An-124 Runway Overrun

8 Jan 21 33 Comments

On the Friday the 13th of November 2020, an Antonov An-124-100 had a very unlucky day.

Antonov An-124 Ruslan (Condor) by Deepdrilling

The Antonov An-124 is a Soviet designed and Ukrainian manufactured four-engined aircraft. It’s a massive beast with a maximum take-off weight of 405,000 kilos. The An-124 was the heaviest cargo aircraft of its time and is still the largest military transport aircraft in service. There are fewer than two dozen An-124s in the world.

This two minute video gives a good introduction to the history of the An-124:

The important thing to know in this case is that the An-124 is huge and a wonder to behold.

This particular Antonov, registration RA-82042, has been flying since 1991.

It was operated by Russian cargo carrier Volga-Dnepr Airlines who have a fleet of twelve Antonov AN-124s, five Boeing 747-8F and five IL-76TD-90VD, all aircraft targeted at oversized and heavy cargo. Volga-Dnepr is the only company in the world with an AN-124 simulator.

Here is a video of the same aircraft departing from Munich:

About a month after that video was taken, the An-124 was flying as flight VI4066, carrying 84 tons of automotive spare parts from Seoul, South Korea to Vienna, Austria, with an overnight stop at Novosibirsk-Tolmachevo Airport in Russia. The aircraft arrived at Novosibirsk at late afternoon on the 12th of November. The following morning, the aircraft taxied to runway 25 for a noon departure with six flight crew, eight other crew and the cargo.

The An-124 took off normally and entered a right-hand climbing turn. As it reached about 1,500 feet, about 3.5 nautical miles from the runway, the huge aircraft suddenly disappeared from radar and did not respond on the radio.

The number two engine (left-hand, inside) had suffered an uncontained failure, in which an engine violently separates (essentially explodes), with engine debris exiting at high speed. The debris punched through the fuselage, the landing gear and the wings. Shrapnel went straight through the top of the fuselage at the right side. Small metal fragments from the engine sheered through cabling, taking out the aircraft’s electrical supply. The transponder and the radio failed, causing the aircraft’s sudden “disappearance”.

The flight crew immediately focused on recovery; they had lost their instruments but the An-24 was still controllable. They were unable to make visual contact with the tower as they came in heavy and slow for runway 25 with no margin for error.

The An-142 touched down perfectly but they had no means to slow down the aircraft: the brakes, spoilers and thrust reversers had all failed with the damage from the engine failure.

An-124 comes to a halt

The nose-wheel collapsed as the An-124 ran off the runway. The aircraft thundered on, coming to a halt about 300 metres (1,000 feet) past the end of the runway. No one suffered any injuries unless you count the poor An-124.

One large fragment, likely to be from the engine’s fan disk, was found in a warehouse near the airport where it had crashed through the roof. Part of the cowling was found on rough land about five kilometres from the airport.

Volga-Dnepr grounded the eight remaining An-124s in their fleet over concerns as to what caused the engine, produced by Ukrainian manufacturer Motor Sich, to fail.

Konstantin Vekshin, the Group Chief Commercial Officer of Volga-Dnepr, said that they are starting work on the remaining An-124 in the fleet:

The experts are starting inspections soon and we are in daily contact with the Russian aviation authorities and Motor Sich. Everyone is working on it now. It’s been a serious test for all of us, but everyone has been very positive.

It takes about an week to complete a detailed inspection of an engine and Volga-Dnepr own sixty of the engines. The first An-124 came back into service on the 29th of December, leading Vekshin to happily announce that they managed to restart the An-124-100 operations before the end of the year.

The West Siberian Transport Investigation Department, part of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, is investigating.

Photo courtesy of Volga-Dnepr

I often treat this as the end of the sequence, at least until the final report is out. But of course, the situation isn’t finished just because the runway is clear and everyone has safely evacuated. There’s still the issue of moving the aircraft, a particular challenge with a monster like the Antonov An-124.

Even at the best of times, towing the An-124 out is not a minor operation. But this was not the best of times: upon departing the runway, the aircraft had dug deep into the ground. It being November in Russia, the ground then froze.

