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The Antonov An-225 cargo plane swallows a semi-trailer truck at Edmonton International Airport on Wednesday. ((Niall McKenna/CBC))

An Edmonton firm is using a giant Antonov cargo plane to transport helicopters to Afghanistan for the United States military.

The Ukrainian-operated Antonov An-225 cargo plane, contracted by Canadian Helicopters, began loading helicopters and parts at Edmonton International Airport Wednesday.

In total, 50 tonnes of cargo is being transported in support of the NATO coalition mission in Afghanistan, where the helicopters will be used to carry personnel and equipment.

The big payload requires a big aircraft, said Don Wall, president and CEO of Canadian Helicopters.

"The basic idea is to keep people and equipment off Afghani roads and in the air where they’ll be safer," said Wall. He said the Antonov will carry a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter, two Bell 212 helicopters and 40 tonnes of support equipment to Afghanistan on its massive payload deck.

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This Antonov An-225 plane was at the Edmonton International Airport Wednesday. ((CBC))

In early April, that equipment will be joined by another S-61N helicopter, which is coming from Australia.

Canadian Helicopters employs 600 people across Canada, with about 80 employees in Edmonton and another 50 in Afghanistan.

The firm has a longstanding relationship with the U.S. and Canadian military. The company provides maintenance, airworthiness support and training to Canadian Forces helicopter squadrons, and advanced operational and mountain flying training. The company also offers helicopter services to a broad range of non-military sectors in Canada and around the world, including emergency medical services, infrastructure maintenance, utilities, oil and gas, mining, forestry and construction.

The Antonov An-225 is the largest fixed-wing aircraft in the world. It can carry ultra-heavy and oversize freight, up to 250,000 kilograms and up to 70 metres long.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story described the Antonov An-225 as Russian built. In fact, the aircraft is designed and operated out of Ukraine.
    Mar 31, 2010 6:35 AM MT