According to Ukrainian sources, the world’s largest cargo aircraft, the An-225, was destroyed during a Russian helicopter attack on Hostomel Airport, in the northwestern suburbs of Kyiv. The massive aircraft was nearly as long as a football pitch and was initially designed to transport the Russian space shuttle Buran, which took off in 1989. The oversized aircraft held the records for the heaviest aircraft ever built and the largest wingspan of any aircraft in operational service. Only one such aircraft was ever built, and now it is completely and irremediably destroyed.
The Antonov An-225 Mriya (NATO designation “Cossack”) was a six-engine heavy lift cargo transport aircraft, a behemoth capable of carrying as much as 640 tones of cargo. Development of the first prototype began in 1984 at Antonov Design Bureau (ADB) of Ukraine, at the time a socialist republic part of the USSR.
The behemoth with wings was derived from the An-124 Ruslan (NATO designation “Condor”) with important modifications, including the lengthening of fuselage and wingspan, the addition of two engines, redesign of the tail with twin vertical fins, increase in the number of landing gear tires to 32 and the removal of the rear cargo doors. The An-225 Mriya could fly at a maximum speed of 850km/h and had a range of aircraft varying between 4,000 km and 15,400 km depending on whether it was fully loaded or unloaded. It required a crew of six.
Mriya, which means “dream” or “inspiration” in Ukrainian, was originally meant to transport Buran-class orbiters, the Soviet version of NASA’s space shuttle. The massive aircraft’s mission was to piggyback the Buran to its launch site in Kazakhstan, but there was even a plan to use the Mriya to haul the Soviet shuttle to a high altitude; from there on the shuttle would fire its boosters to accelerate into space. That never happened though. The Buran made its first and only uncrewed launch in 1988 from the ground using a specially designed Energia rocket.
The Buran program was scrapped for good in 1993, two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By this time, the perfectly operational (and very expensive) Mriya was sitting idle, another Soviet white elephant. A decision was made by Antonov Airlines, a Ukrainian cargo airline, to re-engine and modify the giant plane for heavy cargo transport. The rest, is as they say, is history.
In 2009, the AN-225 set a record for the largest single airlifted item, a 189-tonne generator destined for a gas power plant in Armenia. On 11 June 2010, the An-225 carried the world’s longest piece of air cargo, two 42-meter (138 ft) test wind turbine blades from Tianjin, China, to Skrydstrup, Denmark. In more recent history, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the AN-225 performed numerous flights to deliver medical supplies from China all over the world. Unfortunately, the AN-225 has reached the end of the line — and quite tragically too.
We now have confirmation that the Antonov AN-225 was destroyed during the heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces over control of the Hostomel Airport, also known as Antonov Airport, near the Ukrainian capital. Prior to a massive helicopter attack, the airfield was heavily bombarded by missiles. The airport is one of the most hotly contested spots in Ukraine.
“The Russian military destroyed the flagship of the Ukrainian aviation – An-225 Mriya aircraft. As reported on the website of the Ukroboronprom state concern on Sunday, this happened at the Antonov airfield in Hostomel near Kyiv, where the plane was located. Its restoration will cost more than $3 billion and will take a long time. Ukraine will make every effort to ensure that the aggressor state pays for these works,” reads a press statement by the Ukraine News Agency released today.
In the process, the world has lost a legendary airplane, much to the dismay of the Ukrainian people, who regarded it as a national symbol, and aviation enthusiasts the world over. But there may still be hope. Today, the Ukrainian government vowed to rebuild the plane.