BREM-1 armoured recovery vehicle courtesy of Volga Dnepr

Airport authorities brought in the military who came with two BREM-1 tanks: armored carriers built on the chassis of the T-72 battle tank. Finding that the main landing gear was still stable, they were able to connect a cable to the An-124’s cargo hold and used the two tanks to pull the plane backwards out of the frozen ground.

Bystanders said that after three hours, the aircraft had only moved one metre.

However, as you can see on this video, perseverance won the day.

The An-124 is now on a hard surface and awaiting inspection. It has not yet been established if it will remain in service.


  • My first reaction was that the crew of this Antonov did a very good job.
    The AN-124 most certainly is a massive aircraft and I once had the privilege to experience it by myself.
    It was in the mid- or late eighties. The cold war had, under Gorbachev, started to thaw and relations between the West and the Soviet Union were stating to normalize.
    At the time I was flying a Citation 550 for Digital Equipment, based at Prestwick in Scotland. There had been fires in the Siberian oil fields and pipelines had been damaged. Large valves for these pipelines, equipment to shut off the flow, had been produced in Scotland. An AN 124 was parked on the apron to collect them, across from our Citation.
    We, my colleague Rod Winhall and I, had time at our hands and, of course, could not resist having a closer look at this monster that at the time was still a very rare visitor to our shores. We walked to the aircraft and were confronted by a Russian soldier who stood guard. “Het” (in Russian the N is spelled H), no access.
    I tried something else: “Glasnost, Perestroika”, words that had suddenly appeared in the press.
    The reaction was surprising. The soldier, after only a short hesitation, moved aside and allowed us free access, totally unsupervised. There were no loading activities yet, there were no crew members on board. We were alone in this enormous aircraft.
    The rear and front loading doors were open and the nose gear had partially retracted to enable the plane to “kneel”. An overhead gantry crane ran from the rear to the front to move heavy pieces of cargo.
    After a while, letting it all sink in, we were looking for a way to get to the cockpit. At the front, attached to a bulkhead just behind where the cockpit would be situated, we found a straight-up ladder. Tall enough for a painter to paint the second story of a house. Or at least, so it seemed because it was quite a height.
    The flight deck was well laid out, no glass cockpit. That was something new in those days anyway, but it had, for 1987, modern looking instruments with a contemporary electrical flight director, very similar to the one fitted in our Citation.
    Behind the cockpit, above the cargo deck, were crew living quarters. With a sitting-dining room on one side (I believe starboard) and sleeping quarters with bunk beds behind curtains on the other side. All very civilised.
    Hatches could be opened to give access to the interior of the wings. We could even nearly walk straight for a while, until the wing, past the inboard engine locations, became thinner and we would have to crawl to get any further. Of course, we didn’t. We closed the hatches behind us, climbed down the ladder and with a “spasibo” to the soldier went back to our little C550. It would nearly have fitted in the AN 124, wings and all. No, that is stretching it a bit, but the Antonov really is very big and very impressive.

    • [“but the Antonov really is very big and very impressive.”] ====> Beggging your forebearance, “That’s What She Said…”

    • You’re OBVIOUSLY a expert fisherman. (Or woman, since Rudy’s a “One-Size-Fits-All” name.) Even in the soviet era, “IDGAF” attitude SURELY won’t let you wander around the cockpit unattended, even “Pre-9/11”. Do you have “selfies” from your 1987-era iPhone to prove it?

  • I saw one of these departing MCO in Orlando. It’s so big, it looked like it was at 5,000ft when it was actually at 13,000ft according to Flightradar24.

    I can not imagine towing one of these around the ramp at the best of times. You’d need an entire army of spotters.

    • [“You’d need an entire army of spotters.”] ====> View some vids of “garaging” an A380 or B747 into a hangar for major maintenance. Two spotters at every corner; one high, one low, plus a supervisor to “Watch the Watchers”. You might hear “Stop~!”, but never “Oops.”

  • I’m impressed that just two tanks were able to haul that monster out of frozen soil — and I wonder how much damage their treads did. (I can’t see from the video whether the tanks were used only on the overrun area, if the airport had such.)

    • The empty weight of an AN-124 is pretty much “four tanks,” actually. And because you can’t roll busted tracks the way you can all but the worst-damaged wheeled suspensions, recovery vehicles have to be designed to be able to drag a deadweight tank. So if they were able to get the landing gear to carry any of the load, hauling 180 tons on wheels with a buddy is maybe actually easier than hauling fifty tons of dead weight by yourself.

