When the Wright brothers flew their first plane they were elated. They had accomplished a feat no man had ever dreamed possible. Today we have planes of varying shapes and sizes, carrying individuals, small groups of passengers, cargo and packages, or hundreds of people at a time.
Despite the advances in technology over the years, it’s still difficult to comprehend something as monstrous as the Antonov 225 staying afloat in the skies. Contrary to popular belief, an aircraft of this size does not have a very recent design history. As a matter of fact, the Antonov 225 has been trailing the skies since the late 1980’s.
The Birth of the Antonov 225
The Antonov 225 was not designed without purpose. In the 1980’s the Soviet space program realized there was a need for a plane large enough to transport their Buran space shuttle. After it flew on December of 1988, the original plane was put on display at the Paris Air Show.
At the time, the Soviet space program had ordered two aircraft of the same size. One was completed and put in service but the other was not finished. As of today, work is being done on the second Antonov 225 and it should be ready for takeoff sometime in 2010. The design of the second plane will be slightly different, with effective cargo doors and a single tail.
The History of the Antonov 225
The An-225 was originally considered a military asset and in the late 1980’s was part of the Antonov Design Bureau’s heavy shipping corporation. The corporation was based in Kiev, Ukraine and operated in conjunction with the London Luton Airport.
After the space program ended the aircraft was put back in service under Antonov Airlines and, after a considerable amount of time, made its first commercial flight in January of 2002. The landmark flight delivered over 187 tons of prepared ready meals to American military troops.
The Evolution of the Antonov 225
The aircraft that did remain in operation lasted only as long as the Buran space program. The program ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90’s resulting in the aircraft being placed in storage. At the same time, construction of the second aircraft came to a grinding halt as well. The engines on the Antonov 225 were removed and placed on other planes and the frames sat collecting dust for years.
The An-225 is now available to ship oversized cargo anywhere in the world. The place was modified to include fuselage barrel extensions and the wings were extended as well. Additional engines were added, bringing the total to six, and a very sophisticated landing system including 32 wheels was also incorporated.
In order to lighten the load, the rear cargo door and ramp were removed completely. The plane originally had a vertical stabilizer which was removed and replaced with a twin tail in order to complement the aerodynamic needs associated with attaching cargo to the exterior of the airplane.
Antonov 225 currently has a maximum gross weight of 1.323 million pounds and can carry either internal cargo weighting up to 550,000 pounds or external cargo weighting up to 440,000 pounds.
The air plane has a reputation for being able to carry loads that we at one point never would have thought possible to transport by air. The incredible airliner has moved 150 ton generators and locomotives and has played an enormous role in relief efforts around the world because of its ability to deliver such large loads of supplies.
Because the first An-225 was in such high demand, the decision was made in 2006 to pull the second plane out of storage and set it up for completion. As noted above, the design will be slightly different in order to accommodate cargo more effectively but will be able to handle the same types of heavy loads.
The current Antonov 225 has completed dozens of commercial flights as well as those involved in humanitarian efforts. The plane has delivered supplies all over the world, including Iraq, and has been contracted by the United States and Canadian governments. The An-225 even found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records.
While astounding in size, there’s no doubt that the Antonov 225 is one of the most incredible airplanes to ever take flight. Hopefully the completion of the second plane in 2010 will serve to open the doors for additional opportunities, especially as far as humanitarian and relief efforts are concerned.