WHILE AWAITING TAKE-OFF from Lisbon’s main airport, our aeroplane was ‘parked’ beside the largest aircraft I have ever seen. Operated by Maximus Air Cargo company, its nose was pointing upwards towards the sky. It was being loaded with freight through an enormous aperture at its front end. The aeroplane was so large that it dwarfed the numerous workers around it and the forklift trucks being used to load its cargo. Even the Airbus 320 craft standing nearby seemed tiny in comparison. As we had to wait for what seemed like ages before we taxied to the runway for take-off, I had plenty of time to stare at it and to take photographs through the window next to my seat. My curiosity increased when I observed that the ‘plane had its make written on the raised section of its nose: Antonov 124-100.
The Antonov aircraft were built mainly during the years that the Soviet Union was in existence. The company that built these freight carrying ‘planes is named after the aircraft designer Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov (1906-1984). Born in the Moscow region, he was the son of a civil engineer. From 1923 onwards, he was deeply involved in aircraft engineering and design. By 1938, he was the leading designer in the aircraft plant headed up by AS Yakovlev (www.antonov.com/en/biography). And in May 1946, he headed up his own aircraft design plant, based in Novosibirsk. By 1948, ‘planes designed by Antonov and his team were being manufactured in Kiev (Kyiv in what is now Ukraine). In 1952, Antonov and his design bureau moved to Kiev. Antonov’s team began designing the AN 124 heavy transport aircraft in the early 1970s. The AN 124’s maiden flight was in 1982, but the vehicle only became known to the world at large when it was exhibited at the Paris Air Show in 1985. The AN 124s were produced at two factories: one in Ulyanovsk (now in Russia) and the other at Kiev (now in Ukraine). One special feature of the AN 24’s design is that its landing gear with 24 wheels is designed both for landing on rough terrain and to enable the ‘plane to kneel down so that its front entrance can be lowered to make loading and unloading easier. About 55 of the AN 124 craft were built between 1982 and 2004. According the uk.flightaware.com website, the AN 124 (registration UR-ZYD), which we saw on the 17th of June 2022 had flown from Leipzig to Lisbon that day and was about to fly on to Cairo (Egypt). It flew to Kigali (Rwanda) from Cairo on the 18th of June. Another website ( www.planespotters.net/airframe/antonov-an-124-ur-zyd-maximus-air-cargo/ejn4jx) revealed that UR-ZYD was built just over 18 years ago, in about 2013/14, making it one of the last to be built.
Maximus Air Cargo, which operates the AN 124, which I saw, is an Abu Dhabi based company, which specialises in transporting larger than usual objects. The company owns one Antonov 124-100, about which its website (www.maximus-air.com/fleet/antonov-124-100) noted:
“The heaviest of the heavyweight cargo lifters. It has a unique self-contained multiple winch and overhead crane system capable of self loading / unloading 120 tonne from front or rear. Can carry 21x Toyota Land Cruisers or 4 x Mi 17 MTV Helicopters without breaking a sweat.”
The aircraft’s maximum range is 6710 nautical miles (‘nm’), but when it is carrying its maximal pay load (120,000 Kg), this reduces to 2420 nm.
I had heard of the Antonov aircraft before, but the example I saw in Lisbon is the first I have seen ‘in the flesh’. I found that seeing this giant was very exciting.