Antonov An-225: The World’s Largest Airplane
As lightweight composite materials and advanced aviation technology enable larger aircraft to take to the skies, it’s interesting to note that the largest airplane in the history of aviation, measured by maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is Ukraine’s Antonov An-225 Mriya. Designed in the 1980s by the Soviet Union’s Antonov Design Bureau, the airplane took its first flight on December 21, 1988. It was featured at the Paris Air Show in 1989, as well as the Farnborough air show in 1990, where it demonstrated its capabilities by taking-off and landing with the Soviet Buran – an orbital vehicle similar to the renowned US Space Shuttle – on board.
The An-225 was specifically designed to transport the Soviet Buran spacecraft, and when the Soviet space program was abandoned in the 1990s the airplane was put into storage for a time, but later reinstated into service as a cargo jet. With its 46,000 cubic feet (1,300 cubic meters) of cargo space the An-225 is capable of transporting five military tanks, or 50 automobiles, over a distance of 3,000 miles. In September 2001, the An-25 took off carrying 4 battle tanks recorded at 253.82 tons, flying at an altitude of 6,600 feet over a distance of 620 miles at an average speed of 474.2 mph.
With a 640 ton gross weight, the An-225 it is acknowledged to be the heaviest aircraft in the world, and it has a maximum takeoff weight of 1.32 million pounds, or 600,000 kilograms. By comparison the Airbus A380 can take off carrying around 1.24 million pounds, the heaviest of all passenger aircraft.
The An-225’s first commercial flight was in January 2002, flying from Stuttgart, Germany, to Thumrait, Oman, where it delivered 216,000 prepared meals to American military personnel. It has since been employed in transporting emergency supplies to disaster struck areas, and delivering items such as locomotives, massive generators and a range of military supplies. It has transported the heaviest single cargo item ever airfreighted – a generator weighing 420,000 pounds to an Armenian power plant, as well as the longest piece of air cargo ever delivered – two 42-meter wind turbine blades from Tianjin in China to Denmark. In March 2012 it was used to transport equipment from Calgary in Canada to Nigeria that would previously have been sent by sea. The equipment was urgently needed to prevent dangerous gas flaring in Nigeria’s oil industry. The An-225 appeared in the 2004 Guinness Book of Records for 240 record-setting achievements. The An-225 is one-of-a-kind, with a second airplane started but reportedly never completed.