In the early morning of Friday, June 27th, 2014, the Antonov 225 set down at the Edmonton International Airport (EIA). It would be the second time in four years that the world’s largest plane has visited northern Alberta. Its first visit, in 2010, was to assist the Canadian military in transferring a number of helicopters to Afghanistan.
To describe the plane as big is to belittle the Antonov-225. The plane is huge! Called the Mriya (Dream) by the Antonov Company, one can get lost in all the specifications about this plane. To put it simply, the wingspan is 88.4 metres. This is nearly 52 metres longer than Wright’s first flight! The fact is, the Wright flight could have been done INSIDE the cargo hold of the Antonov-225! Only Howard Hughes’ wooden ‘Spruce Goose’ had a bigger wingspan, and it flew once! The Antonov holds over 500,000 liters of fuel and uses 25% of it taking off. In total, fully loaded, it weight 640 tonne. It holds the Guinness World Record for the heaviest cargo of over 250 tonne being airlifted. It even has a Transformer character Jetstorm based on its design.
So why did the Antonov 225 return to Edmonton on Friday? This time it was to deliver a 154 metric tonne waste heat boiler for Agrium. It all began in April of this year when the Agrium Redwater Fertilizer Operation needed a new waste heat boiler to be delivered, as soon as possible, from a plant in Berlin, Germany. Kevin Melnyk, Plant Manager, approached Eric Dewey, CEO of Schenker of Canada, to arrange, in a timely manner, for the transportation of this major component of the Redwater operation. Dewey turned the project over to Jenny Gethings the company’s Director of Global Projects. Gethings began by booking the Mriya and then arranging for a barge to float the equipment to Leipzig and then onto the Antonov 225. Though the plane can travel over 15,000 kms without refueling it did set down in both Iceland and Goose Bay before touching down in Edmonton.
Coordinating with EIA’s Air Service Development Director, Norm Richard, the Antonov set down at 7:40 am on Friday morning and shortly after 9:00 am the next morning it was winging its way to Minneapolis while its cargo was headed for Redwater by truck.
The Antonov-225 was built in 1988 by Ukraine to transfer the Soviet Union’s space shuttle, similar to how the USA moved their shuttle by using a 747. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the plane saw little use for a number of years. The lack of use has extended the life of the plane as today it has flown approximately 3,000 hours with a life expectancy of 16,000 to 20,000 air hours. Though a second Antonov-225 was started, it remains uncompleted, making the Mriya the star of the Antonov fleet.
Twenty pilots are qualified to fly the plane and pilot Dmytro Antonov says it was a privilege to be assigned to this flight. Dmytro has a keen sense of humor when he explained that while he had very good parents, they were not related to the designer of the plane Oleg Antonov. When asked how it felt to fly the largest plane in the world, Antonov smiled and said it was a good plane to fly as long as you didn’t mind the 3 meter up and down movement of the wings when flying through turbulence. He then concluded that it brought a smile to his face when he was treated like a, ‘rock star’ by the media when doing interviews!
The arrival of the Antonov 225 is just another indication of how the EIA is growing. EIA’s air cargo growth is at record levels. The ability of EIA’s air cargo to handle the increased demands placed on them was well demonstrated with the quick turnaround of the Antonov. Perhaps it will not be another four years before we see the Antonov return to the skies over Leduc.
Pictured: With a wing span pushing the size of an American football field, the Antonov 225 sets down in Edmonton to deliver its payload of a 154 metric tonne waste heat boiler for Agrium. More photos in this week’s paper. Photo by Tom Dirsa