The Antonov AN-225 Mriya, codenamed “Cossack” by Nato, is a super heavy strategic airlift cargo aircraft. Designed and built by the Soviet Union in the 1980’s, she is powered by six, yes six, turbofan engines. The AN-225 is the world’s longest and heaviest airoplane ever to take to the air. This incredible piece of engineering has a maximum takeoff weight of around 640 tonnes and has the largest wingspan of any aircraft currently in active service. The AN-225 first flew in 1988 and has inspired children and aircraft fanatics ever since.
Let’s take a quick look at this humongous beast of burden.
Takeoff, grounding and takeoff again!
The Antonov AN-225 was first developed to transport the Buran spaceplane and Energia rocket boosters for the Soviet space program. She was designed and built to replace the aging Myasishchev VM-T. The original concept for the AN-225 was, in effect, identical to the U.S.’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Her first flight was on the 21st December 1988 where it completed a 74-minute flight from Kiev.
This incredible aircraft had a very short working life. After conducting its intended purposes for the Buran space program, not to mention some airshows, the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s saw the AN-225 mothballed until further notice. During her time in service, the Antonov AN225 completed 14 flights with a total flight time of 28 hours and 27 minutes. The Ukrainian government finally took possession of the Antonov AN-225 and put her back into active service.
In around the year 2000 plans were put into motion to modernize the airframe for future use. These works were intended to improve the aircraft for carrying commercial cargoes. A task she has performed ever since for Antonov Airlines.
[Image Source: Clem Tillier via Wikimedia Commons]
The belly of the beast
Antonov-225’s cargo hold is truly breathtaking. It has a very spacious cargo hold with a total length of 43.32 meters, a width of 6.4 meters and height of 4.4 meters. Her cargo hold has a total volume or around 1,300 cubic meters. This capacity enables the airplane to transport sixteen standard aeronautical containers or 50 cars or single pieces of cargo up to 200 tonnes in weight (such as turbines, generators, dumper trucks etc). Her cargo hold can be pressurized, as you’d expect. This enables the plane to extend its transport capabilities. The AN-225’s carrying capacity isn’t limited to her cargo hold, however. She is able to transport many unique cargoes outside her fuselage.
Powering the beast
So you’ve designed a massive plane with a huge cargo hold, how do you get it off the ground? Well, you’ll need some engines! The Antonov AN-225 is powered by six Progress D-18T turbofan engines. These are three-spool, high bypass engines with a rated thrust of more than 20,000 kg each. These engines are specifically designed and built to power large transport aircraft, which is handy. They were designed by the Ivchenko-Progress Design Bureau. Construction was delegated to the Motor Sich factory in the Ukraine. These beauties are reportedly the first of their type to be able to deliver more than 20,000 kg of thrust.
Other than their application on the AN-225 they are also used on the smaller, yet equally awesome AN-124 carrier planes.
Three of the D-18T Engines of the AN-225 [Image Source: Dmitry A. Mottl via Wikimedia Commons]
Antonov AN-225’s design
The Antonov An-225 was based on the design of its smaller predecessor the AN-124. Fuselage barrel extensions were made fore and aft of the wings and two more of those awesome engines were added to the wings. The increased weight and intended cargo capacity of the AN-225 needed improvements to be made to the aircraft’s landing gear as well. In all, 32 wheels were designed with some of them steerable allowing the aircraft to turn within a 60-meter wide runway. The front landing gear can even “kneel” allowing cargo to more easily be loaded and unloaded.
Unlike the AN-124, the AN-225 doesn’t have rear cargo bay doors and ramp. These were omitted to reduce the weight of the airframe. The tail was also redesigned from a single vertical stabilizer to a twin tail design with an oversized horizontal stabilizer. As the aircraft was to carry cargoes on her back at times it was essential to conduct these design changes to the tail section.
You’ll probably want some statistics at this point. Well, we don’t like to disappoint. The aircraft’s wingspan is total 88.4 meters, she has a length of 84 meters and height of 18.1 meters. Her maximum takeoff weight is 640 metric tonnes and she can cruise at 557 km/h. The Antonov AN-225 has a fuel capacity of 300,000 kg providing a maximum range of 4,000 km fully loaded! She has a service ceiling of 11,000 m and a top speed of 850 km/h, now that’s a cargo plane!
[Image Source: MilborneOne via Wikimedia Commons]
One of a kind
As amazing as this aircraft is only one was ever built by the Soviet Union. A second airframe was partially completed but work halted due to lack of funding and, sadly, interest, in its finalization. The AN-225’s sister aircraft has not been forgotten, however. Work was briefly restarted in 2009 with later agreements in 2016. This was to complete the work for the Aerospace Industry Corporation of China as a prelude to AICC commencing series production. This agreement will mean that the second previously aborted airframe will be completed by 2019. The entire process includes the transfer of the technology to China for licensed production to a modernized standard, pretty neat!
AICC plan to open up new frontiers in commercial and military transportation with a fleet of AN-225’s to deliver heavy payloads on a mass scale for construction and delivery of consumer goods. They also plan to use the AN-225 fleet for humanitarian aid during disaster events. More worryingly, China also envisages their use for transporting large amounts of military hardware from helicopters to tanks, even ballistic missiles anywhere in the world. Their ambitions also extend to using the fleet to help launch spacecraft or provide a “mothership” for drone operations.
The AN-225 has broken hundreds of world records including Guinness World Records. These include The Largest Aircraft by Weight, Largest Aircraft by Wingspan and Heaviest item airlifted. She has managed to carry the world’s heaviest recorded cargo at 253 tonnes, the heaviest single piece of cargo at 186.7 tonnes and the longest cargo ever transported at 42.1 meters. Impressive indeed!