Translated into English, the meaning is simple: “Giant”, and that describes the An-124 perfectly. The AN-124 is almost the largest aircraft in the world, second only to the AN-225 Mirya which translated into English means “Dream”. The AN-124 was designed and built to handle oversize and overweight cargo that no other aircraft can handle. The AN-124’s rugged design allows it operate from even the most poorly equipped airfields around the world. I recently had the opportunity to get an up-close look at just how much of a behemoth this aircraft truly is.
This past Sunday, January 15th, 2017 the twenty-six year-old Antonov Airlines AN-124-100M – C/N 19530502288 – flight ADB217F (with Ukrainian registration UR-82027) took off from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental (KIAH) destined for Chicago Rockford International Airport (KRFD). Rockford can easily accommodate any aircraft including the Antonovs and the A-380. AAR Corporation just recently opened 2 hangers capable of completely enclosing an A-380 inside. UPS has a hub operation at Rockford with a ramp that can hold thirty six aircraft. ATSG Holdings also has an operation at Rockford with several B-767 flights daily. At approximately 1115 the Antonov landed on the 10,002-foot-long Runway 7/25 and taxied to parking over by the AAR Hangers.
Safely parked, engines shutdown and APUs (Auxiliary Power Units) running, yes two of them, a complete walk around ensued. A true appreciation for how the big of an aircraft became apparent. The statistics are staggering – at over two hundred twenty six feet long, a height of sixty eight feet, a wingspan of over two hundred forty feet, and a maximum takeoff weight of eight hundred ninety three thousand pounds, “Giant” is a fitting title. The typical crew complement is from sixteen to thirty four, depending on the specifics of the load they are hauling. The four massive Ivchenko D-18T engines each generate fifty one thousand eight hundred pounds of thrust each.
An invitation onboard was extended for a closer look at the cargo hold of the Antonov. The nose of the jet opens upward similar to the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, to allow loading through the nose. The tail also opens to allow simultaneous loading through the front and rear of the aircraft. There was no loading scheduled for this day so both the nose and tail remained closed. Entry is than gained via the crew stairs at the front of the aircraft, on the captain’s side. The size of the cargo is as impressive as the aircraft itself. The maximum payload is three hundred thirty thousand pounds. The cargo hold itself is almost one hundred twenty feet long and has cranes that can lift up to eighty thousand pounds.
A visit up to the flight deck and crew rest area was next, access is made via a ladder at the front part of the aircraft. The Antonov has a flight deck crew of four: Captain, First Officer, Engineer, and Navigator. The technology on the flight deck is a mix of old and new, a step back in time and into the future at the same time. There is a crew rest area directly behind the flight deck, beyond that is the electronics and avionics space. The only part of the aircraft we could not access was the crew living quarters which runs the top of the fuselage from aft of the wing to the tail.
The stay was brief, as is the norm with the Anotnovs, due to its unique capabilities they are in high demand all of the world. The Monday after was spent loading and securing its cargo for its next flight. That afternoon Antonov flight 2017 departed Runway 7/25 at Rockford nonstop to Gostomel in the Ukraine. To date 55 AN-124’s have been produced, to see one is rare, to be granted the access I was is even rarer. I cannot thank everyone that made this visit possible, and a big thank you to the Operations Staff of the Chicago Rockford International Airport.
Until next time, “Blue Skies to All!”