Antonov An-225

Designed to carry a Buran spacecraft externally in a somewhat bizarre “piggy-back” arrangement, the Antonov An-
225 Mriya was the heaviest and most powerful aircraft ever built. So large that it dwarfed even a Boeing 747, it was essentially a stretched version of the An-124, which was a four-engine, heavylift military and civil transport aircraft. With the addition of twin fins, the An-124 might have proved capable of carrying the spacecraft. However, engineers realized that by inserting a massive new wing centre-section with two more engines and stretching the existing fuselage, they could create a much more versatile aeroplane. To distribute its vast weight when fully loaded, the six-engined aircraft was equipped with an increased-capacity landing gear system with 32 wheels. Twenty of these were steerahle, making the An-225 exceptionally manoeuvrable. A modified split tail also maintained the plane’s airborne manoeuvrability when carrying large exterior loads. The 141ft cargo hold was designed to accommodate 80 family-size cars.
The An-225 first flew on 21 December 1988. Flights carrying the Buran spacecraft began in May 1989, but when the Russian space programme collapsed the massive plane was montballed. In the late 1990s the An-225 was re-engined and modified, and made commercially available for transporting ultra-heavy freight.