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      Sawyer International welcomes giant Russian cargo jet

      Photo courtesy of Tony Williams

      A Russian AN 124 cargo aircraft landed at Sawyer International Airport Thursday afternoon to pick up some cargo for a client in the Middle East. The plane will be staying at Sawyer through Saturday before making its way to the Middle East. The enormous jet and its crew even attracted some attention from onlookers.

      The 15-year-old Russian Antonov 124 cargo jet is among the largest of its kind. It can carry as much as 430 tons (about 860,000 pounds), but the cargo this plane from Polet Airlines is picking up at Sawyer is relatively light--about 100 tons of cargo and 100 tons of fuel. It's here to retrieve large pipes that will be used for the oil industry in the Middle East. The pipes are made in Milwaukee, but the AN 124 is too big to land at their airport, so they decided to land at Sawyer. The cargo was shipped to Escanaba from Milwaukee and trucked the rest of the way to Sawyer.

      The Russians were introduced to Sawyer by an associate at American Eagle Airlines.

      "It's a long runway with a large amount of concrete. The oversize loads that they would typically's all a perfect airport for them to operate out of," said Steve Rodgers, Director of Base and Contract Maintenance for American Eagle Airlines.

      Sawyer also offers convenience for picking up all kinds of cargo.

      "Sawyer has ideal location right on Lake Superior, so cargo can be brought to here by road or on the barge," said Alexey Ozerov, Vice President of Polet Airlines.

      With a wingspan of more than 240 feet and a total height of 68 feet, the AN 124 is the second largest serially-manufactured cargo aircraft in the world. Because of the jet's massive size, taxiing across large high traffic airports can be highly inconvenient and sometimes take hours. At Sawyer, that's not the case.

      "Here it took us only three minutes after touchdown. We turned left and right; here we have a parking spot," Ozerov said.

      The plane flew to Sawyer from Maryland. It will depart with its cargo and 17 member crew on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. The crew will make stops in Canada, Scotland, and Turkey before reaching their final destination of Oman on Tuesday.