Yesterday, Valentin Timoshenko, a LinkedIn friend, made my day. I doubt that was his intention when he posted but thank you.

I had had a poor night’s sleep with a racking cough, the late rumblings of my weekend cold, and I woke feeling grumpy. I meandered working through the day and only by early evening starting to become concerned on the topic for this piece. I couldn’t continue the blatant Brovary self-publicity, I didn’t feel much sympathy for humanity and so the human-interest stories were out, Brexit and politics are boring me.

I needed some science or engineering. I needed something to marvel at and impress me. I needed something concrete to try and understand, and that is where Valentin came into the picture. I was checking LinkedIn and I found his post of a video of an Antonov 225. Don’t worry I hadn’t heard of one before so let me enlighten you.

The Antonov 225 is the world’s largest aircraft with a wingspan twice the size of Boeing 747 which, of course, is 88 metres which, in the spirit of modern journalism, is almost a football pitch long. Last night I watched the snowy scenes of football from Wembley and imagined the fuselage the full length of the pitch and just one wing on its width. The Antonov 225 wouldn’t fit in Wembley.

If Valentin had merely posted the plane’s vital statistics (which I will come to) I would have passed by, but he posted a video and I could watch, in awe, for 5 minutes, as it rolled on the tarmac before a take-off, a quick circuit, and then landing.

Before you read on, I encourage you all to go to your web browser and search for the Antonov 225 in YouTube, so you can share my excitement.

I have never been into train spotting although there was always an excitement when, as a child, we took the train from London back to Huddersfield. Then it was the time of steam trains. We would find our seats, put our luggage in the overhead rack, leave mother, so my father and myself could go to inspect the engine and say hello to the driver. The old steam engine, with the open footplate, was always a wonder of engineering and bound to impress a five-year-old boy.

I don’t believe that it was just because my father was an engineer, but I am almost more impressed by human engineering feats than the natural world.

I remember when I first saw the pyramids in Cairo. It was a short taxi ride from the centre and we were standing at the foot of a Sphinx with the first of the great pyramids close by. You can only start to imagine the engineering feat when it towers above you.

Sometimes you don’t see all the effort and skill that goes into engineering work.

Think about London’s new Crossrail. It is Europe’s largest infrastructure construction project with a budget of nearly £15bn. It’s nearly finished and will soon be operational, but if you had wanted to bid for it you would have had to explain how to construct two 21 km tunnels under London, restructure a few existing stations, and all without any disruptions for the existing commuter.

If you are a little claustrophobic and tunnels are not your thing, then maybe the Jiaozhou Bay bridge linking China’s eastern port city of Qingdao to the offshore island Huangdao, at 26.4 miles long, is for you. If you have mastered that then you could bid for Boris’ idea of a bridge between Dover and Calais. It should be easy, it is 5 miles less.

But let’s get back to the Antonov An-225 Mriya as it is called in its full name.

It is hard enough to understand how any lump of metal ever takes to the air but how so large a lump gets air born and flies is a phenomenon.

Designed and built in Ukraine in the 1980s and after only 3½ years in development at the Antonov Design Bureau, the first flight was in December 1988.  In 2002, the plane took off from Stuttgart, on its first commercial flight, hauling 216,000 prepared meals for American military personnel in the Persian Gulf.  It has been used to carry a Russian space shuttle on its roof,

Now it draws huge crowds whenever it flies. Last year it transported a 117-tonne electric power generator for a Western Australian mining company from Prague to Perth. Thousands of aviation enthusiasts came down to the airport to witness the historic moment. I haven’t been able to find out how many actually turned up, but the plan was to cope with an audience of 50,000.

Go on, check it out on YouTube and be impressed.

As it rolled down the runway the huge wings, each bearing the weight of three engines, flexed under the weight of gravity until the pressure of air rushing underneath the accelerating plane, straightened them. The monster of the plane lifted slowly into the air.

On landing, your heart is in your mouth hoping that landing gear system with its 32 wheels will once more take the weight.

As far as I can work out it is the only one of its kind. They only built the one. But it is going strong. It is a majestic piece of engineering. It is a monument to the ingenuity and skill of man.

Thank you, Valentin. You have made my day.

 

With thanks to Popular Mechanics, and for the real enthusiasts, or if you have a heavy load to take somewhere distant, here are the basic statistics.

Name: Antonov An-225 Mriya

Wingspan: 290 ft.

Length: 275 ft. 7 in.

Height: 59 ft. 8-1/2 in.

Cargo Hold: Length: 141 ft.; Width: 21 ft.; Height: 14 ft. 5-1/4 in.

Engines: Six ZMKB Progress Lotarev D-18T turbofans each producing 51,590 lb. of thrust

Crew: 7

Max Take-off Weight: 1,322,750 lb.

Max Payload: 551,150 lb.

Cruising Speed: 497 mph

Max Speed: 528 mph

Range with Max Payload: 2813 miles

Range with Max Fuel: 9625 miles