A truly unique aircraft in aviation history
The Antonov An-225 Mriya (Dream) was truly a unique aircraft. It was designed in the 1980's by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It was primarily designed as the transporter for the Soviet Space shuttle orbiters called the 'Buran'. What made it unique was the fact that it was (and still is at the time of writing) the heaviest aircraft ever built and had the largest wingspan of any aircraft in operational service. The aircraft was extremely unusual as it had six massive Ivchenko Progress Lotarev D-18T turbofan engines mounted on its wings, a main landing gear with 28 wheels, a dual nose gear with 4 wheels and a twin tail. There was only one operational An-225 ever built. Therefore, it was extremely rare to see the aircraft in person. Because of its rarity, it always inspired aviation enthusiasts to come out and see it whenever it was scheduled to arrive and depart wherever it was.
The An-225's maiden flight was on December 21st, 1988. Its first public appearance was at the 1989 Paris Airshow carrying a Buran Space Shuttle. The aircraft was operated from 1988 to 1991 purely as a transporter for the Buran Space Shuttle. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Buran Space Shuttle program ended and the aircraft was subsequently mothballed. In 2001, it was brought out of long term storage by the newly formed Antonov Airlines for use in its growing oversized cargo business. Antonov Airlines began operating the aircraft as a super large cargo transporter in 2002.
The An-225 held several records beyond its size and weight. In 2009, it achieved the record of carrying the single largest cargo item, a 420,000lb generator for a gas power plant in Armenia. In 2010, it carried the longest single piece of cargo ever, a 139ft wind turbine blade from China to Denmark. In 2017, it was one of the most expensive cargo aircraft available for charter in the world market costing over $30,000 per hour.
The destruction of the aircraft
The last flight of the An-225 was on February 5th, 2022 from Tianjin, China to Billund, Denmark. On February 24th, 2022, the aircraft was totally destroyed at the beginning of the Russia/Ukraine conflict while stored in its hangar at its home base; during what would become known as the Battle of Antonov Airport. Several photos surfaced in the aftermath of the battle showing the extensive battle damage of the aircraft. Its is apparent from the photos that the extensive damage the aircraft suffered is beyond the economic viability to repair.
The future of the An-225
Only one fully operational An-225 was ever constructed. A second slightly different aircraft was partially constructed during the 1980's. However, construction ceased when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Antonov Design Bureau was subsequently unable to secure funding (reportedly over 300 million dollars) to complete that aircraft. Renewed interest in completing the second An-225 airframe resurfaced in 2022 after the original aircraft was declared destroyed. At the time of writing, the current condition of that remaining airframe is unknown. At this time, the future of the An-225 is also unknown. The Antonov Design bureau that constructed the first aircraft and who would presumably complete the remaining fuselage are effectively out of business until the current conflict is resolved.