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GIANTS OF THE SKY

Talk of big, talk of gigantic, talk of almost the impossible to phantom, talk of the giants of the sky and those who know what is what in the aviation field will tell you about the Antonov, An-225. It is a marvel; it is a beast, its man’s imagination at its best. It’s simply pushing the limits in engineering possibility. It is like electing an ostrich to represent the birds in a flying competition, but with a twist, it actually flies!

The An-225 stands tall, literally makes a Boeing 747 look like a dwarf and a U.S Air Force C-5A Galaxy can carry only a fraction of its payload. It can avert a famine, literary, case in point; its first commercial mission was to carry 216,000 prepared meals for American Military personnel in the Persian Gulf! Its dimensions are staggering, at the height of 18.24m, length of 84.03m and wingspan of 88.39m; it’s almost as big as a football field, from nose to tail and wingtip to wingtip. It is designed to carry twice as much as a Boeing 747 freighter, with a maximum takeoff weight of about 1.32 million pounds, which is the equivalent of 600,000kgs, and in plain English, a LOT of payload, about 50 percent heavier than a fully loaded C-5A!

To get this beast off mother earth, the Ukrainian engineers furnished, no, more like armed the An-225 with six, yes, SIX ZMKB progress Rotary D-18T turbofan jets, from the Ukrainian design house, Ivchenko Lotarev, each capable of pumping out 51,590 pounds of thrust. I guess this was why they named it “Mriya”, which is Ukrainian for “Dream”. It is surely a befitting name as making this mean machine fly is a dream.

The An-225 was essentially developed by, I think, by looking at the already existing An-124 military transport aircraft under a magnifying glass! But more seriously, it’s a more enlarged version of the An- 124. To distribute the weight of its fully loaded belly, it was equipped with an interestinglooking 32- wheel landing gear. To add a twist and prove the critics wrong, the An-225 is made extremely maneuverable by making 20 wheels steerable, four in the nose gear and 16 at the rear of the 28-wheel main landing gear. It also has a split-tail to keep it maneuverable when carrying large exterior loads while giving it its signature look. Case in point, the An-225 made its debut international flight in a manner just appropriate for its size; landing at the 1989 Paris Air Show with the “Buran” space shuttle on its back. Talk of arriving in style.

With the dysfunction of the Russian space program, the “Mriya” no longer had a definite role. The Antonov Group, which acquired the An-225 with the break of the Soviet Union, was trying to find a way of making it profitable. With its impressive payload capacity of about 250,522.7 kgs, and the fact that it could haul what can’t fit in it, on its back, it was not too hard to get a role for it. In addition, it offered exceptional speed and range capabilities; the big bird cruises at nearly 805Kph and fully loaded, it can fly non-stop from New York to Los Angeles, a distance of about 3,961Km. It is in this cargo business that the Antonov Group and its business partner, Motor-Sich, the company that makes the An-225 engines ventured into.

The verdict, the An-225 is simply a brilliant aircraft. It has stayed true to the basic ideas of aviation while challenging new fronts. While it is equipped with modern avionics, it still has manual flight controls and a single pilot cannot be able to pull on its control column for it to take-off. It’s not surprising then that it needs a crew of seven to safely fly it. If I had my way, I would love to have one in my backyard, but it’s a pity, the Ukrainians are not putting it up for sale.

The An-225 arriving in Paris Airshow An-225

The An-225 arriving in Paris Airshow

The An-225 arriving in Paris Airshow An-225

An-225