Up Close With the AN-124

Polet Antonov An-124

A surprise visitor to the Seattle area earlier this month, one of Polet’s four active AN-124 Ruslan freighters is seen here on the taxiway before departing to Anchorage. The aircraft, RA-82068 (msn: 9773051359127), must not have been heavily loaded – needing just about 6000 feet to rotate and take off, not much for such a large and heavy aircraft. Fully loaded, the AN-124 can accommodate 150 tonnes of cargo and has an astounding 892,000-lb MTOW.

Aside from its massive size, the AN-124 offers other heavy lift capabilities – roll-on, roll-off ramps for cargo fore and aft, internal cranes that run along the roof to manipulate large and unusually-sized cargo, and front-end kneeling to allow for easier loading. The main compartment is only partially pressurized, but most of the time these aircraft are used to haul industrial-sized equipment, which doesn’t need a comfortable environment. Among the more unusual cargo transported by the AN-124 was the Obelisk of Axum, a 78-foot-tall, 160 ton, 4th century stone pillar repatriated to Ethiopia from Italy in 2005.

The AN-124 has also been used to ferry large aircraft engines such as the GE-90-110 (which powers the Boeing 777F) and the Engine Alliance GP7000 (which powers the Airbus A380). Those engines can be transported in smaller aircraft, but only when partially disassembled.

RA-82068 was built in 1993 for Aeroflot, making it a later build unit. Voronezh-based Polet has a fleet of five AN-124s, but one, the earliest-built unit (RA-82010, built in 1987) is currently stored, while the carrier’s newest unit (RA-82080) was the penultimate AN-124, built in 2004. Polet’s heavy-lift cargo fleet also includes three Ilyushin IL-96-400T freighters (all delivered in 2009).

Polet, established in 1988, also has a passenger side, where it operates primarily Saab 340 and Saab 2000 models, along with a pair of Antonov AN-148 passenger jets. Cargo operations began with a single Antonov AN-30 turboprop, but by the mid-1990s the AN-124 had become the cornerstone of the carrier’s heavy cargo charter operations.

© Photographer: Alex Kwanten

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