China is planning to build two giant Antonov An-225 aircraft in Chengdu and Shaanxi. Measuring 84 meters in length with an 88.4m wingspan, this massive plane can carry 640 tons, and holds the world record for being the longest and heaviest aircraft built since it came into service in 1988.
The decision to assemble two of these six-engine monsters is part of an agreement hammered out last year by the Ukraine’s Antonov Company and the state-owned Aerospace Industry Corp of China or AICC.
China and the Ukraine have had a close relationship when it comes to key technology. In the late 1990s, the People’s Liberation Army bought the scrapped hull of the Soviet-made heavy cruiser, the Varyag, before renaming it the Liaoning and turning it into the Chinese Navy’s first aircraft carrier.
Now, according to media outlets CCTV and Sino Military, China will assemble two An-225 aircraft under the license agreement signed with Kiev last year.
Back in 2016, Antonov announced they would complete the second airframe for AICC as a prelude to major production of the aircraft in China. It now plans to assemble a second airframe, according to reports.
They also sited AICC as saying that they were considering mass production of the cargo plane in Chengdu and Shaanxi after assembling the two An-225s there.
Industry insiders believe that Beijing, known for copying and then emulating foreign technology, aims to use the heavy transport aircraft as military workhorses, ferrying troops and equipment.
Still, the fact this monster is a relic from the Soviet space program makes analysts wonder if Beijing wants it to airlift rocket boosters and its Shenzhou orbiters.
The An-225 was initially developed to transport the prototype Buran, or Snowstorm, space shuttle, which was part of the Soviet Union’s ill-fated reusable spacecraft program.
It was abandoned after the collapse of the USSR.