      • All of that applies to a dead pull on flat ground, with the treads skidding; how much more drag was added because the wheels sank into ground which then froze? (That’s the sort of question that needs an experiment — basic physics shouldn’t try to answer it.) Getting up enough force for that initial breaking-loose move AND breaking the tires out of the ground instead of the hitch out of the airplane are both impressive.

        I’m curious about busted tracks being harder to roll; Theodore Sturgeon, who trained on earth-moving equipment after being 4F’d in WWII, wrote (in one of several stories involving heavy equipment) about working a sprung track back onto its rollers, rather than dragging the stuck equipment. Would a recovery vehicle have been useful in combat conditions, where there was no safe way to get the tread back in place?

        • A tank with no treads is a tank on rollers; if the tread is open in one place, you’re dragging the rollers along the tread (very easy!) for about twice its length, and then over the ground; if that’s frozen, so much the better.

          The real problem is, when you have a tank stuck in the mud, its flat underside is probably dragging on the ground, with the weight off the tracks (else the tank would be able to move itself); so what you need the recovery tank to do is drag the stuck tank’s body along the ground to get it un-stuck. That’s a lot of friction!

          A wheeled vehicle gets stuck differently: there you’re going to have one or more axles buried, and if you can lift some drive wheels (jack it up and put support under it), you’re probably getting it back out without help.

      • [“The empty weight of an AN-124 is pretty much “four tanks,””] ====> Alternately, the PAYLOAD capacity is (roughly identical to MTOW for a B737-800). With a little bit extra for vodka, ‘fer sure.

  • I wanna hear the pilots on CVR saying “Oh, shit~!” in (presumably) Russian when they hear the gawd-awful sound of a massive turbofan crapping parts through the air. And through the wings. And through the fuselage. As in “How well can (presumably) Russian pilots cuss when the situation ABSOLUTELY DEMANDS creativity…”

  • [“On the Friday the 13th of November 2020, an Antonov An-124-100 had a very unlucky day.”] ===> Gee, “A Bad Day” during the ‘unforgettable’ year 2020. Imagine my surprise…. (True Fact: “There’s Always Room For Improvement.” Also, ,”Things Can Always Get Worse.” eg. It could’ve been the 225…)

  • Just imagine how many bottles of Vodka the pilots needed to recover from the shock. No, seriously this was not really a “Friday 13th” kind of event.
    Nobody was hurt. Okay, the 124 may well be a write-off. Damage to wings, fuselage, wiring and electrical systems – possibly after having been shorted plus the inevitable damage when towed out of frozen ground. The nose gear would have become part of its solidly frozen piece of surrounding real estate. Efforts to get diggers close enough to free it would have done the same amount of damage, or more. The aircraft at the end of the runway would have hampered the airport operations.

    Talking about Russian winters: In the ‘seventies (if I remember correctly) KLM operated a flight from Amsterdam to Vladivostok across Siberia.
    Well, it was a joint operation with Aeroflot because KLM was not allowed to fly on internal routes across the USSR. So KLM would fly the Amsterdam-Moscow segment, the next longer part would take place with Aeroflot under a KLM flight number.
    As part of this joint venture, a KLM pilot would be on board to monitor the operation.
    The aircraft used for this segment (Tupolev or Ilyushin, I don’t know. There was an article at the time published in a KLM staff magazine) had a ballast tank in the nose which was filled with water on the outbound flight. It was duly entered on the weight and balance sheet. On the way back it was no longer needed and actually put the aircraft out of limits. But it was still entered on the loadsheet. So the KLM pilot asked if they were going to drain it, and when. The answer was “Next April, maybe May.” The water in the tank was frozen solid and in the Russian winter could not be expected to thaw out until well into spring.

    • Sounds like they should have filled the tank with vodka — which would probably have been appreciated at their destination.

      • [“filled the tank with vodka”] =====> Not to mention, it wouldn’t freeze. And would fetch a VERY nice price in Vladavistok. Besides, it’s Russia. One can’t be TOO careful to prepare for guests’ arrival.

