The worlds largest airplane will make a rare visit to Shannon this weekend with hundreds of plane spotters from all over the country expected to converge on the airport.
The Antonov 225 ‘Mriya’, meaning ‘Dream’, was designed and built by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukraine and first flew on December 21st 1988.
The 6-engined monster, with its 32 wheels, is now operated by Antonov Airlines, the transport arm of the Antonov Company, and holds over 300 world records for transporting oversized loads.
Because of its size, the An-225 requires a runway of between 3,000 and 3,500 metres in length to take off making Shannon’s, at 3199m (10,486ft), the only one in Ireland capable of handling the plane.
The 6-storey high jet was designed mainly to transport the Russian space shuttle “Buran” to it’s launch site. The shuttle was carried externally on top of the fuselage.
With the end of the Buran space programme in 1994, the An-225 was taken out of service and left to rust at an airfield near Kiev. In May 2001, following a $20m refurbishment programme, the 225 flew again.
The 225 previously visited the mid-west airport in October 2006 and May 2013 when thousands of people blocked country roads to get close to the airport perimeter fence for a look.
Prior to that, the colossus made an overnight stop at the mid-west airport in December 2003 on the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight by the Wright brothers in the US on December 17th 1903.
The plane’s wingspan of 88.4m (290ft) is 90 feet wider than the runway at Shannon which is 61m (200ft) wide including 8m (26ft) of shoulder on each side.
There has been a flurry of activity on aviation related social media sites in relation to the visit which Shannon Airport has now confirmed.
Originally expected from Houston, U.S. at 8.45pm on Saturday, the mammoth jet is due in Shannon in the early hours of Sunday morning and expected to remain on the ground until 10.oopm that day.
Operations Director at Shannon Airport Niall Maloney said: “We will get absolute confirmation at some stage on Saturday. But as things stand the Antonov 225 is scheduled to arrive into Shannon at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday and depart on Sunday night at 10p.m. and will, as ever, generate a lot of interest and excitement here at Shannon.”
“We had over 2,000 aviation enthusiasts here in May 2013 when it last landed at Shannon and we will be expecting a big crowd again to come and see it through out Sunday. We would urge people intending to travel to check in with our Twitter and Facebook accounts where we will be confirming the aircraft’s arrival or otherwise at the earliest opportunity.
“There are a number of vantage points around the airport to view the aircraft, including the viewing gallery in the airport itself and an outdoor viewing area adjacent to the Shannon Aerospace facility,” Mr Maloney added.