|Aviation History And Aircraft Photography
Antonov AN-225 Visit
To OKC Airport
June 16, 1990
The Soviet Buran space shuttle was constructed in Moscow, but was to be
operated from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. They needed to find a way to move
the completed shuttles between the factory and the launch site. While the
US picked the Boeing 747 due to its low wings, the Soviets decided to adapt
a cargo airlifter design. The result is the Antonov AN-225, the largest
and heaviest airlifter to ever fly. While NATO refers to the AN-225 as
the Cossack, the Russians call it Mriya, which means Dream. I doubt that
the Wright Brothers could have ever dreamed of an aircraft this large.
The AN-225 is a development of the successful Antonov AN-124 strategic
airlifter developed by the Soviet Union and widely used commercially around
the world. The AN-124 was extended by installing barrels in the fuselage
both in front of and behind the wings extending the aircraft from 226 feet
in length to 275 feet. Next, the wings were removed and additional wing
sections were attached to the fuselage, extending the wingspan from 240
feet to 290 feet. The longer wings allowed two additional engines to be
attached under the wings for a total of 6 D-18 high-bypass turbofans.
Carrying the space shuttle would block the rudder, so the tail section was
changed to remove the rudder from the center line and place two smaller
rudders at the ends of the horizontal stabilizers. The resulting aircraft
could carry a payload of over half a million pounds.
Only one AN-225 was built. A second airframe was started, but was abandoned
when the Buran program was canceled and the Soviet Union broke up. It was
later desired to add a second AN-225 to the fleet, so work was restarted on
the second aircraft. However, the project was again abandoned before it was
completed. The primary aircraft was allowed to be mothballed at one point and
her engines were removed to support other AN-124 aircraft. The AN-225 was
put back in service, and still operates in 2010 sporting a new civilian paint
job to replace its white military colors.
In the late 1980s, aerobatic pilot Tom Jones attempted to create an air show
that was the American equivalent of the a show like the Paris or Farnborough
airshows held in Europe. This resulted in the series of Aerospace America
shows held at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. Jones was an early
adopter of the Sukhoi Su-26 aerobatic aircraft. Through his connections at
Sukhoi, Jones was able to bring a delegation of Soviet military pilots and
aircraft to the 1990 Aerospace America show. This included the AN-225 and
a pair of SU-27 carrier jets. The show was very successful and attracted
world-wide attention. Unfortunately, the show had a tragedy. Jones was
performing his airshow routine when his Sukhoi struck the ground and burst
into flames. Jones was killed in the accident.
The AN-225 is 30 feet longer than the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the largest
airlifter built in the US, and has a wingspan that is 70 feet wider than
the Galaxy. The payload for the AN-225 is over double that of the Galaxy.
In fact, in the photo above, a C-5B is parked behind the AN-225 (with its
nose raised), and the AN-225 appears to dwarf the Galaxy. Despite its size
advantage, the AN-225 has two key limitations as an airlifter. First, it
doesn't have cargo doors that can be opened in flight, meaning that it cannot
airdrop military vehicles or cargo pallets. Second, the AN-225 does not have
a pressurized cargo deck, which means that crew cannot attend to or service
cargo while in flight.
The Soviet pilots were not afraid to fly the AN-225. They put on a very
aggressive flight demonstration. They did a short take-off, climbed steeply,
then put the aircraft on its side to do a very tight turn
around the airfield. In fact, when the aircraft was on its side, it looked
like the lower wingtip was less than one wingspan length above the ground.
This is something that the USAF would never attempt with the C-5. In
comparison, the Galaxy is a fragile and temperamental aircraft while the
AN-225 is a real workhorse.