The World’s Largest Plane Turns 30

Dec 22, 2018

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Dec. 21 marked 30 years since the Antonov AN-225 first took to the air. During those past three decades, the aircraft, operated by Antonov Airlines and used to move super heavy payloads all over the world, has seen its ups and downs — but today enjoys a special place in the aviation world.

Antonov AN-225.

Known as Mriya — Ukrainian for dream — the plane holds a number of world records and draws huge crowds any time it arrives or leaves a destination. By any measure you could safely call it a super rare aircraft — there is only one operational AN-225 in the world — making an encounter a real treat for plane spotters and AvGeeks. TPG‘s own JT Genter got up close and personal with the AN-225 back in April.

JT in the AN-225 cockpit

The history of the world’s largest plane has been less than smooth flying during the last 30 years. The aircraft was originally designed to transport the Buran spaceplane — essentially a Soviet knockoff of the US space shuttle. After the collapse of the USSR, the AN-225 saw its engines removed and got the mothball treatment for the next eight years. The aircraft got new life when Antonov saw a need to move larger cargo that its AN-124s — a smaller version of the AN-225 — couldn’t handle. The AN-225 was retrofitted in the late ’90s and had its six power plants remounted. The behemoth then entered service for Antonov moving cargo all over the world.

The AN-225 touts some impressive stats. Its landing gear is made up of 32 wheels, its pressurized cargo hold is 46,000 cubic feet, and it’s longer than the Wright brothers’ entire first flight at more than 142 feet. The gargantuan plane is powered by six Ivchenko Progress D-18T turbofans mounted under its 290-foot wingspan. (What about the Airbus A380, though? Isn’t that one the biggest in the world? It is, but only as far as passenger planes go.)

It may soon lose its title, however, as the largest flying aircraft, assuming Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch can actually get airborne. Whether it continues to hold that title or not, it’s sure to retain a special place with AvGeeks everywhere, including those here at TPG. Happy 30th birthday, Mriya!

All images by JT Genter/The Points Guy

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