Ukrainian Antonov aircraft lands at Piarco

Arrival of an Antonov AN 124 aircraft at Piarco International Airport.
Photo courtesy Piarco International Airport  -
Arrival of an Antonov AN 124 aircraft at Piarco International Airport. Photo courtesy Piarco International Airport -

The arrival of an Antonov AN 124 aircraft at Piarco International Airport on May 4 created some unusual excitement.

The AN 124 arrived from Orlando, Florida, with a cargo of pipes for the oil and gas industry. Operated by Ukraine-based Antonov Airlines, this was not the first time the aircraft had landed in Trinidad and Tobago.

The AN 124 is the world's second heaviest gross weight cargo aeroplane manufactured behind the destroyed one-off Antonov AN-225, and at present is the heaviest operating cargo aircraft in the world.

During the late 1960s, the Military Transport Aviation Command arm of the Soviet Union (USSR) Air Forces had a shortfall in strategic heavy airlift capacity.

Its largest aircraft was the Antonov AN-22 turboprop, which was primarily used for tactical roles. A declassified 1975 CIA analysis concluded that the USSR "did not match the US in ability to provide long-range heavy lift support."

Soviet officials decided to build an aircraft with a substantial increase in payload capacity to airlift significantly more cargo in a single trip.

In 1971, design work on the project began at the Antonov Design Bureau. The design developed, designated Antonov AN 124, broadly resembled the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, a US military strategic transport aircraft. The design used carbon-fibre composites in its construction, comprising around five per cent of the aircraft's total weight. Aluminium alloys made up the primary material in its construction, with limited use of steel and titanium alloys.

The AN 124 has a double fuselage to allow for a rear cargo door on the lower fuselage that can open in flight without affecting structural integrity, and a conventional empennage, similar in design to that of the Boeing 747. Many of the flight control surfaces, such as the slats, flaps, spoilers and a fly-by-wire control system, closely resemble those of the C-5.

A major drawback with the AN 124 design is that, unlike the C-5, it lacks a fully pressurised cargo compartment and airborne refuelling capability.

In 1973, the construction of the necessary facilities to produce the new AN 124 began. Two separate final assembly plants were established to produce the airlifter: the company Aviastar-SP in Ulyanovsk, Russia and the Antonov Serial Production Plant in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Furthermore, the programme used components, systems and other elements drawn from over 100 factories across the Eastern world.

In 1979, the assembly of the first Antonov AN 124 began.

On December 24, 1982, the AN 124 flew its maiden flight. Three years later, the AN 124 made its first appearance in the Western world with demonstration flights at the 1985 Paris Air Show.


The AN 124 is capable of carrying up to 150 tons of cargo internally in a standard military configuration. It can also carry 88 passengers in an upper deck behind the wing centre section. The forward area of this upper deck houses the cockpit and the crew-accommodation area.

Owing to the limited pressurisation of its main cargo compartment, the AN 124 was rarely used to deploy paratroopers or to carry passengers, as they would require oxygen masks and cold-weather clothing.

In comparison, the upper deck is fully pressurised. The floor of the cargo deck is entirely composed of titanium and suitable for carrying heavy vehicles, including multiple main battle tanks.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the AN 124 had great potential for commercial operations. Antonov sought civil-type certification and obtained it on December 30, 1992.

Thereafter, sales of the AN 124 to various commercial operators proceeded throughout the 1990s and into the mid-2000s.

Many of the AN 124s were former military aircraft that were refurbished by Antonov before delivery.

During the early 2000s, Russian cargo operator Volga-Dnepr opted to upgrade its AN 124 freighter fleet to include engine modifications to comply with ICAO noise regulations, various structural improvements that increased service life, and numerous avionics and systems changes to reduce the cockpit crew from seven to four.

The Antonov AN 225 named Mriya, meaning "dream" in Ukrainian, was a strategic airlift cargo aircraft designed and produced by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It was originally developed during the 1980s as an enlarged derivative of the Antonov AN 124 for the specific purpose of transporting Buran spacecraft.

On December 21, 1988, the AN 225 made its maiden flight. It made its first public appearance outside the Soviet Union at the 1989 Paris Air Show, where it carried a Buran orbiter in its cargo hold.

A year later, it performed a flying display during the public days at the Farnborough Air Show. Only one aircraft was built and after a brief use in the Soviet space programme, it was mothballed during the early 1990s.

In the early 2000s, it was decided to refurbish the AN 225 and reintroduce it for commercial operations, carrying oversized payloads for the operator, Antonov Airlines.

With a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tons, the AN 225 held several records, including the heaviest aircraft ever built and the largest wingspan of any operational aircraft. It was commonly used to transport objects once thought impossible to move by air, such as 130-ton generators, wind turbine blades and diesel locomotives.

Additionally, Chinese and Russian officials had announced separate plans to adapt the AN 225 for use in their respective space programmes.

The AN 125 attracted a high degree of public interest, attaining a global following thanks to its size and its uniqueness.

On February 24, 2022, a few hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the beginning of a "special military operation" in Ukraine, Russian troops of the Russian Airborne Forces made an air assault on Hostomel Airport, intending to capture it. Russian forces destroyed the AN 225 in the Battle of Hostomel Airport.

In 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced plans to complete the second AN 225 to replace the destroyed aircraft.

Antonov Airlines is a Ukrainian cargo airline, a division of the Antonov aviation company. It operates international charter services in the cargo market.

Its main base is Hostomel Airport, near Kyiv. In the aftermath of the Battle of Hostomel Airport and the destruction of its main facilities, Antonov Airlines announced that it was temporarily redeploying to Leipzig-Halle Airport in Saxony, Germany.


"Ukrainian Antonov aircraft lands at Piarco"

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