After days of uncertainty, new footage from Gostomel Airport is showing that the unique Antonov An-225 “Mriya” (Dream) is completely destroyed.
The war in Ukraine is continuing unabated, its human cost rising every day. We do not wish to draw attention away from the main, devastating face of this war. But this plane, its development and continued use in the past few years have made it a symbol for Ukraine and its people. The An-225 Mriya is well-named.
A few days ago, official sources in Ukraine confirmed the aircraft’s destruction. Grainy footage suggested that a fire had devastated the aircraft’s hangar. But not everyone agreed. The Antonov company declined any definitive statement on the plane’s condition until its experts can inspect it. Then a day later, satellite footage seemed to show that the distinctive tail of the Antonov An-225 Mriya was intact.
Real State Of The An-225 Mriya
So many hoped that the aircraft sat further back in the hangar, and might have survived the fire. Unfortunately, new video footage from the ground, shows that a large proportion of the aircraft’s fuselage sits crumpled and burned. The Antonov Airport (UKKM), also called Gostomel Airport, is still in Russian hands. But even if Antonov’s personnel could access the aircraft, it’s difficult to see how it could be anything other than a total loss.
The Antonov An-225 Mriya is a product of the cold war, in the days of the Soviet Union. But both this plane and the An-124 “Ruslan” that it is derived from, are newer than some people realize. The smaller (but still huge) An-124 first flew in 1982. This plane is similar in size to the American Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. It also shares many features, like the front and rear ramps and “squatting” landing gear.
The bigger An-225 Mriya flew in 1988. As we previously saw, this plane had a dedicated role as a transporter for the Buran orbiter, for the Soviet space program. But many people don’t realize that it also had to carry other elements of the Energia rocket. So the An-225 wasn’t just the equivalent of NASA’s 747-100s that carried the Space Shuttle. It also served the role of NASA’s Super Guppy. The Soviets had already tried carrying such components with smaller planes. They were marginal, at best.
A Space Program Aircraft
There were even plans to air-launch vehicles to space, using an even bigger derivative of the An-225 Mriya. This was the Antonov AKS project. It would have involved two An-225 fuselages, a new wing joining them – plus up to 18 jet engines! Obviously, this idea didn’t get very far. But interestingly, it isn’t far from NASA’s original idea for carrying the Space Shuttle. That would have involved two Boeing B-52 fuselages. The Stratolaunch Roc is a modern version of the same idea.
Both the An-124 Ruslan and the An-225 Mriya became vital cargo vehicles, for oversize loads. Interestingly, the An-225 originally lacked key equipment, that would enable it to carry cargo internally, because of its original role. Obviously, the aircraft later got most of this equipment as a retrofit. But one omission, in particular, was impossible to recover.
When Antonov redesigned the aircraft’s tail, to make room for the Buran, they deleted the rear cargo door. This was to simplify the design and save weight. So unlike the An-124, the An-225 Mriya can only load cargo from the front. The fuselage itself is otherwise very similar in dimensions to that of the An-124. That’s apart from its length, of course.
A Second An-225 Mriya
Over the years, there have been many efforts to upgrade the plane further. Both Russia and Ukraine wanted to restart the production of the An-124. The An-225 Mriya has the same Progress D-18T engines as its smaller brother. Motor Sich is in charge of maintaining these engines. This company is also Ukrainian, in Zaporizhzhia, further east.
There have been suggestions over the years, to replace these engines with either Russian or American (e.g. GE CF6) designs. And as many aviation fans know, there is a second, partly-built An-225 Mriya. This one is at a different Antonov facility, closer to Kyiv. However, the present status of this facility, and that fuselage, is not known at this time.
Before Russia’s invasion of Crimea, there was once a joint Russian and Ukrainian project, to restart An-124 production and maybe even finish the second An-225 Mriya. Alas, current developments make the prospect of such a partnership unthinkable. There are many An-124 Ruslans in Russian service, with company Volga-Dnepr.
Interest in completing the second An-225 has come from many sources over the years. Hopefully, when the people of Ukraine can return to some semblance of normality, building, rebuilding and/or restoring one or more flying dream, will become a possibility.