The Antonov An-225 Mriya Finally Reaches Australia!
Report by Jaryd Stock
Photos by Tony Kao, Matt Kelly, Tomás Michna and Jaryd Stock
July 4, 2016
May 15th 2016, marked the date every aviation spotter and aviation geek in Australia had been waiting for. After months of speculation, months of digging around for information, constant head banging against a brick wall for some, all could relax and finally make plans to head West for the most anticipated aviation event in recent history. Their journey was to the capital of Western Australia, Perth! It was in Perth, they would get the chance to see a legend, a behemoth of the skies, the Antonov An-225 Mryia.
Perth Airport announced earlier in the year, that after months of rumours the “Dream” would become reality, and the biggest aircraft in the world currently flying would make its long awaited debut in Australia. Although the reason for it’s visit was kept under wraps by officials, it was “plane” to see that all aviation lovers around Australia were either planning to or looked into heading to Perth to see the big aircraft arrive in all its glory.
Everyone was stressing that the arrival and departure of the aircraft would occur during the night. If it did, the camera stores in Perth would’ve run out of Nikon and Canon F/2.8 lenses in a flash! Times were officially given out by Perth Airport announcing that the mighty Antonov would be landing at 10:30am Perth time. We are certain Wikipedia traffic on the Antonov An-225 increased as individuals attempted to learn more about the impressive loads and performance of this aircraft and its capabilities. There were even those who made the trip from Thailand and Hong Kong just to see the aircraft. The Antonov An-225 is a legend among its fans. Aviation enthusiasts around the world have named the mighty six-engined twin stabiliser behemoth near the top of their bucket lists for aircraft they hope to catch a glimpse of.
On a partially sunny/cloudy day, gliding down like a giant winged monster and popping through the clouds on final approach to everyone’s sheer delight, the Antonov An-225 named Mriya meaning ‘Dream’ in her native Ukrainian language, arrived after an ‘hour and a bit’ delay due to air traffic control delaying the departure time in Kuala Lumpur, making the landing into Perth at 11:52 am. It had seemed that aircraft enthusiasts and the general public alike wanted to see this behemoth in person and made there way to the airport to check out all the commotion, over 20,000 people by some estimates, clogged all the roads around the airport, and attended that Sunday morning to witness aviation history in Australia.
The Giant’s Journey
APD had the privilege of working with and interviewing Antonov Airlines on the airlines first venture heading to Australia with the mighty Antonov An-225. A spokesperson for Antonov gave APD a unique look at the planning and effort that went into the Antonov An-225’s successful journey to/from Perth.
When asked if this was a standard load for the airline to carry or if it was just another normal chartered flight delivering outsized cargo, Antonov stated, “The transportation of the cargo to Australia was not a standard chartered flight neither for our company, nor for our airlift group in general. Usually the services of Antonov Airlines and its aircraft are requested in the case of necessity to carry superheavy or oversized cargo during a short time period or window, meaning we are needed promptly to deliver what ever it is needed, sometimes in a few days notice since getting the initial call”.
She continued, “For this flight the customer requested that equipment was to be transported from Prague to Perth, the customer first got in contact with us in November 2015. But at that particular time the generator that would be transported to Perth was still being manufactured. It was instructed that it was necessary to deliver the cargo after completion of the production as soon as possible”.
Believe it or not, you’d think for an aircraft to hold the world record in carrying the biggest and heaviest load this would be another standard chartered operation, not so stated Antonov’s spokesperson, “Actually the cargo was non-standard for us that is why this particular transportation required a lot of time and planning. So working with and listening to our engineers advice here at Antonov, we took on the engineers recommendations, within the planning process, this involved the safest way the generator was to be delivered via a safe loading and transportation process resulting in it being offloaded in Perth. So, the flight planning from start of the negotiations to the flight completion took a period from November 2015 right up to May 17th, 2016.”
As stated, a lot of planning took place prior to delivering the cargo to Perth from Prague by the safest and most efficient route. The An-225 would fly from it’s home base at Gostomel which is situated North of Ukraine’s capital Kiev, to Prague where it would under-take loading of the generator that would be delivered to Australia.
The flight was planned with several intermediate stops for refuelling as the fuel consumption depends on a variety of conditions, in particular on the cargo weight. On average, the fuel consumption is about 18 tonnes per a flight hour. Also stops were needed for the crew to rest. This would be the longest flight that the An-225 had ever undertaken.
The aircraft flew by the route noted here:
Kiev – Prague (Czech Republic) – Turkmenbashi (Turkmenistan) – Hyderabad (India) – Kuala
Lumpur (Malaysia) – Perth (Australia).
The exact schedule for the aircraft’s flight was:
10th MAY 2016 ADB310F 0700 UKKM LKPR 0855 EMPTY FERRY/ONLOAD
12th MAY 2016 ADB3610 0400 LKPR UTAK 1000 LOADED/TECHSTOP
12th MAY 2016 ADB3610 1300 UTAK VOHS 1830 LOADED/TECHSTOP
13th MAY 2016 ADB3610 2000 VOHS WIII 0200 LOADED/TECHSTOP
14th MAY 2016 ADB3610 2130 WIII YPPH 0200 LOADED/OFFLOAD
17th MAY 2016 ADB310F 2200 YPPH OERK 1200 EMPTY FERRY
Loading the precious cargo was a long process which included preparation of the aircraft for the aircraft to kneel down on it’s front bogies and the nose to lift to provide access for loading of the cargo, then there are lifting devices such as cranes and loaders. Tracks are laid, feeding the massive beast it’s payload into what it looks to be it’s ravenous belly.
