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Antonov An-225 Cossack: The worlds largest airplane

She was the grandest sight at the air fair in Paris: the Antonov 225 is the biggest airplane in the world. Even larger than the new Airbus A380.

Antonov An-225 Mriya with Russian shuttle Buran in taxi
Picture by Nasa

A gigantic roar of thunder arises as chief pilot Alexandr Galunenko powers up the six monster engines of the Antonov 225 for take-off. A total of 600 tons have to be airborne until the end of this runway. A sight that is particularily exciting with this Ukrainian flying dinosaur, because the double wheels below the nose of the aircraft are two meters up in the air quite fast. But the massive cargo hull with its 28 overscale wheels seems to take for ever.

"Albatros" would have probably been a good name for the largest Antonov of all times, the bird being notorious for its endless take-off procedures in the animal kingdom. Instead the engineers came up with the quite romatic nickname "mriya" when the AN-225 was completed in 1988 during the final heart beats of the "good old" Sowjet Union. "Mriya" meaning so much as "the dream".

Antonov An-225 Mriya with Russian shuttle Buran piggyback

Turning out to be nothing more than a dream was the attempt of the Sowjet Union to keep up with the United States in the international space race by building their own space shuttle called "Buran". In context with this project "Mriya" was built by hand to be able to transport "Buran" pick-a-back through Russia.

"Buran" is now for sale with a price tag of about 15 million US dollars as an exclusive space race curiosity. But "Mriya", the 13 year old "Russian dream" seams to have a future career again.

Just in time for the air show in Paris 2001 the Antonov design office in Kiew reanimated the huge steel bird that was awaiting its scrapping between thistles and dandilions on an airfield in Gostomel until then. "Borrowed" engines were returned, dismantled positioning lights screwed back into place. Large scale tinkering that was worthwhile in the end. Because the An-225 outflanked even the newest fighter planes at the show in Paris.

Boeing 747 with space shuttle on taxi flight
Picture by Nasa (Boeing 747 with Shuttle)

And it sure is no every day sight to watch such a supersized jumbo go down on its knees on command, open its giant muzzle and give way to a cargo bay that would comfortably house 80 passenger cars or eight double-decker busses or three train locomotives or if you prefer the complete hull of an Amercian Boeing 747, the biggest passenger jet of former days. How symbolic!

All of a sudden the American and European competitors looked slightly disgruntled: Airbus was at that time only offering a model version of its two story superjumbo Airbus A-380 for 800 passengers.

Experts have figured that an operational "Mriya" can not only carry about 100 tons of cargo more than the European jet from the drawing board, but could transport around 1500 passengers if tuned appropriatly.

Compare size Antonov An-225, Airbus A380 800 and Boeing 747 400

At least the Europeans had some comfort, already being able to sell more than 20 of their future flagship to various airlines. And: the albatros Antonov will remain a unique specimen so far. Because there is a "small" market for airfreight weighing more the 200 tons from the space and the oil industry, but "Mriya" with a price tag of about 200 million US-dollars per plane is simply to expensive for a giant-freighter fleet.

In the alltime ranking list of airplanes the Antonov with its six engines, a span of 88 meters and a lenght of 84 meters nevertheless only takes second place.

Unbeaten on first place until today ist the legendary "Spruce Goose", a gigantic waterplane built by Howard Hughes with eight propeller engines for US-missions in the Second World War. The "H-4" was longer than 70 meters and had a wing span along which one could have organised Olympic sprint competitions: unbelievable 97,5 meters.

Howard Hughes H4, nicknamed Sprucegoose, the largest ever built airplane in the world

The giant bird however only went airborne for a testing period of about one minute and a distance of two kilometers.

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© A report by Tobias Micke (24-06-01) – Contact