Featured image: Ralf Manteufel/GFDL 1.2

6/05/1989: The An-225 Debuts at the Paris Air Show

DALLAS — On this date, the Antonov An-225 made its first public appearance outside the Soviet Union at the 1989 Paris Air Show where it was presented carrying a Buran orbiter.

The An-225, also known as "Mriya" (meaning "dream" in Ukrainian), had performed its maiden flight on 21 December 1988. In 1990, the airlift cargo behemoth would perform a flying display for the public days at that year's Farnborough Air Show in the UK.

The An-225 carrying Buran (1.01) in 1989. Photo: Vasiliy Koba/CC BY-SA 4.0

Design of the Antonov An-225

The Antonov An-225 was a strategic airlift cargo aircraft that retained numerous similarities with its predecessor, the An-124. It featured a longer fuselage and cargo deck, achieved by adding barrel extensions to the fuselage both in front of and behind the wings. The wings, designed with an anhedral angle, also received root extensions to increase their span.

At a time when the USSR was on the verge of collapse, Viktor Tolmachev, lead designer of the An-124, was tasked with the design of the An-225. The type needed to be capable of transporting the Buran space shuttle. This requirement dictated several key aspects of its design, particularly the twin rudders, whose configuration was crucial for two main reasons:

  1. Hangar Compatibility: The dual rudders allowed the An-225 to fit into existing hangars. This consideration mirrors the design of the Lockheed Constellation, which also featured multiple rudders to accommodate space constraints.
  2. Rudder Authority and Aerodynamic Stability: The twin rudders provided sufficient rudder authority to counteract the drag and airflow disruptions caused by carrying the Buran. This was essential for maintaining stability and control during flight, especially given the size and aerodynamics of the Buran.
Atlantis atop Shuttle Carrier Aircraft N905NA after being repainted with NASA livery in 1998. Photo: Carla Thomas/NASA, Armstrong Photo Gallery, Public Domain

Comparisons with the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

The shorter fuselage of the An-225 compared to the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft also contributes to its design choices, including the tailplane and the aforementioned twin rudders. These elements were crucial for maintaining control authority when carrying the Buran.

According to Bob Keeter, a former Sr. Systems Engineer at U.S. Dept of Defense, the split rudders might have also been necessary to execute "drop tests" in the desired flight profile, similar to how the space shuttle would separate from the top of the Boeing 747 during tests.

The An-124 already boasted a higher payload capacity than the Boeing 747, and the An-225 took this a step further. It featured nearly 50% more thrust, almost 50% greater wing area, and significantly increased payload capacity compared to the An-124.

While the An-124 could lift payloads that a Boeing 747 couldn't even take off with, the An-225 nearly doubled the maximum payload capacity of the 747. This immense power and capacity mean that the Mriya could carry the Buran with relative ease.

Antonov Airlines UR-82060 Antonov An-225 Mriya. Photo: Lorenzo giacobbo/Airways

The Last An-225

Only a single An-225, (registration CCCP-82060, later UR-82060) was completed (two were on order). The aircraft could carry ultra-heavy and oversized freight weighing up to 250,000 kg (550,000 lb) and 200,000 kg (440,000 lb) on the upper fuselage. Furthermore, cargo on the upper fuselage could be up to 70 m (230 ft) in length.

The sole An-225 was destroyed at the battle of Hostomel at Antonov Airport (GML) in 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The featured image shows the Antonov An-225 with Buran at Le Bourget in 1989.

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