Antonov AN-225: The World’s Largest Aircraft

world's largest aircraft
Image Source: Antonov Airlines

The aviation industry may be experiencing a lull in light of COVID-19 flight restrictions but that hasn’t stopped the world’s largest aircraft. Aviation enthusiasts now have something to be excited about as the Antonov AN-225 cargo plane took to the skies over Ukraine. Flightradar24 tracked the Antonov AN-225 flying from its hub at Antonov Airport in Kiev, Ukraine.

The world’s largest plane has been on the ground for 18 months without a word from the airline. But recently the Antonov AN-225 took to the skies and flew over rural areas before landing again. The plane completed two laps high above the Ukrainian countryside before landing back safely at the airport.

Antonov AN-225 Cargo Plane

The Antonov-AN-225 is a gargantuan cargo plane that is famous for many reasons. One of the standouts must be its exceptional weight capacity. Not only is it the world’s largest aircraft but it’s also the heaviest and has the longest wingspan of any aircraft in operation today. This means it can carry massive loads over long distances which is crucial, especially for emergency relief.

Built in the late 1980s as part of the Soviet Space program, they named it “Mriya” which translates to “dream” in Ukrainian. The first task for the AN-225 was to move the space shuttle Buran from landing zones back to its home base.

The flight from Antonov Airport was a test run and most likely one of many in the coming weeks. Chances are we may see the AN-225 resume regular cargo flights soon, once the test flights have been completed successfully.

Specifications Of The World’s Largest Aircraft

It’s not dubbed the world’s largest aircraft for nothing as it has six-engines, a 290 ft wingspan (88 meters) and weighs an astonishing 600,000 pounds. The cargo storage area is approximately 144 ft (44 meters) deep, 21 ft (6.5 m) wide and just over 13 ft (4 m) tall.

The biggest and heaviest cargo the AN-225 has carried to date was a 470,000 lbs generator. That puts into perspective the plane’s 550,000 lbs capacity and maximum take-off weight of 1.4 million pounds. Its pressurized cargo hold offers 46,000-cubic-feet of space.

How Does It Load Oversized Cargo?

The Antonov AN-225 uses the strongest and most rigid ramp system on the market, the OPTG-120M ramp system. It was designed and manufactured by Antonov Airlines for the specific purpose of loading heavy and oversized cargo.

The OPTG-120M ramp system is used on both the AN-225 and the smaller AN-124. It can safely handle loading and unloading of cargo with a maximum weight of 440,000 lbs (200,000 kg) for the AN-225 and height of 13 ft 5 in (4.1 m) on both the AN-225 and AN-124.

Some of the advantages of this ramp system include the following (source: Antonov Airlines)

  • Lightweight and easily transportable
  • Allows easy inspection during the loading process
  • Anchored to the floor after installation
  • Track size is adjustable
  • Lashing/anchoring points on both sides
  • Winching points/joint points available
  • Can be used simultaneously with standard and low platforms

Using The World’s Largest Aircraft For Good

In 2018, ahead of Typhoon Mangkhut, the world’s largest aircraft was called in to collect disaster relief. The Antonov An-225 “Mriya” (“Dream”) flew from its home base in Ukraine to Oakland, California where they collected the supplies. It was a sight that many would remember for a long time to come.

The flight from Ukraine to the U.S. took 13 hours passing over Belarus, Finland, Norway, Greenland and Canada. They loaded 140 tons of U.S. Military Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), water, and other disaster relief supplies. On the way to Guam, it stopped in Honolulu to refuel before delivering its cargo.

Currently, the smaller Antonov AN-124 is being used to deliver urgent medical equipment from China to Europe in aid of fighting the coronavirus. They may also employ the AN-225 to fly important medical equipment around the world to help with COVID-19 but no confirmation yet.

Final Thoughts

Since its maiden commercial flight on December 21, 1988, the world’s largest aircraft has delivered heavy and oversized shipments globally. It is scheduled to remain in service until at least 2033 and could help tackle the outbreak by getting extra-large shipments to destinations across the world.

Using the world’s largest aircraft to deliver much-needed medical supplies, food and water may only be one small step but it could make a significant difference. The world is facing difficult times but with the help of countless men and women utilising cutting edge technology and equipment, together we will prevail.

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