Many people have heard the tale of how the Airbus A380 came to be. Airbus believed that the future in air travel was hub to hub, and that the plane of the future would be large capacity, with enough room for hundreds of passengers. Boeing, on the other hand, believed in direct routes between destinations (point to point) and therefore focused on smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft. We, of course, know how this turned out for both companies.
But did you know that there was a third option?
Introducing the Sukhoi KR-860, the gigantic Russian answer to the A380 and the equivalent of doubling down on red. This aircraft took the hub to hub model to the extreme.
What is the story?
Revealed at the 2001 Paris Airshow, the Sukhoi KR-860 is a four-engine double-decker aircraft (similar to the A380). A direct translation of its name, Kryl’ya Rossii, means the ‘Wings of Russia’, with the 860 referring to how many passengers it could carry. It was under development from Sukhoi, a Russian aerospace firm that also builds a multitude of fighter jets for the military. The aircraft was never actually built, but a 1/24 scale model was created to showcase their future concept.
Three variants were initially proposed.
- A passenger variant (below)
- A cargo variant that could hold railcars/cargo containers (so normal modular shipping containers would not have to be de-loaded for transport).
- A liquid gas variant used to transport products from oil fields. The liquid gas could have been used to power the plane instead of jet fuel, meaning the flight would have been free for the airline.
Let’s have a look at the statistics:
- Capacity: 860-1000 passengers
- Length: 80 m (262 ft 6 in)
- Wingspan: 88 m (288 ft 9 in) with the wings unfolded or 64 m (210 ft) span with wings folded
- Wing area: 700 m2 (7,500 sq ft)
- Max takeoff weight: 650,000 kg (1,433,005 lb)
- Powerplant: 4 × General Electric CF6-80E1A4B turbofan, 320 kN (72,000 lbf) thrust each or
- Powerplant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney PW4168A turbofan, 305 kN (69,000 lbf) thrust each
- Cruising speed: 1,000 km/h (621 mph; 540 kn)
- Range: 15,000 km (9,321 mi; 8,099 nmi)
Whilst the above suggests either a GE or Pratt engine, there was also the possibility of using eight Kuznetsov NK-93 engines (in pairs) as the cheapest possible solution.
How many passengers could it carry?
The typical A380 can carry around 550 passengers, with an all-economy variant carrying 800. The KR-860 far outstrips this, accommodating 860 passengers and up to 1,000 in an all-economy configuration. To put this in perspective, the designers intended for the lower deck to be 12-abreast seating with three aisles (a first for commercial travel) and the upper deck to have 9-abreast seating with two aisles.
To help passengers get on and off rapidly, the aircraft came with three escalators built into the hull. That’s right! Under the plane were escalators to ferry passengers from the ground quickly up to their respective deck.
Boeing copied the wings
This plane had such a large wingspan that the wings themselves had to fold up to arrive at 747 airport gates. Sound familiar? The new Boeing 777x actually uses the same system (although not as extreme as the KR-860).
Why did it never fly?
The program originally predicted there would be a market for 300 aircraft. As we now know, Airbus only sold 290 A380s over the course of its entire program, so a Russian made super A380 claiming to sell more is highly unrealistic. Possible markets would have been Russia, China, India, Vietnam, and Africa. Western countries were still wary of Russian made aircraft at the time, and would have gone with Airbus or Boeing in preference.
The program itself was estimated to cost around $10bn in 2000. To help with this cost, Sukhoi turned to China and India to create a joint venture. This made the Russian government uneasy about funding an aircraft that ultimately would see little use in Russia. As a result, they diverted funds to other projects in 2001.
Whilst we can agree that Russia (and the world) would never have seen a use for this aircraft, it would have been quite a sight to see.
What do you think? Would you have flown on this aircraft?