Huge Russian jet parked in Mesa

The Arizona Republic, page B2

A Russian-made Antonov An-124, the world's largest aircraft until its bigger sister [Antonov An-225] went into production, has been parked this week at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport following a memorable touchdown that had airport officials answering noise complaints.

"This thing was amazingly low and moved very slowly," said Brad O'Hearne, who lives in Gilbert west of the airport. "My wife and I walked to the end of our neighborhood wondering if it was going to make the runway. It was very loud. It rumbled the whole neighborhood."

With swept-back wings attached to the top of its double-deck fuselage, the white aircraft with blue lettering rested on its landing gear — 10 sets of dual wheels — on an apron west of Gateway's U.S. Customs and Border Protection office.

From port to starboard, its wingspan is 240-plus feet, and it can carry a luxury yacht in its belly with room to spare.

It is part of the Volga-Dnepr Airlines fleet based in Ulyanovsk, a city of 625,000 near the Volga River in southwestern Russia.

Airport spokesman Brian Sexton said Gateway officials thought the plane, which arrived at noon last Saturday, was to export helicopters assembled by Boeing Co. in northeast Mesa, but learned later that it was on a layover before scheduled departure at 8:30 tonight.

The aircraft or models just like it had rarely flown in and out of the airport on previous cargo missions involving Boeing and the delivery of huge transformers for the Salt River Project.

The Russian Antonov dwarfs other planes commonly seen and heard at the former Air Force base, which once trained pilots during the Cold War.

The furor over the big jet's noise is not likely to die down even after it is gone. Gateway's passenger and cargo services continue to grow toward the level of expanding airports such as John Wayne near Los Angeles, say airport officials and planners.

"And we hope it does," said Queen Creek Mayor Art Sanders, a member of Gateway's governing board.

Municipal officials in Mesa, Gilbert and Queen Creek have tried to protect the airport from construction of homes near its borders, a planning strategy to minimize the impact of aircraft noise and threats to safety.

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