The world’s largest plane, the massive Antonov An-225, landed Monday at Ben Gurion International Airport carrying a cargo of US military trucks to be fitted with an Israeli air defense system.
Hundreds of aviation enthusiasts gathered near the airport ahead of the legendary six-engined plan’s arrival to watch it swoop down to the ground.
At 84 meters long and with an 88.4-meter wingspan, the plane has the record for carrying the heaviest-ever airlifted cargo of some 253 tons.
The one-of-its-kind Antonov — built in the 1980s in Soviet Ukraine — arrived from the US, carrying US Army Oshkosh trucks that will be fitted with parts to install the Iron Dome missile defense system, for use by the US military.
The trucks, the exact number of which is undisclosed, were to be flown back to America later in the evening.
It is not the first time the plane was in Israel, having made a previous visit in 2008.
In 2019, the US closed a deal to buy two Iron Dome batteries. The system has been used by Israel to intercept rockets and other projectiles fired from the Gaza Strip.
The Antonov was originally constructed to piggyback the Russian “Buran” orbiter, a space shuttle that only made one unmanned flight before being destroyed in a hangar fire.
Since then the plane has been used to carry oversized cargo around the world, most recently carrying medical supplies to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Header: The Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo plane carrying US military Oshkosh trucks lands at the Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, August 3, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
In June 1989, Buran, carried on the back of the Antonov An-225, took part in the 1989 Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airfield.
Together with the Energia rocket, Buran was put in a hangar at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
After the first flight of a Buran shuttle, the programme was suspended due to lack of funds and the political situation in the Soviet Union. The two subsequent orbiters, which were due in 1990 (informally Ptichka) and 1992 (informally Baikal) were never completed. The programme was officially terminated on 30 June 1993, by President Boris Yeltsin. At the time of its cancellation, 20 billion rubles had been spent on the Buran programme.
On 12 May 2002, a hangar roof at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan collapsed because of a structural failure due to poor maintenance. The collapse killed 8 workers and destroyed one of the Buran craft (Orbiter K1), which flew the test flight in 1988, as well as a mock-up of an Energia booster rocket.
Two further Buran shuttles (one for ground use and one that was 90% ready to spaceflight), together with an Energia-M rocket prototype carrier are still stored at the base, according to an article in 2017.