hp. The An-70 has 20-30% better fuel economy, comparing with modern turbojet aircraft. In 2003 during the MAKS air show this plane attracted attention of visitors with a very unusual sound. Developers explained this as a result of non-traditional shape of propellers. However during test flights the engines were not noted for reliability. Until 2002 each of the four engines failed 22 times.
The An-70 has a fly-by-wire system and features a glass cockpit with all electronic instruments.
This aircraft can be operated on various types of airfields. It is capable of landing on soft ground and even snow. The An-70 can operate from poorly equipped airfields without any special ground facilities. It has confirmed it's ability to use 600 m long unpaved runways at reduced cargo weight.
This military cargo aircraft is slightly larger, than the Airbus A400M, but considerably smaller than the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. The An-70's pressurized hold has an inbuilt cargo-handling system. It can be outfitted with seats for 300 troops or racks for 206 litters as alternatives to freight or vehicles. The An-70 can airdrop individual items up to a limit of 20 000 kg. This transport plane can carry 20 t of cargo over a distance of 3 000 km. Maximum service range is 8 000 km.
In 2002 Russia and Ukraine agreed on a joint production of these military cargo aircraft. The Russian government showed interest in obtaining 160 of these airplanes for it's military. However in 2006 because of economic problems and tough political relationship between Russian and Ukraine, Russia has left the project in favor to the Il-76MF. In 2008 a larger and turbofan-powered version, the An-70-600 was co-developed with China.
For a number of years the future of this project was unknown due to a lack of funding and orders, but in 2009 it was announced, that 2 aircraft will be completed anyway for the Ukrainian Air Force. The An-70 is also proposed for NATO and European markets, as well as civilian operators. It seems, that this aircraft will eventually gain limited orders, but is unlikely to achieve the success that it deserves.