The crash of a Russian military An-124 "Ruslan" transport in Irkutsk on December 6 was caused by the failure of three of its four engines due to "defective engine design," announced Russian Air Force Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Anatoly Kornukov on Tuesday. He said that this was the final conclusion of the government commission that investigated the crash. Its report will soon be submitted to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for his approval.
The giant transport, designed by the Antonov bureau in Kyiv, uses Lotarev D-18T engines designed by Progress in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Soon after the accident, the head of Progress discounted the possibility of three engines failing at the same time — a view shared by many aviation analysts. On Wednesday, the chief designer at the plant said that the Russian commission’s conclusion was "completely wrong and unacceptable." Fedir Muravchenko said that the accident was due to the crystallization of ice and kerosene. This had been discovered in a 55-day test and in a video and other reports describing the test that had been submitted to the commission on February 5. Muravchenko said these had been ignored. The company has sent a telegram to the prime ministers of Russia and Ukraine urging them not to sign the commission’s report. Colonel General Anatoly Tarasenko, head of the Russian armed forces’ flight aviation safety service and the commission’s chairman, yesterday expressed respect for Muravchenko and said that the commission would study the Progress report "most thoroughly."
The An-124 is the largest production aircraft in the world. It was designed as a military transport for the Soviet Air Force and first flew in 1982. The Russian Air Force currently operates some twenty-five of the huge transports. There is also a civilian version–the An-124-100. These aircraft have been a lucrative source of hard currency for the Russian Air Force and the several civilian operators that use them. The Antonov design bureau itself has five for charter, and has funded much of the work on its new An-70 military transport with the profits from this effort. This project is a joint one with Russia. The Russian Air Force expects to order several hundred of the planes. They, too, will be equipped with Progress engines.
Kornukov noted that the Air Force planes used the first version of the D-18T engine. He said that the commission had decided that they should be re-equipped with an updated version. Kornukov indicated that the Ukrainian company that builds the D-18T, Motor-Sich, was prepared to provide these new engines and said the government had been asked to provide the necessary funds. (The original engines had a rated life of 1,000 hours, yet none of the engines on the plane that crashed had operated for more than 400 hours. The new engines that Kornukov wants are guaranteed for 4,000 hours.) Wednesday, in a related matter, the director of Volga-Dnepr airlines — the largest commercial user of the An-124-100 — announced that France had lifted a ban on flights of the company’s An-124-100s after an inspection by American experts found the planes to be in an airworthy condition. (Russian and foreign media, February 9-12)
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