Antonov 124 at Belfast International Airport

The sun broke through the grey skies to shine down on the An-124 just before she began to taxi.

In September 2022, I was incredibly lucky to witness the rare (and beautiful) Antonov 124 taking off from Belfast International Airport in Northern Ireland. I was headed back to London with Easyjet, and like any aviation nerd I decided to check out Flightradar-24 to see if there were any interesting aircraft or airlines flying from BFS that day. When I saw that there was a real life Antonov 124 parked at the airport, I could have died from excitement.

For context, in early 2022 the largest cargo aircraft in the world, the Antonov An- 225 (Mriya meaning “Dream” in Ukrainian) was destroyed in the Russian occupation near Kyiv. This 6 engined aircraft was infamous for aviation enthusiasts worldwide, often bringing crowds of spotters to any airport where she was landing. Most of us are used to seeing “quadies”, or 4 engined aircraft such as the Airbus A380 or the more classic Airbus A340 Boeing B747, but to see an aircraft with 6 engines is a real treat and rarity for many of those who got the chance to see her. Now, the An-124 is the world’s largest aircraft and features an a new addition to its classic yellow and blue livery with “Be Brave like Bucha” written under the cockpit. This is the largest aircraft I have ever seen in real life, and I was practically jumping up and down when I got to see her.

Antonov 225: Photo from City AM

The sight of the strange aircraft on the tarmac definitely drew a crowd at the Starbucks in BFS, which has the best view (in my opinion) for watching aircraft movements and ground movements. It was great to see so many people taking photos and videos and chatting to one another about the Antonov, she was sparking conversation and interest amoungst people that might not have bothered to plane spot while waiting for their own flight. Perhaps due to its cargo, or because of what happened to Myria, but there was no confirmed information on ETD (Estimated Time of Departure) or destination of the plane. This definitely added to the atmosphere in the terminal as no one knew quite when we would see her takeoff. During the entire drive to the airport I was terrifed she would take off before I arrived and I would miss mmy chance, but thankfully I even got to stand on the tarmac with her while boarding!

I was so delighted to get this photo beside the An-124. I had to ask a fellow passenger to take this photo because I was travelling alone, she was scared that she would be arrested for taking a photo on the tarmac!

I am not sure if I will ever get as close to this Ukrainan aircraft again so this could have been a truly once in a life time plane spot! There are rumours that the Ukrainian government will rebuild the An-225 once they have won the war with Russia. I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that this happens very soon and we get the chance to see her in the skies once again. This experience confirmed for me that aviation is simply not just another mode of transport. It has great national and cultural significance for many countries and especially in times of crises, a country’s aircraft can serve as symbols of strength and national identity. The An-124 sporting Ukrainian colours and messages sparks conversation not just about the conflict, but also about Ukrainian industry and their place in aviation history for creating these iconic cargo carriers.

If you ever get hear of this plane landing in an airport near you, I definitely recommend a trip to see her. She is simply beautiful!

Getting ready to taxi!
The view from Starbucks in BFS. These ground crew are so lucky to get so close to the aircraft, they did a great job of getting her ready and in the air safely! 🙂

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