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Antonov rolls out new An-178 aircraft

December 28, 2021 9:58 pmby Illia Ponomarenko
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An Antonov An-178 transport aircraft demonstrated at the air manufacturer's facilities in Kyiv on Dec. 28, 2021. (Antonov Company)

Ukraine's major aviation manufacturer Antonov has unveiled a new An-178-100P cargo jet, one of the three aircraft being built for Ukraine's Armed Forces.

The new airplane is now ready to leave the workshop and face certification tests, the state company said on Dec. 28.

Antonov is a legendary aircraft manufacturer famous for its 1988 creation, An-225 Mriya, the world’s largest and heaviest cargo jet.

The new An-178 is expected to have its maiden flight in the first half of 2022, although some experts, such as the Kyiv-based consulting agency Defense Express was rather skeptical about Antonov's ability to stick to this schedule.

Notably, the aircraft was completed as part of Ukraine's arms import substitution program due to the ongoing military conflict with Russia. According to Antonov, no Russian-made components were used in the aircraft, although the initial design envisaged a 50% contribution of Russian hardware.

According to Antonov, the aircraft was built with the use of components produced by over 30 Ukrainian companies, and contractors from the U.S., Europe and Canada.

"We still have a hard way ahead of us — to prepare the flight crew and aviation engineering specialists so that we could master this aircraft, maintain it and perform combat missions well," said Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk, the Ukrainian Air Force top commander.

The first Antonov An-178 military cargo plane exits a factory in Kyiv on Dec. 28, 2021. (Antonov Company)

An Hr 3 billion ($110 million) contract to produce three An-178s transporters for Ukraine's military was signed in December 2020. For Antonov, which was driven into decline due to severed production ties with Russia since it invaded Ukraine in 2014, this was a groundbreaking deal and a ray of hope for the enterprise.

Even more significant was the military contract that accompanied the deal. The three An-178s are the first domestically produced aircraft that the country's Air Force expects to acquire since at least 1991.

In many ways, the An-178 program, sponsored by President Volodymyr Zelensky, was instigated by the public shockwave following the September 2020 crash of an An-26 military aircraft near the Chuhiv airfield in Kharkiv Oblast.

The incident killed 26 men, mostly young Air Force Academy cadets, and triggered a nationwide scandal about the technical condition of Ukraine's rapidly aging military air fleet built in the Soviet Union in the 1970-1980s.

The new An-178s, with their four-person flight crews, are designed as medium and short-range transporters optimal for airdrops, cargo transportation, and emergency service missions such as medical recovery.

It is expected to have a range of 5,500 kilometers (with no cargo on board) and be capable of carrying up to 100 passengers. The planes will be able to carry up to 86 paratroopers on missions, or up to 78 people requiring medical evacuation accompanied by four medics.

Illia Ponomarenko
Author: Illia Ponomarenko

Illia Ponomarenko is the defense and security reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He has reported about the war in eastern Ukraine since the conflict’s earliest days. He covers national security issues, as well as military technologies, production, and defense reforms in Ukraine. Besides, he gets deployed to the war zone of Donbas with Ukrainian combat formations. He has also had deployments to Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an embedded reporter with UN peacekeeping forces. Illia won the Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellowship and was selected to work as USA Today's guest reporter at the U.S. Department of Defense.