The A380 is known for its impressive size, range, and carrying capacity. But to call it the king of the skies would be a misnomer when the Antonov AN-225 exists. The Ukranian built freighter is so colossal that it puts most aircraft to shame… but is it better than an A380? Let us explore.
What is the Antonov AN-225?
The Antonov AN-225 was created in 1988 to carry the Russian version of the Space Shuttle. NASA was using the Boeing 747 at the time and thus Russia needed to find an aircraft that had similar properties. Whilst the space shuttle program did not move beyond the fall of the USSR in the turn of the 90s, the plane was less forgotten about. It sat around for a few years until returning to service in 2001 for active cargo duty.
You can read a full article about the Antonov AN-225 by fellow writer Tom Boon here.
It has six engines and 32 wheels to support its huge wingspan of 290 feet. This is bigger than the A380 and does technically answer the question asked in the title. But bear with me, because does bigger mean better?
Comparing the two aircraft
Naturally, the two aircraft have been built with very different purposes. The A380 is a large passenger aircraft made to connect two different distant hubs, but at the same time fly as fuel efficiently as possible. The Antonov AN-225 is designed to carry the heaviest cargo possible to a massive range, with no regard for fuel or costs. If you need to get something moved quickly, as Boeing did with their GE9X engines, then the AN-225 is needed.
Thus, with two different purposes, it might seem like we are comparing apples to oranges. But if we break down the two planes into their essential concepts (an aircraft transporting cargo) we can actually say which is better.
Let us begin by looking at the range of the two aircraft:
- Antonov AN-225 can fly 4,500 km loaded, empty it can travel an impressive 15,400 km.
- Airbus A380 can fly 14,800 km fully loaded with passengers. Qantas once flew an A380 almost 17,000 km with no passengers on board.
At first, it looks like the range of the Antonov is fantastic, but when you see that the Airbus is designed with an operational range that almost matches the empty weight of the Antonov, then there is a clear winner. There is no point in being able to fly across the world without being able to carry a full cargo load.
Winner: Airbus A380
But which aircraft can carry the most goods to the destination? If it was a short trip under the range of the Antonov full load, then which aircraft would be able to carry more?
The An-225 has a cargo deck (essentially the entire plane) with a volume 1,300 m3 (46,000 cu ft). It has no upper end of payload weight, only world records such as 189t (418,830 lb) for a single object (a generator).
The Airbus A380 has a volume of only 175.2 m3 (6,190 cu ft), as most of the space is taken up by passenger seating. A rumored Airbus A380 freighter that was never built, would have had a payload of 150 t (330,000 lb), with a 5,600 nautical mile (10,400 km) range.
Thus even a freighter version of the Airbus A380 doesn’t come close to carrying as much.
The An-225 is the perfect cargo carrier… if money is no option. If you are willing to pay then it can take almost anything from A to B.
However, if you are flying regular long haul routes then it might be better to employ an A380 with the bigger range and better fuel expenditure. After all, the AN-225 can only carry (based off record attempts) an extra 30t more than the A380F.
Sometimes bigger isn’t always better.
What do you think? Have we missed something? Let us know in the comments.