As allied countries rush to each other’s aid in the pandemic, the Soviet-era Antonov An-225 Mriya, a strategic airlift cargo aircraft transported a record-breaking volume of medical supplies from China to Poland.
The cargo plane was loaded with about 100 tonnes of medicines, tests for laboratory analysis, medical masks and other protective equipment, with a total load of about 1000 m3, making it the plane to deliver the biggest cargo volume ever.
“Our company is very proud of the opportunity to contribute and join the fight against the global pandemic. Planning and performing charter flights in the current difficult quarantine conditions imposed by many countries when there are restrictions applied for landing and crew rest permits, requires selfless dedication and commitment on the part of all airline staff – from commercial personnel and ops planners in the office to pilots and technicians on board,” Vitaliy Shost, Antonov Airlines First Deputy Director said.
Wondering how big is this plane?
The 31-year-old An-225 is the heaviest plane in the world and the only one with six turbofan engines. The aircraft has a cruise speed of 800 Km/h and a payload capacity of 250000 Kg. The 600,000-pound cargo aircraft with the moniker – ‘Mriya’ – meaning “dream” in Ukrainian, was originally built to transport hardware of the Soviet Union’s space shuttle program.
In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union was pursuing an ambitious space program but was facing a hurdle while building the Buran space shuttle and Energia super-heavy lift launch vehicle. There was no way to transport the massive hardware to Baikonur Cosmodrome in modern-day Kazakhstan which was thousands of miles away from the airport, according to Popular Mechanics.
After deliberation, Moscow decided to build an aircraft and gave an official order to Antonov Design Bureau in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. Antonov named the aircraft An-225, as it would carry 225 tons of internal cargo, although a fully loaded Buran orbiter weighed just over 100 tons and would later be carried on its back.
Antonov engineers decided to use the blueprint of An-124 Ruslan, a large, strategic airlift, four-engined aircraft that was also designed by the Antonov Design Bureau but the idea was to make a much bigger aircraft.
According to Popular Mechanics, to maintain balance, the front section of the Ruslan’s original fuselage was stretched by eight meters, but the aft section was shortened by one meter to compensate for the plane’s heavy dual stabilizer. Reportedly, the engineers wanted to create a plane not just for transportation purposes but also a flying launchpad for future space vehicles.
It took about four years to complete building the plane, double the time that was previously budgeted. “For the official rollout on November 30, 1988, the specialists had to oil the floors to rotate the aircraft along the centerline of the assembly hall. Because of its gargantuan size, the plane stuck out of the hangar at the start of the ceremony,” stated Anatoly Zak of Popular Mechanics.
The aircraft took its first flight on December 21, 1988, and reportedly set about 110 world records. The Buran orbiter made its first and last flight about a month before the An-225 did. However, the Buran program was suspended due to lack of funds and the political situation in the Soviet Union.
In 1989, the Buran space shuttle was carried on the back of An-225 for the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget. When Russia suffered the Chernobyl disaster, the plane made its maiden visit to the US for bringing back humanitarian aid for the victims. However, the aircraft faced fatal technical issues and was grounded.
In the early 2000s, Antonov Design Bureau revived the aircraft and turned it into an oversized cargo that is still in use.