The Antonov An-225 Seems To Have Been Destroyed After All

Something that probably unites most Hackaday readers is a love of machines, particularly unique or interesting ones. In the world of aircraft for example, we’ve run several stories about those which push the edges of the size envelope, be they the Hughes Hercules troop carrier, the Scaled Composites Stratolifter space launcher, or the Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo plane. This last machine has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last few days, with reports emerging that it may have been destroyed in the fighting around its base at Hostomel near Kyiv. There has been some uncertainty around this news as it has alternately been claimed to have been destroyed or to have miraculously survived, but now a set of photographs have emerged showing what appears to be the An-225 burning in its damaged hangar.

The An-225 is a unique aircraft not only in the sense that there is no other model quite like it, but also because it was manufactured for the special purpose of being the transport carrier of the Soviet Union’s Buran space shuttle, and thus only one airframe was completed. Its characteristic twin tail served to avoid the turbulence that would have resulted from a Buran mounted on top of its enormous fuselage, and the six engine configuration required to move such a behemoth was in part the clue to identifying it in the photograph. Those readers who were lucky enough to see it take off or land in person will attest to its impressive physical presence, while the rest of us remain sad to have missed that chance.

It seems crass to talk about the destruction of an aircraft when compared to the scale of the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine, but we think perhaps our British and French readers who grew up with Concorde in the sky will understand the power of such a machine as a source of pride. We hope that the Antonov company will return to the design of huge cargo aircraft in peacetime, and Ukranians can again have pride in a monster aircraft that the rest of us will drive for miles just to watch taking off or landing.

The issue of which aircraft is the world’s largest can be a complex one, as we’ve explored in the past.

Header image: Vasiliy Koba, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Who Really Has The Largest Aircraft?

We were all glued to our screens for a moment a few weeks ago, watching the Scaled Composites Stratolaunch dual-fuselage space launch platform aircraft make its first flight. The six-engined aircraft represents an impressive technical feat by any standard, and with a wingspan of 385 ft (117 m) and payload weight of 550,000 lb (250 t), is touted as the largest ever flown.

Our own Brian Benchoff took a look at the possibility of hauling more mundane cargo as an alternative (and possibly more popular) use of its lifting capabilities. And in doing so mentioned that “by most measure that matter” this is the largest aircraft ever built. There are several contenders for the title of largest aircraft that depend upon different statistics, so which one really is the largest? Sometimes it’s not as clear as you’d think, but finding out leads us into a fascinating review of some unusual aeronautical engineering.

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The Stratolaunch Is Flying, But Can It Do Cargo?

The world’s largest aircraft is flying. Stratolaunch took to the skies in test flights leading up to its main mission to take rockets up to 20,000 feet on the first stage of their flight to space. But the Stratolaunch is a remarkable aircraft, a one-of-a-kind, and unlike anything ever built before. It can lift a massive 250 tons into the air, and it can bring it back down again.

By most measures that matter, the Stratolaunch is the largest aircraft ever flown. It has the largest wingspan of any aircraft, and it has the largest cargo capacity of any aircraft. In an industry that is grasping at interesting and novel approaches to spaceflight like rockoons and a small satellite launcher from a company whose CTO is still a junior in college, the Stratolaunch makes unexpected sense; this is a launch platform above the clouds, that can deliver a rocket to orbit, on time.

But the Stratolaunch is much more than that. This is an aircraft whose simple existence deserves respect. And, like others of its kind, the Antonov AN-225, the Spruce Goose, there is only one. Even if it never launches a rocket, the Stratolaunch will live on by the simple nature of its unique capabilities. But what are those capabilities? Is it possible for the Stratolaunch to serve as a cargo plane? The answer is more interesting than you think.

Continue reading “The Stratolaunch Is Flying, But Can It Do Cargo?”