Many aircraft are exceptionally large, but only one had the honor of being remembered as the world’s largest aircraft. This was the Antonov An-225 Mriya, an aircraft produced by Antonov Design Bureau in the USSR in 1988.
This airplane was so special because there was only one Antonov An-225 in the entire world, run by Antonov Airlines.
Recently, the Antonov An-225 came under the spotlight after the first flight of the Stratolaunch, an aircraft with the biggest wingspan. Still, these 2 aircraft are barely equivalent as the Stratolaunch is a satellite launch aircraft that can’t be used for any other goal, while the Antonov An-225 is a commercial cargo transporter.
Unfortunately, it was destroyed in February 2022, after decades of having the largest plane on earth record.
The remains of Antonov An-225 Mriya, the largest and heaviest lift aircraft ever operated. Destroyed during Russian assault on Antonov airport on Feb 24, 2022— Dmitri Alperovitch (@DAlperovitch) March 4, 2022
Another photo of the magnificent plane in flight. RIP pic.twitter.com/LgIMwvJm2E
Antonov: the largest plane ever created
The Antonov’s history started in the 1980s in Soviet Ukraine, but it wasn’t until 1988 that the Antonov An-225 was delivered. It was planned to carry the Buran, the Soviet Union’s version of a space shuttle.
The Mriya was launched when Ukraine was a republic of the USSR. The Soviet space project asked for a transport aircraft for its Buran shuttle, approximately similar to NASA’s Challenger. There was also a necessity for a sturdy, large-capacity aircraft to carry the pieces of the aerospace program.
Nevertheless, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the revocation of the Buran program, this aircraft lost its sense. It spent almost a decade in storage; its engines were disassembled and used to equip the smaller model of Antonov aircraft: the AN-124.
In 2002, the Antonov was used commercially, and it took its first commercial flight with a load of 187.5 tons.
Great design and capacities
To sustain its weight and high load capability, the Antonov had more wheels than an average cargo plane, 32 in total. Alongside a rear ramp, it also has a lifting nose that enables easier loading and unloading of cargo.
It has a capacity seldom seen in commercial aviation. Even today, it maintains the record of the heaviest single item payload. It was a shipment of 189,980 kilograms (418,830 pounds).
In addition to serving commercial flights, the AN-225 was used mainly for carrying goods such as containers, water treatment plants, cars, trains, military equipment, and humanitarian or health aid.
The Antonov was a state-of-the-art piece of engineering for its time, and until its last day it held the record as the biggest aircraft in the world – and even today, its specifications are absolutely amazing in the world of aviation.
- Crew: 6
- Cargo Capacity: 253,820 kilograms (559,580 pounds)
- Length: 84 meters (275 feet 7 inches)
- Wingspan: 88.4 meters (290 feet)
- Height: 18.1 meters (59 feet 5 inches)
- Max takeoff weight: 640,000 kilograms (1,410,958 pounds)
- Fuel capacity: over 300,000 kilograms (660,000 pounds)
The Antonov was decimated during the Russian attacks on the Battle of Antonov Airport after 30 years of service.
There was a project to build a second Antonov but the Russian attack on Ukraine severely jeopardizes the future of Antonov because the task has been underfunded for the last decades, and only one prototype has been assembled.
A sad end to for the behemoth of the skies
The Antonov An-225 Mriya marked a world aviation milestone by making the largest aircraft ever made. Even to its last day, it was the largest aircraft in the sky. Hopefully, it will be the inspiration for future planes that will try to beat this record.
Featured image credit: Antonov An-225 Mriya by Myroslav Kaplun. Licensed under CC by 4.0.