Heavy by air

25 April 2008

The AN-225's cargo hold has a floor area of 280 m2 and a volume of 1,300 m3

The AN-225's cargo hold has a floor area of 280 m2 and a volume of 1,300 m3

Designed for heavy lift cargo transport, the Antonov AN-225 is the largest aircraft in the world. The six-engined Ukrainian giant, named Mriya (Dream), can carry up to 250 tonnes of cargo and has a maximum takeoff weight of 600 tonnes, the latter being the measure for its world record.

Still bigger even than the Airbus A380 (max takeoff weight 560 tonnes), the AN-225, built in 1988 by Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukraine, is a one-off (so far at least) derivative of its cargo-carrying brother, the AN-124-100. In addition to the external carriage of spacecraft, more down-to-earth cargoes for this and other Antonov heavy lifters have included crane components, an ancient stone obelisk and heavy construction equipment such as dump trucks.

For external loads other than spacecraft the design of the AN-225 allows the carriage of assemblies up to 10 m diameter, 70 m long and weighing up to 200 tonnes, which offers possibilities, for example, for petrochemical processing vessels.

The pressurised cargo cabin is 43 m long, 6.4 m wide and 4.4 m high. It can accommodate, for example, 16 standard 10 tonne UAK type air cargo containers or around 50 small saloon cars. To access the internal load area the entire nose of the AN-225 opens upwards and the aircraft can be lowered hydraulically on its 32-wheel undercarriage to reduce the loading height.

Loading is via a built in ramp or with external lifting equipment, most often mobile cranes or telescopic hydraulic gantries. On board the aircraft is an internal cargo handling system consisting of trolley mounted mobile electric winches that can be locked into points in the floor and used to pull the load.

The aircraft are owned by Antonov Airlines and the worldwide sales agent is UK-based Air Foyle HeavyLift, responsible for a list of cargo aircraft including the AN-225 Mriya, seven AN-124-100 Ruslan, an AN-22 and three AN-12s. A record achievement, entered in the Guinness Book of Records, was transporting a 135.2 tonne Siemens generator from Germany to India.

At work

A major job for the AN-225, in January last year, followed the Asian tsunami of December 2004 when the aircraft was used for relief flights including delivery of GE power generators to Singapore for onward carriage by barge to the worst hit areas.

Also last year, work for a 120 tonne capacity AN-124 included the return of an ancient 160 tonne stone obelisk taken in the 1930s from Ethiopia to Rome by Mussolini. Other methods of transport were rejected due to, for example, cost and risk of damage to the load. The approach involved separating the 24.4 m obelisk into three pieces, each weighing just under 60 tonnes, to fit inside the aircraft on three flights.

Many challenges had to be overcome before the project could begin. Engineering contractor, Lattanzi and the international consortium responsible for returning the 1,700 year old obelisk got the nearest suitable airport, at Axum, upgraded to accept the huge aircraft. Also to be considered in the job planning was the ten day road journey from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa to Axum where, among other requirements, a pair of 60 tonne capacity mobile cranes were needed to offload the obelisk. The three-axle all terrain Rigo telescopics were positioned each side of the aircraft's nose. Ramps were positioned and the pieces were rolled out. Specially designed slings were attached and the cranes took the load so that the ramps could be removed from underneath and a trailer backed under for the load to be lowered onto it.

Another job for an AN-124 was to quickly deliver crane parts for Manitowoc Crane Group to Baku in Azerbaijan. The parts, sent by MCG's Crane Care division, had to be delivered quickly to ensure that oil production could continue at the Central Azeri platform in the Caspian Sea.

The aircraft left Milwaukee in the US loaded with lattice boom sections, each weighing 17 tonnes, for a Manitowoc model 18000 crawler crane. Three of these 750 tonne capacity cranes are working on different sections of the platform.

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