The world’s heaviest and longest operational aircraft, the Antonov An-225, made its first flight in almost a year on Tuesday. The 84 meter giant of the skies took off from Kyiv’s Gostomel Antonov Airport on Tuesday evening (local time). At the time of publication, the plane is winging its way east over West Asia.
Reports the An-225 is flying to Kabul
The An-225 (registered as UR82060) departed Gostomel Antonov Airport (GML) at 20:51 local time on Tuesday. After flying south, the plane turned east over the Black Sea, tracked over Georgia and Azerbaijan before overflying the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan. Simple Flying has unconfirmed reports the Antonov is heading to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport (KBL). The plane is due to touch down in Afghanistan’s capital in the early hours of Wednesday morning (local time).
According to RadarBox.com, tonight’s flight is the An-225’s first flight since early August 2020. After an August 3 flight to Gostomel from Tel Aviv (TLV), the operator took the aircraft out of service for heavy maintenance. Some reports suggest the AN-225 operated flights late in 2020, filling a vacuum created after half the world’s fleet of AN-124s were grounded. However, the RadarBox.com data does not support these reports.
It appears the An-225’s operator, Antonov Airlines, offered the An-225 in early December as a replacement for the grounded An-124s. Despite the flurry of publicity, it looks like no actual flights took place.
Military charters a handy bit of business for the Antonovs
Antonov’s An-225 has some impressive specs. With a wingspan of 88.4 meters, a height of 18.2 meters, and a take-off weight of 1,410,958 pounds, the outsized jet was designed and built in the 1980s in the Soviet Union. Only one was ever fully built, UR82060. That plane is in the air tonight.
Over the past decade, Antonov Airlines has seen a steady flow of business from operating flights into Afghanistan using the An-225 and the slightly smaller An-124s. The Antonov’s fly charters in and out of the country for US and NATO military forces.
Earlier this year, an Antonov Airlines An-124 flew two helicopters from Afghanistan to Leipzig/Halle Airport (LEJ) on behalf of the German Army. Military charters are a short term financial shot in the arm for cargo operators like Antonov Airlines. With the Coalition presence winding down in Afghanistan, how long the big Antonov’s keep touching down in KBL is anyone’s guess.
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Antonovs break records flying humanitarian & medical cargo
There is also some broader criticism that military charters are hoovering up already scarce airfreight capacity. Before its post-August hiatus, the AN-225 operated several relief flights, transporting pandemic-related humanitarian and medical goods to areas in need.
As reported by Simple Flying, in April 2020, the AN-225 flew 1000 cubic meters of medical supplies from China to Poland – the largest volume of cargo the plane had ever carried. Antonov Airlines broke that record a week later, transporting even more medical supplies from China to France. It reportedly took airport workers 10 hours to unload all the cargo once the flight touched down.
After an almost year-long break, it’s good to confirm UR82060 is back in the air. Where the ex-Kabul cargo is bound for, and what that cargo consists of, remains a mystery. But that mystery will soon be resolved.