The largest airplane in commercial service, the Antonov 225, was in Minneapolis this week. Its departure Wednesday night attracted hundreds of people to the Minneapolis airport and blew up on Twitter.
The Soviet-built Antonov 225 is a machine of superlatives. It’s the longest and heaviest plane ever built. Nearly as long as a football field, it sports a landing gear of 32 tires and holds 240 world records, including for lifting the heaviest cargo, a 190-ton generator. The Antonov could carry the weight of three fully loaded Boeing 737s, 45 African elephants, or seven humpback whales, according to potash supplier Agrium, which hired the plane last month to transport a large waste heat boiler from Germany to Alberta.
The six-engine jet was built in the 1980s by the Antonov Design Bureau to ferry the Soviet space shuttle, the Buran, which never flew with a crew. It is now a Ukrainian-based commercial freight hauler—only the very largest cargos need apply—that takes jobs mainly from government and large industrial contractors. The U.S. has used the plane to deliver ready-to-eat meals and water to troops in the Middle East; the Antonov has also ferried relief supplies and equipment to earthquake-stricken sites in Haiti and Japan. And it delivers power generation, wind turbines, and locomotives. Its load from Minnesota was reportedly air-conditioning units destined for the Middle East, with a stop in France.
Here’s what the takeoff from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport looked like: