Following “Mriya”. Which aircraft can pick up Antonov An-225′ records?

2022/04/14 at 11:13 AM

After the destruction of An-225 “Mriya” (“the Dream”) the question of leadership among heavy-lift aircraft remains open.

On 27 February, the picture of the object tentatively identified as the An-225 on fire in its hangar appeared. The heaviest cargo aircraft in the world was on the ground at Antonov Airport in Hostomel when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. After many days of fighting for the Hostomel airfield (which had also been used by the Ukrainian Armed Forces), there was a tiny hope that the An-225 wasn’t critically damaged. The heart-breaking truth was disclosed on 4 April when the Russian television showed the first clear ground images of the destroyed aircraft. As the only aircraft of this model was built, the title of the heaviest aircraft in the world has been vacated.

Destroyed An-225 freighter in Hostomel, source: Antonov

An-225’s numerous records

“Mriya” was designed as an enlargement of the Antonov An-124 for transportation of Buran-class orbiters. The solutions that had been used in the An-124 were scaled up and supplemented with additional engines, new tail shape, wing design, etc.

The aircraft was first operated in 1988. At that time, the An-225 had a maximum gross weight of 600 tonnes, but after modifications in 2000-2001, its maximum gross weight was increased to 640 tonnes. Both, earlier and later modifications made “Mriya” the world’s heaviest aircraft ever built. The empty plane itself weighed 216 tonnes.

The aircraft holds the absolute world record for an airlifted total payload of 253,82 tonnes. It was staged on 11 September 2001 when the freighter flew at an altitude of up to 10,750 metres carrying four tanks. Eight years later, An-225 carried the heaviest single cargo item ever sent by air freight, a generator for a gas power plant in Armenia (189 tonnes). “Mriya” also carried the world’s longest piece of air cargo – two 42.1 metres test wind turbine blades from China to Denmark.

Competitor 1. Airbus

The Airbus with its double-decker A380-800 approached one of An-225′ records, having stated it had improved upon the An-225’s maximum landing weight by landing an A380 at 591.7 tonnes during tests. This was the only parameter it supposedly overcame the measurements of “Mriya” with. The A380 has a wingspan of 79.8 metres (against An-225′ 88.4 metres), length of 72.7 metres (against 84 metres) and so on.

There also were only two aircraft in history that overcame “Mriya’s” size, both with measurements of the wingspan – Stratolaunch Model 351 with 117 m and the Hughes H-4 Hercules with 97.5 metres.

BelugaXL first A350 XWB wings loading and transportation operation, source: Airbus

However, as the ability to carry on the oversized cargoes was An-225′ main advantage compared to other flying machines, so the main attention must be paid to the aircraft with a similar function.

Airbus BelugaXL is among them. Built by Airbus to replace the original Airbus Beluga for transporting oversized aircraft components like wings between production sites, it has a maximum takeoff weight of 227 tons which is more than twice as less as “Mriya’s”.

Competitor 2. Boeing

Just like Airbus, Boeing also needed an aircraft capable of carrying on the components for other planes between production sites. For this purpose, the Boeing 747 Dreamlifter was designed. It performed its first flight in 2006. This wide-body cargo aircraft was modified from the Boeing 747-400. Dreamlifter has the largest cargo hold in the world and can haul payloads up to 125 tonnes (compared to An-225′ 253,8 tonnes).

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy should also be named. Its length reaches 75,3 metres, wingspan – 67,9 metres, maximum takeoff weight – 381 tonnes. It performed its first flight in 1968 and its modifications are still widely operated all over the world. Just like An-225 “Mriya”, it has a raisable nose for loading and unloading.

Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, source: Wikimedia Commons

There is another heavy-lifter Antonov aircraft with the same load/unload system, An-124 “Ruslan”. As we’ve noted above, An-225 was developed on the base of this flying machine. “Ruslan’s” first flight was performed in 1986. It has the following general characteristics: length – 69.1 metres, wingspan – 73.3 metres, maximum takeoff weight – 402 tonnes, maximum landing weight – 330 tonnes.

Boeing C-17 Globemaster III also should be mentioned as one of the biggest cargo aircraft in the world with a length of 53 m, a wingspan of 51,7 m, and a maximum takeoff weight of 265,4 tons. It performed its first flight in 1991 and since then has been performing tactical and strategic airlift missions, transporting troops and cargo throughout the world etc.

Second “Mriya” on its way?

At the end of March, the State Enterprise “Antonov” initiated a fundraiser for the revival of the transport aircraft An-225. It may take more than 3 billion US dollars and five years (due to state defence concern “Ukroboronprom”). Possibly, the second exemplar of “Mriya”, which is approximately 70 per cent ready, could be used.

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