For a time the massive An-124 held the mantle of the world's largest aircraft before the arrival of the An-225, a stretched six engine derivative. It is commonly used for oversize freight charters.
Developed primarily as a strategic military freighter (in which role it can carry missile units and main battle tanks), the first prototype An-124 flew on December 26 1982. A second prototype, named Ruslan (after a Russian folk hero), made the type's first western public appearance at the Paris Airshow in June 1985, preceding the type's first commercial operations in January 1986. Since that time the An-124 has set a wide range of payload records, a recent achievement being the heaviest single load ever transported by air - a 124 tonne (273,400lb) powerplant generator and its associated weight spreading cradle, a total payload weight of 132.4 tonnes (291,940lb), set in late 1993.
Notable features include nose and tail cargo doors, 24 wheel undercarriage allowing operations from semi prepared strips, the ability to kneel to allow easier front loading, and flybywire control system.
The two major An-124 variants are the basic An-124 and similar Russian civil certificated An-124-100. Various upgrades have been proposed, including the western avionics equipped An-124-100M built in prototype form but not flown, the three crew EFIS flighdeck equipped An-124-102 and the An-124FFF firebomber.
Numerous reengine studies have also been conducted, including using Rolls-Royce RB-211-524Gs, General Electric CF680s (as the An-124-130) and even Aviadvigatel NK93 propfans.
The An-225 Mryia is based on the An-124 but features six (instead of four) D18T turbofans, a stretched fuselage and a 600 tonne (1,322,750lb) max takeoff weight. One was built, intended as a transport for the Russian Buran Space Shuttle equivalent. First flight was in 1988.
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