CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
With its wingspan of 290-feet and a heft totaling 628,000 pounds, the Antonov An-225 dwarfs most other aircraft. But this giant of aviation accomplished a feat that even it would have been incapable of just a few months ago, landing at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, March 7.
The largest and heaviest aircraft in the world, the one-of-a-kind An-225 is currently operated by Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines and contracted to carry large cargo and supplies around the world.
“We fly out of the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Germany,” said Alexander Klimov, an Antonov Design Bureau flight manager. “But this is our first chance to fly into here.”
The aircraft was able to land at Camp Bastion because of the new capabilities of the runway here. The new 11,500 flightline at Camp Bastion officially opened in a ceremony, Feb. 11.
A combined effort of Marines, sailors and local contractors, the goal of the improved runway is to allow the joint camps of Bastion and Leatherneck to receive air traffic from larger aircraft, like the An-225.
“Camp Bastion’s flight line just opened up about a month ago for large aircraft,” said Maj. Erik B. Eldridge, operational planner with I Marine Expeditionary Force. “Now we are hosts to the largest aircraft in the world.”
Though the increased capabilities of the runway will allow larger aircraft like the C-5 Galaxy and Boeing 737 to land and launch from Camp Bastion’s runway, members of the Regional Command (Southwest) aviation community said it also benefits combat operations for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) and its coalition partners.
“We went from a 7,000 to 11,000 foot runway,” said Capt. Jeff Steele, the director of safety and standardization for Marine Aerial Refueler Transport squadrons deployed in support of operations in Afghanistan. “The difference now is it provides for completely unrestricted operations.”
The new runway is located adjacent to the previous 7,000-foot runway, which will remain as a functioning part of the flightline. Steele explained using both the old and new runways allow aircraft to taxi and move about the airfield more efficiently.
“It’s as good as any flightline in the world,” said Steele. “What they’ve built here is a commercial class airport, without the terminal.”