    • [“the 124 may well be a write-off. “] ====> Exactly WHO insures such an “Almost Unique” contraption, as if “Almost” and “Unique” can ever BELONG together? And what’s the valuation? And HOW does one assess the value of an essentially irreplaceable item? Obviously, I’d contat Lloyd’s of London. If Lloyd’s, do they still “Ring the Bell” announcing to “The Names” that an insured ship (or other item) was lost? (Verily, traditions still STRONGLY influence safety-critical industry, ‘eh?)

  • I’d say the bell would be rung to announce the safe arrival of a ballast tank full of vodka. Assuming that it would still be full.
    There was an old whiskey distillery in Ireland that was closed. But when still in operation, the first distillate would be a clear liquid of about 80 % (yes, eighty volume percent), which is nearly pure alcohol. This would be diluted with water to about 45 % and put in oak barrels to mature – which also gives it its colour. Once it is put in the barrels, customs will take control and do regular checks, also to monitor the amount that evaporates naturally through the wood, called the “angels’ share”.
    But the clear pure alcohol, before the casks are filled, is not yet checked by Revenue. Upon dismantling the equipment, a hidden pipeline was discovered that led directly to the house of one of the former employees.
    I just wonder if it would have been possible to incorporate such a device in the ballast tank of an aircraft, syphoning some of it to the crew?
    Ah no, of course, I am only joking. Before I get furious reactions: No, I do not accuse Russian pilots, not any as a matter of fact, of consuming alcohol whilst on duty. There may be exceptions, and in the past regulations may have been less strict. Not any more, and if found out there will be severe penalties.

    • [“safe arrival of a ballast tank full of vodka.”] ====> Geekier minds wonder whether 160 proof vodka could serve as turbofan fuel, for emergency service, obviously. (Only the daft would waste PERFECTLY fine vodka by BURNING it, heaven forfend.) And would a ballast-tank of 160 proof emergency fuel cause mechanical damage to a late 1980s jet engine? eg. “Flex Fuel” vehicles consume grain alcohol, ethanol blends or petrol. Same, same for modern jet engines? For “Second generation” get engines?

      • Jet engines burn kerosene, which is longer-chain molecules (and less volatile) than gasoline, and probably different physical characteristics — definitely a higher flashpoint, probably lower surface tension but higher viscosity. (I don’t find the latter two in Wikipedia, and the Rubber Bible i inherited has disappeared.) And being 20% water would have … interesting … effects on an engine not adapted for it. I suspect that even in an emergency it would be at best a bad idea.

      • From stackexchange:

        Although turbines could be designed to run on ethanol it’s actually a lousy aviation fuel (actually it’s a lousy fuel in general). Petroleum-based jet fuel is high grade kerosene which has lubricant properties, which ethanol lacks, and ethanol has different characteristics which mean you can’t pour it in and use it as a replacement.

        Some problems with ethanol as a fuel are:

        * It’s a solvent which dissolves some types of seals and hoses
        * It evaporates very easily, and can cause vapor lock
        * It is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts and mixes with water very readily. Water contamination would not settle to the lowest point, instead it would be suspended with the fuel
        * It has significantly less stored energy per unit of weight. Jet fuel has an energy density of 46 MJ/kg (megajoules per kilogram) and pure ethanol has 26.4 MJ/kg; that’s only 57% of the energy density of jet fuel! Even if a jet was able to burn it at its maximum efficiency it would get just over half the oomph from it.

        I believe vapor lock can’t occur with jet engines (no carburetor!), and water in the fuel isn’t a problem and can actually increase thrust (which is why some military heavy transports use water injection when they take off).

        So, the ballast tank probably wouldn’t cause damage, but the seals might need to be replaced afterwards, and the aircraft would probably be unable to climb (which is not a concern in most emergencies).

        • [“It has significantly less stored energy per unit of weight. “] ===> Same reason Musk’s (Slideware) “electric airplane” isn’t merely FANTASY, it’s DELUSIONAL; one gallon of ordinary petrol contains the energy equivalent of 1 cubic meter of lititum ion batteries. In terms of volume and weight, it’s MORE comical than the mythical (or legendary?) “nuclear powered aircraft.” George Jetson’s NEVER around when you need him.

