Return of the Titan

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MIKE MARTIN

It's 12 years since the Antonov An-225 Mriya heavy-lifter appeared at Paris. Since its spectacular debut in 1989, the six-engined monster, offering a 250t payload, has been grounded for seven years and only flew again earlier this year. The $20 million programme to make the aircraft airworthy again has involved new avionics and improved D-18T engines to enable it to meet noise regulations. The An-225 is scheduled by year-end to have completed the certification trials that were 90% completed before its grounding.

Originally built to support the heavy-lift transportation needs of the Russian space programme, the aircraft was withdrawn from service when the Buran space shuttle was scrapped. Now the growing market for outsize cargo movements has led to its resurrection. In 1989 the An-225, with Buran on its back, was one of the highlights of the flying display. Even on the ground it was something special, amazing visitors as it taxied across the airfield's soaking grass. Holder of more than 100 world records, the An-225 first flew in December 1988. It was the first aircraft to fly with a gross weight in excess of 453,000kg (1,000,000lb). A derivative of the An-124, it offers a 50% improvement in payload and maximum take-off weight compared with the earlier type. This was achieved through a fuselage stretch, the addition of another two engines to bring the total to six, and a main landing gear with seven rather than five pairs of wheels on each side.