THOUSANDS of people have come from different parts of the country to Shannon Airport today to see the Antonov 225, the world’s largest aircraft.
The plane arrived shortly before 3am from Bangor International Airport and will leave again at around 10pm.
It’s wing span is greater than the width of the pitch at Croke Park and from nose to tail it is one and a half times the length of an Olympic Swimming Pool. It stands alone as the largest and most powerful jet the world has ever seen.
Shannon has one of the longest runways in Europe and it is the only Irish airport the Antonov 225 has ever landed at.
Niall Moloney, Shannon Airport Operations Director said the aircraft never fails to amaze. “When you see it on the taxiway here and can put its size into perspective, it’s almost unbelievable that it can get up into the skies, let alone be as graceful when it’s up there,” he said.
“Last time it was here, in 2013, it landed during daylight hours and there were hundreds if not a couple of thousand people who came to see it. People stood on the roofs of vans just to be able to video it landing.
“This time around it arrived in the middle of the night and we still had up to 20 cars loads of people in the viewing area ahead of arrival. There was only one Antonov 225 made and this is it so when it comes here people are very keen to see it.”
The Antonov 225 was built between 1985 and 1988 to create an aircraft capable of carrying the Soviet Union space shuttle on its back. The team were given three years to make it happen and just about delivered, as the collossol vehicle made its maiden flight in December 1988. A year later it flew for the first time with the space shuttle perched on its back.
It comprises seven million pounds of metal, is almost seven stories high, with six engines and 32 tyres. Following the end of the Cold War it was idle for eight years, due to lack of finance but has remerged as the world’s largest cargo carrier. It also has the capacity to carry 1,500 people, three times the amount of the world’s biggest passenger jet.
Despite having come from Kerry to see it, Joe Grogan said he’s not really a plane spotter. “Not really, but because it’s the biggest one in the world I though I’d come up and have a look out of curiosity.”
He was at the perimeter fence and had come armed with binoculars to get the best possible view on a sunny evening. Seeing a van parked next to it put its massive scale in context he said, with it looking “absolutely tiny” beside the massive aircraft.
The Kerryman was typical of the huge crowds of casual aviation watchers assembled around the perimeter fence and packing out the terminal building’s viewing area on a sun-soaked Sunday afternoon and evening.