As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues to wreak havoc in the region, many aviation enthusiasts expressed their disappointment over the destruction of the Soviet-era Antonov An-225 Mriya (Dream), the world’s heaviest and largest aircraft.
The ‘dream’ appears to have been shattered with its nose, wings, and some of its engines badly damaged. Some of the empennages look undamaged from the first look.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) March 4, 2022
“Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya’. But they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free, and democratic European state. We shall prevail!” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.
Earlier, the Russian military seized control of the airport in Gostomel, where the AN-225 was undergoing maintenance. At the time of the attack, the aircraft had one of its engines dismantled for repairs, so it could not take off that, Ukroboronprom, which manages the Antonov company, said in a statement.
It is 84 meters long, with a wingspan of 88.4 meters — the longest of any plane that has ever been in service. With 6 Ivchenko Progress Lotarev D-18T engines, the Mriya can offer a speed of 431.9 knots (800 km/h). It holds the record for the largest single-item payload (of 189979.9 kgs) ever carried.
One of its rival – the American C-17s have the advantage in terms of speed, flexibility with smaller runways, but Mriya was one only of its kind, while more than 279 C-17 Globemaster IIIs have been built.
The An-225 was also used during the pandemic. Vitaliy Shost, Antonov Airlines First Deputy Director had said – “Our company is very proud of the opportunity to contribute and join the fight against the global pandemic. Planning and performing charter flights in the current difficult quarantine conditions imposed by many countries when there are restrictions applied for landing and crew rest permits requires selfless dedication and commitment on the part of all airline staff – from commercial personnel and ops planners in the office to pilots and technicians on board.”
The An-225 was easily the heaviest plane in the world and the only one with six turbofan engines. The aircraft has a cruise speed of 800 Km/h and a payload capacity of 250000 Kg.
The 600,000-pound cargo aircraft was originally built to transport the hardware of the Soviet Union’s space shuttle program.
In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union was pursuing an ambitious space program but was facing a hurdle while building the Buran space shuttle and Energia super-heavy lift launch vehicle.
There was no way to transport the massive hardware to Baikonur Cosmodrome in modern-day Kazakhstan which was thousands of miles away from the airport.
After contemplation, Moscow decided to build an aircraft and gave an official order to Antonov Design Bureau in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.
Antonov named the aircraft An-225, as it would carry 225 tons of internal cargo, although a fully loaded Buran orbiter weighed just over 100 tons and would later be carried on its back.
Antonov engineers decided to use the blueprint of An-124 Ruslan, a large, strategic airlift, four-engined aircraft that was also designed by the Antonov Design Bureau but the idea was to make a much bigger aircraft.
To maintain balance, the front section of the Ruslan’s original fuselage was stretched by eight meters, but the aft section was shortened by one meter to compensate for the plane’s heavy dual stabilizer. Reportedly, the engineers wanted to create a plane not just for transportation purposes but also a flying launchpad for future space vehicles.
It took about four years to complete building the plane, double the time that was previously budgeted. “For the official rollout on November 30, 1988, the specialists had to oil the floors to rotate the aircraft along the centerline of the assembly hall. Because of its gargantuan size, the plane stuck out of the hangar at the start of the ceremony,” stated Anatoly Zak of Popular Mechanics.
The aircraft took its first flight on December 21, 1988, and reportedly set about 110 world records. The Buran orbiter made its first and last flight about a month before the An-225 did. However, the Buran program was suspended due to lack of funds and the political situation in the USSR.
In 1989, the Buran space shuttle was carried on the back of An-225 for the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget. When Russia suffered the Chernobyl disaster, the plane made its maiden visit to the US for bringing back humanitarian aid for the victims. However, the aircraft faced fatal technical issues and was grounded.
In the early 2000s, Antonov Design Bureau revived the aircraft and turned it into an oversized cargo that is still in use, until being destroyed in the Russian military action.