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Aviation History And Aircraft Photography

Antonov AN-225 Visit
To OKC Airport

June 16, 1990

Antonov AN-225
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.

Antonov AN-225
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.

Antonov AN-225
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.

Antonov AN-225
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.

Antonov AN-225

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