Powered by no less than 6 massive turbofan engines, the Antonov An-225 "Mriya" is the world's biggest operational cargo plane. She is a serial record-breaker and isn't too bad looking either.
In this article, we briefly explore the plane's history and take a look at some of her vital stats.
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What is the largest cargo plane in the world?
With a wingspan of 88.4 meters and a length of 84 meters, the Antonov An-225 "Mriya" is a true monster of the skies. This giant plane weighs around 285,000 kg when empty.
Her nickname "Mriya" means "Dream" in Ukrainian, and she has been in commercial service since 2001.
When she was debuted in 1988, the An-225 was around 50% bigger than any airliner that had been seen before.
She is powered by six enormous Ivchenko Progress D-18T turbofan engines, each capable of pumping out over 23 thousand kg of thrust.
These engines were selected for their high takeoff thrust, their low specific fuel consumption of great reliability. They are also easy to maintain and have low noise and contaminant emissions.
Her landing gear consists of no less than 32 wheels. This enables the Antonov An-225 to be able to actually turn within a 60-meter-wide runway.
But despite its size, the Mriya is not the biggest cargo plane ever built. For example, the Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" had a larger wingspan of 97.54 meters, and it was shorter at 66.65 meters.
But as the "Spruce Goose" is now only a museum exhibit, the Antonov An-225 is the largest cargo plane in operation.
The Antonov An-225 is also dwarfed by the much larger Stratolaunch with its wingspan of 117 meters and a length of 73 meters. But much like the "Spruce Goose," the Stratolaunch is not operational.
In fact, since the passing of Paul Allen, its future is in doubt.
The Antonov An-225 was designed and built by the Soviets as a super heavy transporter to replace the aging Myasishchev VM-T. It was codenamed "Cossack" by NATO forces during the cold war.
She was originally designed to transport the Energiya carrier-rocket and Buran spaceplane and was, in turn, an enlargement of the already successful Antonov An-124.
She first flew in 1988 and successfully completed a 74-minute flight from Kiev. After the long-overdue collapse of the Soviet Union, the Antonov An-225 was grounded for many years.
It was later purchased by the Ukrainian company Antonov Airlines who have used it as a transporter ever since. She also makes regular appearances at airshows around the world.
Under her existing role as a commercial transporter, the An-225 has set the absolute world record for airlifting a single payload of 187.6 tonnes (170,188 kg) from Frankfurt Hahn airport in 2009.
This payload consisted of a power plant generator. She also holds other world records (around 30 in total over a 30-year period).
"This incredible plane already holds a number of records, including that of the only plane to have a maximum take-off weight of over 600 tonnes and the plane with the widest wingspan, at 88.4 m (290 ft)." - Guinness World Records.
How many Antonov 225s are there?
The Antonov An-225 is one-of-a-kind. Only one airframe was ever completed during the Soviet-era. A second airframe was also commissioned but was never completed.
"Based on the AN-124 design, the AN-225 has similar loading capabilities as its forerunner (cranes, winches), but boasts a longer internal cabin (43.3 m versus 36.5 m) and higher payload (250,000 kg versus 150,000 kg).
Since its maiden flight on December 21, 1988, the AN-225 has delivered heavy and outsize shipments across the globe. It is scheduled to remain in service until at least 2033." - Antonov Company.
Her sister aircraft had a slightly different configuration but construction stalled in 1994. Lack of funding and interest were to blame.
There was a brief renewed interest to complete it in 2009, and it was brought up to around 60-70% completion. But construction was halted once again.
In 2016, Antonov Airlines agreed to complete the second airframe for the Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (AICC) prior to hopes of AICC commencing series production.
In 2018 it was reported that Boeing had made plans to help Antonov Airlines complete the second airframe after their supply chain dried up in the wake of Crimean annexation by Russia.
What is the world's biggest plane?
As we have already detailed above, the world's largest active plane is the Antonov An-225. There are, however, several larger planes. Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" (bigger wingspan but shorter) and the Stratolaunch (bigger wingspan and longer).
There are also a few other giants of the air that are just slightly smaller than the Antonov An-225. These are the Antonov An-12473.3 meters long and 68.96-meter wingspan), the Boeing 747-8 (76.3 meters long with a 68.4-meter wingspan) and the Airbus A380-800 (72.7 meters long with a 79.8-meter wingspan).
How much cargo can the Antonov An-225 plane carry?
As we have already seen, the Antonov An-225 holds various world records for airlifted cargo. But she can also handle a lot of regular cargo too.
Her maximum designed payload is 250,000 kg with a total volume capacity of 1,200 cubic meters. The Antonov An-225's cargo bay has a total length of 43.32 meters, a width of 6.4 meters and a height of 4.4 meters and includes an on-board crane that can lift 30,000 kg at any one time.
Her enormous cargo bay is capable of carrying around 16 standard aeronautical containers, 50 cars, or a single piece of cargo up to around 200 metric-tonnes (200,000 kg) in weight. It can also be pressurized.
She can also carry oversized objects on top of her fuselage.
Cargo is loaded through her nose and she lacks a rear ramp and cargo door. These were removed from the design in an attempt to reduce her final weight as much as reasonably possible.
The plane is able to kneel at the front using a specially designed retractable nosegear system. This allows deliveries to drive directly into the cargo bay and more easily load and unload cargo.
The Mriya also has a specially designed twin-tail design, rather than a more traditional single vertical tail fin, to allow her to more easily carry large external items if required.