Gibson was right—the plane was a one-of-a-kind giant. The Antonov An-225 was originally built in 1988 to carry the Soviet “Buran” space shuttle. It has since been used as a super heavy lift transport.
Although movie magic set the An-225 on fire in Fast and Furious, the plane survived Hollywood, the Soviet space program, and the life of a cargo workhorse. But it could not survive the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Reports vary, but after missile strikes, a helicopter attack and fierce ground fighting, the An-225 seems to be just another casualty of war.
The AN-225 was down for repairs when the Russians attacked. Caught on the ground in its special hanger, the An-225 Mriya was severely damaged in the Russian assault on Antonov Airport. Satellite images of the airport showed fire and considerable damage to the AN-225 hangars. The international cargo airport outside Kyiv, also known as Hostomel Airport, was the site of bitter fighting this week. The Russians have said they are targeting airfields, military bases and other Ukranian infrastructure.
The An-225 was hardly the only casualty at Hostomel. The death of Russian General Magomed Tushayev, head of a ‘motorized regiment’ of the Chechnya National Guard, was confirmed by Ukrainian news services. Killed by the elite Ukrainian Alpha unit, Tushayev was a warlord and advisor to Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Tushayev was also widely known for terrorizing the Chechnyaa LGBTQ+ community.
As for the An-225, it was a significant economic asset to the Ukrainian state. Its owners vow it will be rebuilt and the $3 billion bill sent to Russia.
While that may seem a doubtful proposition, the Antonov An-225 cargo jet was truly one of a kind. The super heavy-lift cargo plane was designed and built by Antonov Design Bureau (ADB) of Ukraine for the Soviet Space Shuttle program, to fly the “Buran” to its launch facility. The An-225, whose “Mriya” nickname translates to ‘dream’ or ‘inspiration,’ first flew in December 1988.
Based on the four-engine An-124 cargo craft, two An-225 prototypes designed for six turbofan jet engines were built, although only one was completed and put into service. The aircraft was stored from 1994 to 2000 after the demise of the Soviet Union and its space shuttle program. It has been operated by Antonov as a commercial cargo carrier since 2001.
The aircraft had a wingspan of 290 feet and a potential loaded weight of 640,000kg (1,410,958lbs). The landing gear had some 32 wheels to support the great loads the Mriya could carry. Its onboard crane could lift 30,000 kilograms. Loads included trains, up to fifty cars, enormous power transformers, turbine blades and helicopters. In its brief time carrying the “Buran” space shuttle the AN-225 dwarfed the Boeing 747 given similar duty in the U.S. The AN-225 also makes the Airbus A380, whose freight version was never built, look small.
Even the motto of “Antonov Airlines” was big; “No Other Name Carries More Weight.” Over the last few years, it flew humanitarian cargo missions around the world, including carrying desperately needed COVID-19 supplies. Depending on configuration and mission, its range was between 4000 and 15,000 km.
Over its thirty-year career, it attracted attention at every airport it visited. According to Antonov, the AN-225 set 240 records, including two Guinness World Records for the aircraft with the heaviest take-off weight, as well as the largest wingspan of any aircraft flying. It even became a favorite of Hollywood, staring in films like 2012 as well as Fast and Furious.
The Antonov Company said on Twitter it could not confirm the damage to the plane. “Currently, until the AN-225 has been inspected by experts, we cannot report on the technical condition of the aircraft,” the company wrote.
But state-owned defense corporation Ukroboronprom declared the AN-225 lost. “Russia has targeted Mriya as a symbol of the capabilities of Ukrainian aviation,” its statement read. “The occupiers destroyed the plane, but they will not be able to destroy our common dream. She will definitely be reborn.”
“It is estimated that this will take more than $3 billion and more than five years. Our task is to ensure that these costs are covered by the Russian Federation, which caused intentional damage to Ukrainian aviation and the air cargo sector.”
The apparent destruction of the AN-225 comes almost two decades after the only Buran to fly into space was destroyed. Another symbol of the vanished Soviet Union that Vladimir Putin dreams of reconstituting, the Buran ignominiously met its end as the result of a hangar collapse in May 2002.
Despite the loss, Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, “This was the world’s largest aircraft, AN-225 ‘Mriya’ (‘Dream’ in Ukrainian). 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!”