          • Also the notion of water in the jet fuel. Never a good idea. Aircraft which use water injection have a separate tank, plumbing, and fuel pump and the water is injected directly into the engine, not being directly connected to the main fuel delivery system. Never the twain shall meet, as they say

        • Vapor lock was not a result of carburetors in use, at least in cars, but a result of the fuel (gasoline/petrol) being so readily vaporized. In hot weather the ambient and under hood temperatures would cause the fuel to vaporize in the fuel line. Back in the day the fuel pump was usually mounted upon and mechanically driven by the car’s engine. If the fuel in the line between the pump and fuel tank vaporized the pump was unable to keep the engine fuel flowing. Hence the term “vapor lock”. Nowadays most cars have the pump in or very near the tank, so the fuel in the lines is kept liquid and under higher pressure for the fuel injection system, also a newer development. They can be a real bastard to replace if you ever need to, though.

  • Q: Who’s got a copy of the An-124 equivalent to Brian Shul’s famous book “Sled Driver: Flying the World’s Fastest Jet”. The text is amazing, as a center-ring history of Cold War spying from the guys who overflew our enemies. Brian Shul’s lectures are utterly riveting and sometimes, spit-takingly hillarious. Shul captured absolutely AMAZING Kodachrome slides, some of which are published in the hard-cover edition. I’d imagine an An-124’s crew could tell comparable tales of world history in the vein of “We need supplies for 10 million displaced persons from the Boxing Day Tsunami, including blankets, tents, MREs, medical supplies and 250,000 body bags.” Or an An-124 pilot’s-eye view of the USSR’s 1980s Afghanistan fiasco. (US leaders didn’t pay attention, so “Who Knew That Afghanistan was IMPOSSIBLE to Successfully Attack, not even by devoted, extensive Russian bad-assery.” Or stories of rebuilding the Russian Federation after the Soviet collapse, toting this-n-that hither and yon for the whims of autocrats and dictators. What tales they could tell~!

  • BobbiJay is already dumping a whole sh… load of suggestions at Sylvia’s doorstep. With the covid restrictions, we are looking out for them – thanks in advance, Sylvia!

    ‘Bout the wild speculations about vodka-propelled aircraft: Already it has been mentioned that the specific caloric value of vodka is not nearly sufficient to be used to power an aircraft.
    Besides, it contains water – even the distillate from Locke’s distillery in Ireland, which is as pure as you can get it, still contains 15-20% water.
    Which of course, even assuming that it will power an aircraft, will cause it to freeze in the extreme cold at high altitude. Kerosine, when it contains water that freezes, becomes slushy and will block the fuel filters. Even if it bypasses the filters (which is a last-resort feature of the Citations), it may obstruct the feed further down to the injectors of the engines. For that reason we had to spray an additive into the tanks, called Prist, which would prevent sludge forming in the tanks. More sophisticated aircraft have fuel heaters.
    So water in the fuel is most definitely NOT an advantage, it can be a serious problem. When it freezes it can lead to an accident. It happened to a BA 777 which lost both engines on short finals into Heathrow (everyone survived). It had been on a long flight from China. Due to prolonged exposure to extremely low temperatures the engines flamed out due to ice forming in the fuel. At the reduced power setting during descent and finals the fuel was insufficiently heated to prevent the fuel system getting blocked.
    The BAC 1-11 had water injection to increase engine power during hot and high take-off situations. The water was de-mineralised and we carried a drum and a pump with us in summer.
    The water was sprayed into the hot section of the turbines. The water became vapourised, steam in other words. This in itself added power, but because of the cooling effect on the turbines, use of water injection also allowed extra fuel to be burned, a “double whammy”. The increase in power was quite substantial. All water not kept in the drums had to be used, otherwise it might have frozen during flight.
    The Fokker F27 also had a system to add power, but the liquid was a mixture of methylated spirit and water. It was allowed to keep it in the tanks for more water-meth assisted take-offs. The alcohol acted as anti-freeze and the Fokker did not operate at the high altitudes, with the very low temperatures, that jets cruise at.
    Insofar as I am aware, the ballast tank of the Aeroflot aircraft at the time was filled with pure water, nothing fancy.
    Most of the Fokkers F27 that I flew had been converted from passenger- to cargo operation. So seats and fancy cabin lining had been removed. So had the galley. In the front, behind the cockpit, a large cargo door had been installed.
    That meant that the tail section had lost the weight of the galley and the front had gained the weight of the cargo door and related structure.
    In other words: it was a bit nose-heavy. Not usually a problem, but we had a regular run from Bahrain via Riyadh to Jeddah. It was a one-way cargo flight. Outbound with cargo, a drop-off at Riyadh and the rest was offloaded in Jeddah, empty back to Bahrain.
    Because of the temperatures, often it was 37 degrees at night, we took off at 3 am. We had to use water injection for take-off.
    This was a problem. Not the water, but for the importation of barrels full of alcohol, even though methyl, into a Muslim country a very special permit, a dispensation, had to be obtained. So on the very long runways in these countries we started from the beginning, started without water-meth until we passed an intersection from which we could have legitimately have taken off before adding full power with water/meth. It save some of the precious stuff without breaking any rules.
    The other problem was that we needed to have 500 kg ballast in the tail when empty. At first we used sandbags. Sand enough in the desert, but we had to fill them before departure from Jeddah. Hard and dirty work in temperatures that often had climbed to 45-52 degrees.
    So another solution was found:
    On the outbound flight we carried a few empty drums. In Jeddah they were filled with water and tied down in the rear.
    So each day we dumped 500 litres of water in the desert sand of Bahrain, much to the consternation of the locals.

