Hundreds of people jet around the globe every year just to have a glimpse at this behemoth of engineering marvel. What’s even more fascinating, is the fact that it isn’t any off-the-hook, experimental program or any next-generation stealth fighter-not even close.
This is the world’s largest cargo aircraft and the only one of its kind to have been ever built to date.
The AN-225 MRIYA – which translates to ”dream” or ”inspiration” in Ukrainian, was a strategic airlift freighter craft designed in the 1980s by the Antonov Design Bureau in Soviet Ukraine.
The Mriya has always been notorious for transporting “off-beat” cargo like an entire locomotive, giant turbines, massive generators and sometimes even ready-to-eat meals for an entire army.
It is also worth noting that the mighty Mriya only made 2 flights per year.
The bigger question though, was why would the world need an aircraft as monstrous as the AN-225?
Travelling back in history just might give us an insight.
How it all began..
In the early 1980s, Soviet engineers began scouting for ways to transport the Buran Space shuttle and Energia super rocket. Apparently, the existing infrastructure at the time proved to be no match in handling the massive size of the new space hardware.
Interestingly, no Soviet aircraft at the time could handle such a payload. The Mi-26 chopper, with its capacity to lift to 26 tons, was no match for the massive payload either. So, what could the engineers do then?
Initially, the An-124 Ruslan was chosen for the task but further tests quickly showed that even a partially assembled Buran and components of its rocket carried on its back would mess up the airflow around the plane’s giant vertical stabilizer. A 7-meter extension of Ruslan’s fuselage was proposed although the idea was squashed again.
With no plans of giving up, Moscow now began focussing on an even bigger plane- which led to the birth of the project known by the codename ‘Article-400,’- that metamorphosed into what we now popularly know as the An-225.
The birth of the beast
The lead designer of the An-225 and the An-124 was Viktor Tolmachev. The design of Antonov An-225 Mriya had been selected on basis of heavy transport aircraft- the An-124 Ruslan.
The An-225 had fuselage barrel extensions added to the fore and aft of the wings. The centre section of the Ruslan’s wing was re-engineered to accommodate three engines, as opposed to two. The number of landing gear assemblies on the sides of the fuselage was increased from 10 to 14, and the three last rows of wheels were steerable so the giant plane could make a turn on a runway.
The forward section of the Ruslan was stretched by 8 meters while the aft section was reduced by 1 meter to compensate for the plane’s heavy dual stabilizer.
An increased-capacity landing gear system with 32 wheels was designed, some of which are steerable, enabling the aircraft to turn within a 60-metre-wide (200 ft) runway. Furthermore, the An-225 had a nose gear designed to “kneel” so that cargo could be more easily loaded and unloaded.
Unlike the An-124, the An-225 was not intended for tactical airlifting and was not designed for short-field operations.
The full-scale development of Antonov An-225 Mriya took about three and a half years, almost more than twice the time it was initially set to take. The final aircraft weighed about 640 tons in fully loaded conditions and stood so massively tall that it had to be placed diagonally inside its final assembly hall.
On December 21, 1988, test pilot Aleksandr Galunenko lifted Mriya off Gostomel airfield near Kyiv for the first time.
At the time of its debut, the An-225 was christened “MRIYA”- “dream” in Ukrainian, and this was perhaps the first time that a Soviet aircraft received a Ukrainian name.
A second An-225, with a slightly different configuration, was partially built during the late 1980s for the Soviet space program. A lack of funding and interest initially stalled the program mid-way although it was restored by 60–70% later on.
Mriya holds the absolute world record for an airlifted single-item payload of 189,980 kg and an airlifted total payload of 253,820 kg.
On 11 August 2009, a generator for a gas power plant in Armenia along with its loading frame was loaded onto the An-225-the heaviest single cargo item ever sent by air freight.
On 11 June 2010, the An-225 carried the world’s longest piece of air cargo-two 42.1 m test wind turbine blades from China to Denmark.
Facts and figures
The maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of An-225 is 640 tons, which is about 80 tons more than the MTOW of an Airbus A380.
The Mriya celebrated its 25th anniversary on the 21st of December 2013, while it received its type certificate from the Interstate Aviation Committee Aviation Register (IAC AR) on 23rd May, 2001.
It was assigned resources and a lifetime of 20,000 flight hours, 4000 flights translating to 45 years of operation at the time.
However, sadly enough, there have been reports of the An-225 being damaged amidst the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Regardless, the Ukrainian government has stated that it would re-build the iconic aircraft and this time, at the Russian’s expense.
The restoration is estimated to take over 3 billion USD and over five years. Our task is to ensure that these costs are covered by the Russian Federation, which has caused intentional damage to Ukraine’s aviation and the air cargo sectora press release by Ukroboronprom-(Antonov’s parent organisation), on 27 February 2022
Over the entire period of operation since 1992 aircraft Antonov An-225 Mriya was carried about 20 500 tons of cargo including more than 2500 tons in 2013.
COVER: AeroTime Hub