AN-225 as a Passenger Shuttle
What would the Antonov AN-225 be like if it was a passenger plane? As in, we take the existing aircraft, slap in some seats and start flying revenue flights? How many passengers would it fly and would it be a good experience? Let’s get our hands dirty and get to work!
The Antonov AN-225 is the world’s most powerful cargo plane (well, one that can carry cargo inside of the aircraft), and a feat of pure incredible, engineering. It was originally designed to carry the soviet equivalent of the space shuttle, however when that space plane program was shut down, all that remained was the plane.
Its features include an incredible carrying capacity of around 200 tonnes, more than any other aircraft, powered by six engines that make the Boeing 747 look like a small regional jet. Only two aircraft were ever built, and only a single one ever entered continuous active service. The other aircraft lies incomplete and there is little justification to get it back to operational condition.
That’s right Found and Explained fans, we have magically secured this 2nd airframe and today we are going to turn it into a passenger aircraft.
Let’s see what we are working with!
Turning it into a passenger aircraft …
The AN-225 has a length of 84m or 275 feet. However, the cabin doesn’t go the full length of the plane, with instead the cabin only reaching 43.35 meters, or 142 feet. This is very similar to the Airbus A380, that has a cabin length of 49.9 meters.
In terms of width, the cabin is 6.4 meters wide (21 feet) and its 4.4 meters tall (14 feet) – which should be enough to have a second deck although the ceiling would be 20cm lower than the Airbus A380. You can start to see that the internal space of the AN-225 is around the same width as the a380, but not as long, totaling around 46,000 cubic feet or 1,300 square cubed – sorry? oh that’s not a thing? oh I mean meters cubed. Boy that would have been a stupid mistake, wouldn’t it?
Moving on from that inside joke, we can now start to plan out how many seats we could fit in.
Starting with an economy cabin, we know that the average economy seat is 18 inches wide, and 31 inches deep in pitch. If the cabin is 21 feet wide, or 252 inches, then we can fit in 14 seats across. But we know that the A380, with the same cabin width, can only fit maximum 11 seats across due to the aisles and other features. As it’s the same width, we will assume the same restrictions with a configuration of 3-5-3.
So how many can we fit in the cabin? At 31 inches of seat pitch, and the cabin itself measuring 1704 inches long, that’s 55 rows. But of course, we need doors, stairs, bathrooms, and more, pushing it down to around an arbitrary 45 rows. For comparisons’ sake, the A380 fits 40 rows of economy plus a first-class cabin on the lower deck. That gives us a total economy capacity on the An-225 lower deck of around 495 passengers. Cozy.
Now let’s have a look at the upper deck. As the plane actually curves inwards, there is not enough room for the same width of seats, reducing our cabin to around 9 seats across in a 3-3-3 configuration. Assuming the same length and rows, that would be an additional 405 passengers. For a total of 900 passengers onboard in all economy. Impressive.
But let’s add in some business class passengers so we can actually have some higher paying customers onboard. An impressive business class seat of 80 inches deep, and 20 inches wide, would set us back to a row configuration of 2-2-2. At 80 inches deep and the same length of the cabin, that’s 21 rows of seats. Taking into account other items like bathrooms, a bar, and more, that takes us down to 14 or so rows. For a total of 84 passengers.
Combine that together and we have around 490 passengers, just under 500.
In an earlier exercise, I went as far as to use the ratio of passenger per cubic meter as with the A380, and had a lower answer of 255 people on the lower deck, and a further 189 on the upper deck. This gives a total of 444 total passengers across a three-class configuration, which is pretty close to the answer we have above. There is also some room in the nose section that’s normally empty as it’s a door, so we could fit in a few more passengers.
But … does it have the range fully loaded with passengers?
The issue comes to actually operating the plane as a commercial aircraft. Let’s look at the range.
The AN-225 has an empty range of 15,400 km (9,600 mi, 8,300 nautical miles) with maximum fuel; or a range with 200 tonnes payload of 4,000 km (2,154 nautical miles)
As we know that the distance between two popular destinations, such as London to New York is 5571.55 km / 3008.39 nautical miles, and the distance between London and Dubai is 5471.77 km / 2954.52 nautical miles. So, this plane will need to have a range of at least 3,000 – 4,000 nautical miles to be practical, or a carrying capacity of 100 tonnes.
If the average passenger weighs 75kg, or 85kg if they are American, then we will have a total weight of 41,000 kg for 490 passengers. Plus, luggage, which would be 20kg at least per passenger, so another 9,000kg. that gets us up to 50 tonnes. We still have another 50 tonnes left over, which would go to the seats, interior, deck, entertainment system, food and more. We might be able to get even more out of the plane if we replaced its six engines with the latest GE9X engines from the 777X, making it insanely efficient. Confidently, we can suggest that this plane can now perform the route we outlined above!
You might notice something else missing from our earlier cross section… where does the baggage go? These designs don’t accommodate any luggage at all, there is no cargo deck and no room to place any items outside of the cabin at all. So, we would need to either turn the plane into a combi and have even less room inside, or allow passengers to have suitcases in their laps.
Also, we have to mention that the cargo cabin of the plane is utterly decompressed during flight so not only will the passengers be freezing cold, but they will also struggle to breathe. Which means we can either increase the weight with additional pressurization equipment, and potentially having to make changes to the fuselage, or we could charge passengers extra for oxygen and heat. I have a feeling I know which airline will choose the latter.
There also are no windows. Passengers might be okay to sit in the dark, or they will need some sort of big TV screen to show where they are flying. Although maybe we could just fly low and open the nose door and let the breeze in.
Lastly, this plane as a commercial carrier is essentially a total overdesign. The AN-225 has a stronger structure to carry heavy items like a tank or a space shuttle. Passengers are far lighter and spread over a bigger area and thus it’s a different weight layout entirely. There is an argument that the lower deck of our design could be for cargo, and the upper deck for passengers, but likely we would have seen an A380 converted before we do this to the AN-225.
You don’t need so much power to fly a longer distance, and you can start to see how the A380 is so much more efficient than this plane, and that more engines doesn’t equal a better plane – making concepts like triple decker planes wholly impractical.
But this plane would be a heck of a ride, and I think if you had the only commercial carrier in the world you might sell out every flight simply because of all the plane geeks willing to pay to fly on an ex-soviet space shutter carrier!
What do you think? Would you want to fly on this plane? Let me know down in the comments!
Interestingly, you can take a quiz on this topic and find out how many questions you can answer correctly. It’s right here. Good luck!