Departing SFO last week, I peered out my window at a rare site: a gigantic Russian Antonov An-124 cargo jet parked across the runways from airport terminals. I thought it was a one-time event, but I began hearing more about it from TravelSkills readers who have seen one or two of the behemoths over the last two weeks at SFO.
I reached out to airport officials at SFO to inquire about the planes, but only received vague replies: “Yes, we’ve had these Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft making semi-regular appearances over the past week, at times having two here simultaneously. None are here now, but the next one comes in tonight.”
When I asked why they are here, what they are transporting and where they are going, the airport said, “They’re coming from various locations, all for the same Bay Area company. I don’t have details on who…”
I’ve seen Antonovs at SFO before, but it’s been a very rare occurrence. What’s new now is that there are so many at SFO – sometimes two a day.
So I did a little digging around and found out that aviation geeks are equally interested in what’s up with these big birds making regular appearances at SFO.
On Tuesday, the excellent flight tracking site/app FlightRadar24 shows one of the planes (VI4819) departing Leipzig, Germany for Milan on April 28. From Milan, it traveled to Goose Bay (Newfoundland), Canada, and from there it flew to SFO. From SFO, it flew to Kinston, North Carolina, (near the Atlantic coast), which boasts one of the longest runways in that part of the country. Update: From Kinston, it flew to Nantes, France.
Walking my dogs last night, believe it or not, I spotted another Antonov flying over the city en route to SFO. I fired up FlightRadar24 and found that this one (VI3022, RA82077) originated in Tokyo and stopped over in Anchorage before arriving at SFO around 8 pm.
A planespotter near SFO was surprised at his luck seeing the Antonov and shot this video of it on April 24:
Compared to an Airbus A380, the Antonov An-124 is slightly smaller: It is 226 feet long vs the A380 at 238 feet. And its wingspan is a bit narrower: 241 feet for the An124 vs 261 for the Airbus A380.
The Antonovs at SFO are owned by Volga-Dnepr Airlines, which according to its website is: “The world leader in the specialis [sic] market of oversize and super-heavy cargo transportation…Our customers include governmental and commercial organizations, including leading global businesses in the oil and gas, energy, aerospace, agriculture and telecommunications industries as well as the humanitarian and emergency services sectors.”
Here’s more on the Antonov An-124, which can carry a payload of a whopping 150 tons! The Antonov website says, “The AN-124 has been used to deliver 90 ton hydraulic turbines, the Liebherr large dimension mobile crane, the USA Euclid mine truck, the fuselage of the Tu-204 passenger aircraft, a 109 ton locomotive, General Electric GE90 aircraft engines, various combat vehicles, Lynx anti-submarine helicopters, a spaceship in its container and other unique cargoes. It rescued refugees and people suffered from natural disasters, transported tanks and Christmas trees, elite fast horses and cruise yachts, concert equipment and reconnaissance aircraft, banknotes and pure gold. The list of its cargo is endless – in this sense it can be called as the most universal airplane in the whole history of aviation.”
Have you seen this plane at SFO? Know anything about it? Please leave your comments, tips or speculation below.