There is also accommodation of the cargo inside the cabin such as Antonov calls it “the cargo fixation” which is making sure loads are tied down securely and making sure there is no load shift in flight. Usually this process can take anywhere between 6-8 hours for cargo to be loaded/ unloaded, such as what was transported to Australia.
The loading was performed by the technical crew of the Antonov An-225 consisting of 13 persons. The An-225 carries a flight crew of 21 including those 13 assigned to load and off load the cargo, with 6 flight crew.
Next Stop Perth
The aircraft’s arrival plans were made by Perth Airport to accommodate the giant of the skies as in where to park the aircraft when she arrived, and what runway the aircraft would arrive on although this aspect was controlled by Airservices Australia who run the aviation traffic control towers at the major airports in Australia. The crew of the An-225 did make a request to Airservices though, that was if they were able to land from the North of the City on Runway 21 as that would be the ideal choice so the aircraft could fly straight into the airport from Kuala Lumpur.
Antonov explained that airports don’t really need to prepare that much apart from providing a safe space or bay where the aircraft can taxi and then unload it’s contents. They stated, “In spite of the An-225 being the world’s biggest transport, it is not more difficult to maintain it in comparison to other aircraft. In particular, the Mriya is equipped with airborne cranes and winches providing autonomous operation of the aircraft inside which we carry out so really there are no other factors the airports such as Perth need to prepare for, usually for us and for airports the An-225 does not request special conditions at the airport”.
During the unloading process at Perth Airport a specialised track system was utilised to move the generator out of the belly of the beast with the use of those internal winches. They are specifically designed so when the nose lifted and the aircraft leaned down, those tracks were extended along the main cargo floor ramp so that both cranes used to lift the massive payload could safely move the generator onto waiting trucks ready to transport the generator to Worsley Almunia Plant South East of Perth.
Asked why the An-124-100 was not utilised for this flight in carrying the generator Antonov stated that even the Ruslan, which Antonov operates seven of with one An-22 Antaeus, would be able to carry a load that is measuring the same length and width in dimensions of the generator, but it simply could not take off with the actual weight of the generator which weighed 130 tonnes, so the only aircraft that could carry that load would be the Antonov An-225. Antonov stated that the weight of the generator was 1.4 times the takeoff weight of a Boeing 737-800, they continued by saying that the load that they carried to Perth was extremely dense requiring to spread the load of the cargo to meet the floor bearing limitations that are designed on the An-225’s floor space.
Dreaming of the Future
At present the Antonov An-225 has a service life until 2033, around a 45 year lifespan since initially being introduced into service, approximately 20,000 flight hours or another 4000 flights with the possibility for further extension or upgrades in the future. The An-225 is used for charter transportation, the number of flights that Antonov has limited the aircraft to is impossible to gauge. If there is a flight where the An-225 is needed, it will be utilised. It is impossible to give an exact number of flights per month. On average the aircraft performs one to two flights per month.
Antonov states that at present, there will be only one An-225 to grace our skies but one never knows what the future holds. They continue on, “The Mriya was designed and constructed from 1984 to 1988 for the Buran space shuttle, much like NASA’s SCA 747-100, and after collapse of the Soviet Union the programme was stopped. And after that a period of time had passed and for a while the original Antonov An-225 was in storage but around the end of 1990’s the An-225 was upgraded and in 2001 it was certified for commercial transportation.”
Antonov continues on the future of the second An-225 that was under construction during the fall of the Soviet regime. They said, “ Well the fuselage, the wings and the tail unit were constructed for the second Antonov An-225, but to complete construction of the second Mriya which is now at around 70 percent, it is definitely necessary to select and test new systems and equipment for the aircraft to become flyable. Because really as a fact, it will be a totally new aircraft just with the same airframe with some minor structural modifications, so to perform this work, Antonov is looking for an investor at this stage.”
The second Mriya was designed differently from the current Mriya. It was intended to be a more effective cargo transport with a rear cargo door and a single vertical stabiliser that looks much like the An-124-100. If the attempt to proceed with the construction of the second Mriya was to happen it would reportedly cost around the Three Hundred million mark (we’d assume Euro’s), for it to be operational. With an ever growing market for outsized cargo to be delivered rapidly, and now more possible destinations such as in Australia, maybe that’s a price someone is willing to pay.
For all the Aviation enthusiasts gathered at Perth Airport on the 15th of May 2016 though, they will always remember being a part of something special. Perhaps it will come here again, perhaps not. We know that Antonov were very happy to bring out the An-225 whenever it is needed to Perth, or any other airport Australia-wide. But if not, everyone in Perth will know that they witnessed aviation history being made. A day that every Australian aviation enthusiast in attendance dreamt of, which turned into a reality.