Outsized and heavy air cargo solutions from coast to coast or around the globe

Outsized and heavy air cargo transport

Across the USA and around the world, outsized and heavy goods need to be moved both long- and short-distances daily. While an assortment of aircraft equipped for the movement of heavy goods is available for such missions, there are none quite as impressive – or hold as many records – as the heavy cargo-carrying Antonov Airlines AC-225 ‘Mriya’ the world’s heaviest aircraft. With a maximum take-off weight of 1,410,958lbs (639.99 metric tons), this Ukrainian marvel of aviation is called into action where and when there’s a need to move extraordinarily large cargo. 

There is only one Antonov-225 tasked with serving the USA and the whole world. That’s why when it comes to moving heavy and outsize cargo across the USA and beyond, not every aircraft type is up to the task. 

That’s when the heavy-hitters of the air cargo transport world are called into action. For heavy freight, too large to be handled by scheduled airlines or regular cargo-carrying aircraft, nose-loading freighters, rear-loading freighters, ramp-loading aircraft, and even aircraft with onboard cranes are needed. 

The North American continent is a big place, with a lot of natural obstacles that can severely hinder the movement of heavy shipment by land. Oversize cargo and other heavy shipments often need to travel over large distances from California to Connecticut and from Alaska to Florida, journeys which could mean traversing difficult terrain, including mountain ranges and other natural geographic obstacles. These barriers, natural, geographic, and even governmental, often fully exclude the possibilities of using ground transport. 

Whether the load is a massive power generator, NASA rocket parts, rail wagons and carriages, aircraft parts including full aircraft bodies or wings, wind turbines, jet engine transportation, or oil and gas mining equipment, oversized cargo charter specialists can provide all of the answers you’ll ever need for ship large loads.

For many major and large-scale US engineering projects, the cost of transport to the final destination is usually part of the initial project management and planning strategy. 

For super-sized cargo, it can be sometimes easier, and cheaper, to rely on air transport over the options available from its road or sea freight alternatives. Cargo shipments can be unusually configured for standard shipping methods, there may be a lack of shipping routes to the nearest destination port, or, the cargo may be highly time-sensitive and could be moved more rapidly using the air cargo option.

For heavy shipments, roads – or rail –  may not prove viable due to the logistics of road and line closures, the removal of permanent fixtures such as signs and overhead powerlines, bridges and tunnels may not be passable, or other geographic features like mountains, steep hills, or roads with difficult to negotiate bends can all impede the cargo reaching its final destination. Such considerations can result in oversized air freight transport being the only option available.

The largest loads ever moved by air

Some aircraft types may try to claim the honors for carrying large, oversized loads, but when it comes to breaking real records, the massive 6-engined Antonov AN-225 ‘Mriya’ (meaning ‘dream’ in the Ukrainian language) – the largest aircraft ever built, and a one-of-a-kind – has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as carrying the heaviest shipment ever.

On August 11th, 2009, the enormous Antonov Airlines 225’s sixteen pairs of wheels rolled onto the runway of Germany’s Frankfurt Hahn Airport and prepared for take-off. Stored inside the belly of the behemoth was a gigantic power plant generator weighing 187.6 tonnes (375,200 lb) on route to its final destination in Yerevan, Armenia.

Initially designed to transport the Soviet ‘space shuttle’, Buran, as piggyback cargo, the demise of the Buran project after the collapse of the Soviet Union left the Ukrainian aircraft company looking for new sources of revenue for the record-breaking super heavy freight carrier. 

The Antonov-225 is not the only supersized cargo carrier transporting outsized cargo around the world. While not as iconic or emblematic as the Mirya, the list of giant aircraft stands as a testimony to the fact that extra-large cargo loads are still in hot demand.

Some of the largest include:

  • Antonov An-124 Condor – although temporarily grounded, the An-124 was one of the most commonly employed cargo freighters.
  • Antonov An-22 Antei – Initially introduced in 1967, this giant aircraft is still in operation across Russia.
  • Aero Spacelines Super Guppy – The oddly-shaped Super Guppy has most often employed by NASA carrying the now-redundant Space Shuttle and other rocket parts.
  • Airbus A300-600ST Beluga – Shaped like a large white whale, the Airbus Beluga is used primarily to transport Airbus parts – fuselages, wings, etc. – between Airbus production facilities.
  • Airbus A400M Atlas – The Airbus ‘Atlas’ is widely used across European countries. In 2019 it was deployed as a tanker to refuel aircraft German military aircraft.
  • Boeing 747 Dreamlifter – A variation of the much-loved Boeing 747, this supercargo carrier has been employed most recently carrying PPE and other medical equipment used in the fight against Covid-19.

The pros and cons of heavy air cargo

The use of large aircraft for hauling heavy and outsized cargo around the USA and beyond comes with arguments both for and against. The distinct advantages of moving heavy cargo by air include:

  • Time – Air transport is the fastest way of moving oversized cargo, getting it where it needs to be on schedule.
  • Topography – Heavy air charter removes the problem of geographic barriers.
  • Remote locations – Air transport can access areas inaccessible using other forms of transport.
  • Irregular loads – Using large cargo aircraft allows sensitive and oversized cargo such as aircraft and rocket parts, heavy mining equipment, and power transformers to reach their destination with minimum handling.

However, using large cargo carriers also has its own set of considerations, a reliable air cargo charter company is best-placed to advise on every issue involved.

  • Cost – Air is an expensive way of transporting heavy goods.
  • Delays – Moving time-sensitive large air cargo consignments may be affected by weather conditions. Other factors which may delay the movement of goods by air are natural phenomena like the volcanic disruption of air space and man-made hindrances like industrial action.
  • Infrastructure – Extra large aircraft used for transporting oversized cargo bring their own set of requirements such as runway lengths, airport altitude, noise regulations, and lack of appropriate ground-handling facilities or infrastructure at the destination airport.

Interesting facts about specialist air cargo management

Air cargo, whether you’re shipping heavy freight, like a space rocket component to NASA or just a time-sensitive parcel that needs to be in New York or San Francisco by the start of business tomorrow, is a task best overseen by specialist air charter companies. 

The best air charter companies have experienced project managers, who know their business inside-out and can make the best recommendations to suit the client’s needs. They are familiar with unusual requests, they know the rules and regulations that must be followed, and they know how to follow them.

They know everything there is to know about airline container leasing – those metal boxes or netting-wrapped pallets you see being loaded into aircraft at every airport – without which, none of your regular cargo would be going anywhere.

They have to know how heavy is an airplane, what are its cargo dimensions, how long of a runway does it need, and the answers to a thousand other questions that go towards ensuring the timely delivery of not just outsized cargo, but every cargo.

They have to know the best and safest ways to transport a wide range of cargo consignments, heavy and outside loads, hazardous and sensitive materials, livestock such as racehorses, domestic animals, and wildlife. 

They have to project manage and organize the delivery of humanitarian or disaster relief aid where it’s needed. This can involve rapidly arranging urgent flights outside of normal working hours to reach the location in question with a minimum of delay. It can also involve scheduling helicopters to reach remote drop-off locations and the air dropping of other cargo items directly into an affected area.

Additionally, cargo charter companies can also offer an onboard courier service to transport time-sensitive cargo as part of their personal luggage, this ensures that the cargo is delivered directly by hand and without the need for further delivery vehicles or ground couriers.

Whatever you need to move, in the US or right across the world, a professional air cargo charter company can remove the stress and bureaucracy of trying to juggle all of the elements.  Their skilled teams of professionals have all of the experience and know-how needed to successfully negotiate any potential hurdles and ensure your cargo – oversized or regular – arrives safely and on time.

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