Biggest Plane in the World Soars Into the COVID-19 Struggle

The Ukrainian juggernaut of an airplane — called Antonov — is transporting roughly 181,000 kilograms (200 tons) of crucial medical supplies from China to Poland.
Brad Bergan
Image formatted to fit. Antonov Airplane / Antonov Airlines

The largest cargo aircraft in the world — an Antonov stuffed with medical supplies to fight the COVID-19 outbreak — landed in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, reports Popular Mechanics.


Antonov enters the COVID-19 ring

Called the Antonov, the aircraft lifted off from China one day earlier stuffed with personal protective equipment (PPE), like medical testing equipment and masks. The air-lift was reportedly the largest airborne cargo shipment by volume, filling four-fifths of the gigantic aircraft's deep hold.

The American Journal of Transportation initially reported the aircraft departing from Tianjin China Airport on April 13, with one stop at Almaty Airport, Kazakhstan, to refuel and give the crew time to rest.

The journal also said that the aircraft: "...was loaded with about 100 tonnes of medicines, tests for laboratory analysis, medical masks and other protective equipment, with a total load of about 1,000 m3 (cubic meters). In the history of aviation, this cargo volume has never been transported inside the cargo hold of this aircraft."

Antonov Airlines — the An-225's Ukrainian operator — said the giant jet has an internal volume for cargo of 1,200 cubic meters (42,377 cubic feet). The An-225 can also lift a maximum of roughly 250,000 kilograms (551,155 pounds, roughly 275 tons U.S.). The order of medical supplies Poland made from China weighed a total of roughly 181,000 kilograms (200 tons), but since the items occupy a significant volume, the shipment has been split into two separate An-225 flights, each at roughly 90,719 kilograms (100 tons).

Check out this video of the An-225 in action, landing on the strip at Warsaw. 

Antonov: Soviet-era origin, global Ukrainian reach

The Soviet-era, Ukrainian-built, An-225, which was an upgrade from the former superpower's VM-T Atlant transport plane, was initially designed to carry the Soviet Union's Buran space shuttle. But the Buran never became fully operational, and, after the USSR dissolved, the only finished An-225 was moved back home, to Ukraine. Called "Mriya" — which means "dream" in Ukrainian — the juggernaut remained the world's largest aircraft until the recently-finished construction of Scaled Composites' Stratolaunch jet.

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As the world tries to throw everything in its arsenal in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, marvels of engineering new and old, like the iconic Antonov — are put to work in the service of relief from the novel coronavirus.

We have created an interactive page to demonstrate engineers’ noble efforts against COVID-19 across the world. If you are working on a new technology or producing any equipment in the fight against COVID-19, please send your project to us to be featured.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article contained several errors regarding the name and origin of the Antonov airplane. Its name was initially stated as "Briya." This is incorrect; its name is Mriya -- a Ukrainian word for "dream." The misspelling has since been corrected. The earlier article also implied that the defunct republic of Soviet Union constructed the aircraft. While Ukraine was a member of the Soviet Union at the time of Antonov's design and construction, it is now operated by Antonov Airlines, a Ukrainian cargo airline. Edits were made to the social media title, the meta description, a subtitle, and the wording throughout, to reflect this historical clarification. IE regrets these errors.

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