    • If I understand your description properly, the problem with water in aircraft fuel (an oil-type substance) is that the water un-mixes and freezes separately (and also affects the viscosity of the fuel), which I believe wouldn’t happen with a water-alcohol mixture?

      Vodka freezes at -27°C, while Jet Fuel is liquid up to -40°C and below, depending on the type (Jet B freezes at -60°C), so the ballast tank vodka might be frozen when you need it.

      • Whether water would separate from a sub-freezing water-alcohol mixture depends on circumstances. E.g., in cold-weather areas that didn’t have distilling equipment, “winter wine” was made by leaving out containers of wine and throwing away relatively pure water ice that formed on top of the containers; this is also the traditional production method and the name source of applejack, starting with hard cider. I would expect that a plane with engines running would vibrate enough that water crystals couldn’t grow, but that water MIGHT separate in a tank of vodka left sitting on the ground in very cold conditions. OTOH, I see Wikipedia cites applejack as running 25-40% alcohol, where vodka is 40% and up; it’s possible crystals don’t form at high-enough concentrations of alcohol. The exact temperature would also be a factor — chill the mix enough and it would turn solid before the water separated; a late friend told me that Dartmouth chemistry students would do this using liquid nitrogen. (He also told me that they’d make booby-trapped ice cubes by freezing vodka in mini-cube trays, then dropping the result into straight water. Dartmouth still has a reputation, but it has calmed considerably since the 1960’s.)

  • I have blocked ten new comments by BobbiJay, partially for tone and aggressive statements but mainly for the pure influx of messages with the effect of drowning out anyone else who takes part in the conversation.

    This is a moderated site and I require comments to be on topic and civil.

    I have left the previous posts and BobbyJay’s comments which treat other people with respect and do not attempt to flood the conversation will be left on the site.

    • Was wondering when someone was going shut him up, bit of a ‘know it all big head’. I’ve always found the general discussion here very civilized & genuinely intelligent. I’m sure we’d all like it to stay that way. Thanks for keeping things on track Sylvia & for all your hard work keeping such a great, knowledgeable, site going. Much appreciated.

  • Water injection shows up in some land-bound power as well. I understood the main reason was to cool the intake air (after compression, particularly in turbocharged piston engines) and thus dramatically increase its density – hence allowing adding more fuel and getting more power.

    Adding alcohol of any type would also increase evaporation, removing even more heat faster.

    And I have met an engine that it was claimed would run on vodka – a giant cast-iron one-cylinder heap that was an oil-field service engine. But a better use for it is anti-freeze in boats laid up in cold winter climes. You do NOT want the water in your galley piping to freeze – and putting regular anti-freeze into it can be very dangerous if you forget to rinse it all out again before getting a glass to drink. With vodka, you just get a(n) (un/pleasant?) surprise.

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