The Antonov An-70 is a new medium-size widebody Short TakeOff and Landing (STOL) transport aircraft intended to replace the aging An-12 "Cub". The Ukraine-based program, which began in 1975, rolled out its first prototype on 20 January 1994, but a short first flight did not take place until 16 December of that year. The program received a tremendous setback on 10 February 1995 when the prototype aircraft was lost after a mid-air collision. While the An-72 chaseplane involved in the accident managed to return safely, the An-70 crashed and was completely destroyed, killing all seven crewmembers on board. Under normal circumstances, this would have certainly killed the program. However, the people behind this project knew they had an outstanding aircraft.
Despite many complications resulting from the breakup of the Soviet Union, a second prototype was constructed then rolled out 24 December 1996 in the presence of Ukrainian president Leonid Kutchma. The first flight occurred on 24 April 1997 with test pilots Alexander Galunenko and Anatoli Andronow from the Russian Air Force. The aircraft was debuted to the public at the Moscow Air Show in August 1997.
For the An-70 program, a number of technological breakthroughs were translated into impressive performances for the aircraft. The most prominent feature is its four Russian-designed propfans consisting of Stupino counter-rotating propellers (with 6 and 8 blades) and the Progress D-27 turboprops. Together, these are designed to offer very high speed performance combined with low fuel consumption. The Russian-developed SV-27 all-composite propellers are highly swept and are claimed to have a 90% efficiency rating in cruise, at near jet speeds. Also, a specialized landing gear system was incorporated which permits the An-70 to operate from very short, unpaved airfields.
Composite materials are used throughout the airframe, including the all-composite horizontal and vertical tail sections. The An-70 also incorporates fly-by-wire and an advanced flightdeck with six full-color digital displays and a head-up display used for landings on short airfields.
To increase efficiency, the An-70 is equipped with computerized navigation aides and flight controls, which allow for quick diagnostics and servicing. With these advancements the navigator, flight engineer, and radio operator stations have been eliminated.
The An-70 program is being financed by both Russian and Ukrainian governments (165 and 65 aircraft are planned, respectively). In October 1997, German defense minister Volker Rühe announced the intention to study whether the An-70 could be the basis for a new NATO future tactical transport aircraft. Evaluation was in competition with the newly-designed FLA A-400M proposed by Airbus Military Company.
An-70 models include the basic An-70 military freighter, a two crew An-70-100, an An-77 export version, and a commercial An-70T version. The proposed An-70TK would be a twin propfan convertible passenger/freight aircraft.
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