HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s something you don’t see every day in South Mississippi. The behemoth Ukrainian-made Antonov 124-100 cargo plane is parked at Stennis International Airport after dropping off a Rolls-Royce engine for testing out at Stennis Space Center.
“Rolls-Royce actually has two testbeds over at Stennis Space Center where they utilize the acoustic buffer zone and they do all of their research and development at their outdoor facility,” said Janel Carothers, Hancock County chief development officer. “So, acoustics, bringing it to different atmospheric conditions and really pushing the engines to see how far they can go.”
As for how far the Antonov can go, it’s more about how much it can carry, which is more than 264,000 pounds of cargo. It’s one of a fleet of seven An-124-100 planes operated by Antonov Airlines, and it’s at Stennis, doing its part to keep Hancock County’s economic machine soaring.
"We have six major aerospace tenants,” Carothers added. “Tyonek Corporation is one of our major ones. They do maintenance repair and overhaul on all of the C-130s of the DOD fleet right now. We’ve also seen that employment grow by over 20% from 2017-19.
Stennis Space Center is what’s known as a federal city, and any good functioning city needs a good functioning airport, and that’s what the airport provides.
Boeing also has a piece of the action at the airport. Right now, several of the company’s V-22 Osprey aircraft are on site being prepped for delivery. So, if Stennis is a federal city, the airport and industrial park are part of its suburbs.
"Back a few decades ago, we had the foresight to locate our two major industrial parks right outside Stennis’s acoustical buffer zone, so the runway is the border of that, and at the southern edge is Port Bienville,” Carothers said.
Now, the hope is for more expansion at the airport and beyond, so more big planes like the Antonov can bring in big results for the area’s economy. Those expansion planes include another runway parallel to the current runway for military training and increased space at the airport hangar.