HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - People in Huntsville got to climb aboard one of the biggest cargo planes in the world on Wednesday. It's known as the 'Antonov AN124' and it's not new. In fact, it's decades old, but it's a big deal for big industry in Huntsville, the state of Alabama and the world.
If you don't find the topic of cargo shipping particularly fascinating, you should spend an hour with Matthias Frey. As he climbs the metal steps aboard the Volga-Dnepr operated Antonov AN124, Frey knows every inch of the Ukrainian built freighter.
"But, it's super well maintained," Frey said addressing the ongoing efforts to keep the aircraft flying and operating into the next decades.
On this day, a handful of people were invited to Panalpina to step inside the massive cargo plane, which was about to load several tons heading to Angola.
"I know, for now, it serves a big purpose," Port of Huntsville board of directors chairman Carl Gessler said.
Frey says as reliable as the Antonov has been for around 40 years, the fleet of Volga-Dnepr heavy freighter's are undergoing modernization efforts to remain as a mainstay to industry. Company leaders hope improvements to the planes will help them to operate for another 25 years.
"They're not building them commercially anymore," Frey said discussing the importance for the modernization to support the aerospace and other industries in the Huntsville and Alabama region.
There are about two dozen Antonov AN124s still flying globally. Huntsville and Panalpina leaders count on it to ship rocket, helicopters, industrial and military parts in an out of town. Building more of the aircraft would give Frey plenty more to talk about, not that it's a challenge.
The next largest jet after the Antonov AN124 is the Boeing 747-8, which also flies in and out of Huntsville.