The Antonov An-225 is the world's heaviest and largest cargo aircraft and has recently been upgraded. Credit: flickr.

With only one flight, the massive Antonov An-225 — the world’s largest cargo plane — can carry as much as 10 wide-body airliners.

That capability will come in handy, as the An-225 has now joined the international convoy to transport medical supplies from China, The Global Times reported. 

With China possessing high production capacity of medical supplies, sending large military aircraft to transport these supplies has become an efficient option to help fight the Covid battle, experts said on Monday.

The An-225 arrived in North China’s Tianjin on Sunday evening to transport 400 tons of medical supplies bought from China, including seven million masks and several hundred thousand protective suits to Poland, the report said.

The An-225 is the world’s heaviest and largest cargo aircraft and has just been upgraded, Ukrainian media Kyiv Post reported on Saturday.

One of the greatest feats of Soviet aviation ever conceived, its world-topping wingspan measures 290 feet, that’s longer than five semi-truck trailers set end-to-end.

Powered by six turbofan engines, it features a maximum payload weight of 250 tons, which can be carried inside or on its back.

Because of its size, pilots need special training to cope with the challenges of maneuvering the An-225, CNN reported.

One of the airplane’s quirks is its ability to perform a so-called “elephant dance,” a term used in aviation when the nose gear “kneels” to make cargo loading easier.

The plane, nicknamed “Mriya’” (“Dream” in Ukrainian), was developed by the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and was inherited by Ukraine and mothballed following its collapse. It was repurposed in 2001 to a civilian cargo carrier, the report said.

And the jobs need to be urgent; if you want to use the An-225 it will cost around $30,000 (£23,220) an hour, the BBC reported.

Production of Mryia’s sister plane was halted in 1994 when the Russian space program collapsed with the Soviet Union. Its fuselage still sits in the Antonov factory west of Kiev.

Officials said the giant aircraft may have to make two round trips to fulfill the Polish contract, because the medical supplies weigh 400 tons, the report said.

The plane, nicknamed “Mriya’” (“Dream” in Ukrainian), was developed by the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and was inherited by Ukraine and mothballed following its collapse. Credit: Anton Skyba.

Air defense expert Fu Qianshao told the Global Times on Monday that the An-225 was originally designed to airlift a spacecraft, so it was given very strong payload-carrying capabilities, much stronger than other heavy military cargo planes like the C-5 and An-124, which are already of a class larger than China’s Y-20.

The German military also announced on Wednesday that it will hire the An-225 to transport medical supplies to Germany, China Central Television reported.

Since Covid-19 broke out, many foreign countries have sent military cargo planes to China to transport medical supplies back home.

For instance, Russia sent an An-124 and two Il-76 cargo planes, and Algeria sent two Il-76s to Shanghai on April 4 to load supplies, including face masks, the National Business Daily reported on April 5.

The Iraqi military sent a C-130 cargo plane and the Kuwaiti military dispatched a C-17 transport aircraft to Guangzhou, South China’s Guangdong Province on Wednesday to collect face masks and ventilators, the Guangzhou Daily reported on Wednesday.

Military cargo planes tend to be more efficient than civilian cargo planes because they possess stronger payload-carrying capabilities and have rear or even front cargo doors, making for very fast loading.

Because of its size, pilots need special training to cope with the challenges of maneuvering the An-225. Credit: Anton Skyba.

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