According to acting designer general of O.K. Antonov Aircraft Design — Manufacturing Complex, Dmytro Kiva, the flights are to start in early 2006.
At a June 12, 2003 NATO Summit in Brussels participants in the SALIS (Strategic Airlift Interim Solution) and the ECAP (European Capability Airlift Programme) came to a conclusion on the expediency of using Antonov AN-124-100 Ruslan planes and the renting of five or six of the models for seven to nine years.
For a time the massive An-124 (Condor in NATO classification) held the mantle of the world’s largest aircraft before the arrival of the An-225, a stretched six engine derivative. It is commonly used for oversize freight charters.
Developed primarily as a strategic military freighter (in which role it can carry missile units and battle tanks), the first prototype An-124 flew on Dec. 26, 1982. A second prototype, named Ruslan (after a Russian folk hero), made the type’s first western public appearance at the Paris Airshow in June 1985, preceding the first commercial operations in January 1986.
Since that time the An-124 has set a wide range of payload records, one achievement being the heaviest single load ever transported by air — a 124-ton powerplant generator and its associated weight spreading cradle, a total payload weight of 132.4 tons, set in late 1993.
Notable features include nose and tail cargo doors, 24 wheel undercarriage allowing operations from semi prepared strips, the ability to kneel to allow easier front loading, and a flybywire control system.