I am not sure this post does fit in the ‘sightseeing’ category. If you go to Malpensa – the largest airport of Milan – on a regular day, it’s unlikely you will spot the distinctive shape of the unique six-engined Antonov An-225. Yet in this post I will give a pictorial description of this crazy flying machine, so that wherever and when you should see the Mriya, here is what you might expect. This aircraft is a moving attraction, so exceptional that I feel going out to photograph it is still ‘sightseeing’ in some sense…
I had the chance to climb on it one night in early 2015, thanks to Paolo, a friend of mine from Italy, who is working in the company operating the airport system of Milan. The huge aircraft had been going in and out of Italy on an almost regular basis for some weeks, tasked with moving military equipment from central Africa back to the Italian soil.
It was a matter of coordination between me and Paolo, and of course some luck was involved, for the landing and take-off times of the Mriya are usually in the middle of the night and not perfectly predictable, plus good weather is never assured especially in winter. Anyway, in the end I succeeded in arranging a private visit to the Mriya with Paolo and another friend of mine. Paolo registered us as official visitors, so being there and allowed to walk on the apron of the largest airport in Northern Italy, we could come close also to some other interesting items.
The following photos are about that incredible night.
When we went on the apron the plane was still resting on its many (32) wheels, with doors closed and nobody around. The flight scheduled for that evening was basically a ferry flight to Africa, so no loading operations were expected. We were free to walk around taking pictures.
You may see how big this aircraft is by comparing its size to that of the guys walking under it. You will feel like walking close to a moored cruising ship more than an aircraft…
Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner
While waiting for the crew to come to the aircraft for departure, we came close to a Dreamliner preparing for a flight to India. It still retained its ‘new plastic’ smell. Among the most distinctive features of this model are the beautiful engine nozzles, with a toothed profile for noise suppression.
Emirates Airbus A380
We had the chance to see an A380 taxiing to the gate after arriving from Dubai. This double-decker is really impressive, as you can see again looking at the size of the people walking under its wings. Yet this time this was not the star of the show…
We walked up to the cabin, but were not allowed to take pictures. As it is the case for most modern aircraft, the cockpit is not so fascinating especially when the electronics are switched off – you just have an array of TV scopes…
Inside the Mriya
We then went back to the Mriya to meet the crew and walk in. The crew is composed by about ten people, including those connected with flight operations and those responsible for payload.
You get access to the aircraft through a hatch with an attached ladder. Otherwise, when the cargo door to the front is open, you may access the aircraft from there. There is no cargo door to the back.
The inside is structured with a main cargo deck in the central section of the aircraft, with a built-in crane capable of moving a 5 ton load. There are apparently no hooks on the ground, they possibly fasten the payload to the sides, but I’m not sure. The tail cone section can be accessed through an internal hatch for inspection, and cannot host any payload.
Along the sides of the cargo bay there are tons of bulky items and tools for servicing, spare parts including wheels, gauges connected with the landing gear operation, and small round windows to allow visually checking the wings and the engines underneath. The main cargo section is closed to the front by the folding platform for cargo loading, resting in a vertical position in flight, when the nose cargo door is closed and the nose cone lowered.
A retractable ladder gives access to the cockpit and crew resting area, which is configured in a similar fashion to the upper deck of the Boeing 747. To the front from the hatch on top of the ladder you get access to the seats of the flight engineers and to the cockpit. Seating in the engineering compartment is for four people, but I guess this was necessary for operating the Buran or for more complicate missions. Anyway, I would say at least a crewman for each side would be needed for normal flight operations. Seating in the cockpit is for two, and the arrangement of controls and gauges is neat and linear.
I would have spent one month in the engineering compartment to check every item in detail – tons of late Cold War items, and everything so Soviet-looking! – but this was not a day-off visit for the crewmen, who were busy with preparing the aircraft for the flight. To the back of the access hatch the quarters for the crew include two side compartments for living and sleeping, a small galley and a large storage room. From there it is possible to look through a window to another compartment to the back, with clusters of electronic material and other stuff, close to the wing section.
I noticed the usual placard with evacuation routes, and other strange knobs close to the upper-deck access ladder. Close to the side door of the aircraft the crew has many stickers from various places visited with this wonderful aircraft, and a bell like that of a 19th century ship!
Boeing 747 Cargo
Waiting for the Mriya to depart, we boarded a brand new Boeing 747 cargo of the Russian company ABC cargo. The contrast between this and the Antonov couldn’t be more striking. This new 747 has a fully automatic cargo deck, with a really impressive plethora of sensors and a system of rails to safely fasten cargo pallets. The flying deck is very comfortable and modern, with the typical brownish Boeing plastic, clearly reminding you this aircraft was ‘proudly manufactured in the USA’!
We finally went back to the Mriya to follow the departure sequence. The aircraft was pushed back with a dedicated towing strut, coping with the twin-mast front undercarriage. This item travels with the aircraft, so before engine startup it is necessary to open the front cargo door and load this gear, pushing it inside by pure handwork. The front undercarriage is tilted, lowering the front of the plane and making loading operations possible. After that, a crewman closes the side access door and startup of the six engines is initiated.
I shot a video during engine spool up, posted on my YouTube channel broadbandeagle.
As I wrote at the beginning, this is a ‘special report’ and not a post with many how-to notes. I hope you got an idea of how the An-225 looks inside, but I was clearly lucky to be allowed on this special tour. All thanks go to Paolo, who invited me to join in, registering me as an official visitor. I dare to say that if you don’t know somebody doing his job and with his passion for aeronautics, then unfortunately you’ll hardly have a chance to board this aircraft and see the inside… unless you do his job yourself, or they retire the aircraft and put it in a museum!