Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, one critical airport has been the site of a days long battle. In all of the fighting the world-famous one-off Antonov An-225 Mriya has been confirmed to have been destroyed. How bad the destruction of the world’s largest aircraft remains in question, but the country has hopeful news.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been heartbreaking and angering in its human toll. It has also been inspiring at times in the resolve and determination of Ukrainian people to repel the forces invading their territory. One of the areas that Ukraine has been fighting for is Hostomel Airport, also known as Antonov International Airport and Gostomel Airport. The field has strategic value as it could deliver troops and equipment to Kyiv in just minutes.
The airport is named after and owned by Antonov, the manufacturer of the iconic Antonov An-225 and other aircraft of all sizes. Antonov Airlines, a subsidiary cargo airline, operates from the field.
The airport is also the home base for the Antonov An-225 Mriya (Мрія in Ukrainian for “dream”). It’s an aircraft that, despite having taken its first flight over 33 years ago, remains the largest cargo aircraft and holds a few records for its incredible cargo carrying capability.
Here’s a recap on why this aircraft is so beloved by aviation fans all over the world:
[T]his plane was designed for an entirely different purpose that never really materialized: Lift large, heavy components for the Soviet space program.
In the 1980s the Soviet Union was developing its own version of America’s Space Shuttle Program. However, the Soviets experienced some road bumps. The sizable components of the advanced Buran orbiter and its Energia rockets could not be transported by ground transport. Instead, these components were produced in the west and flown to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the east to be launched.
At first, the parts were bolted onto the back of old bombers. But this setup wasn’t ideal as the bombers weren’t designed for the task, the components had to shed a lot of weight.
The Americans had already figured out an answer: Take a used Boeing 747, strip it down and then reinforce it for the task of carrying the Space Shuttle orbiter. The Soviets tried a similar solution. They used the Antonov An-124 but even though the An-124 was the largest transport in the world, regularly hauling things like trains and huge generators, they needed it to be even bigger.
I wrote about this aircraft’s epic history last year. The aircraft holds the record for heaviest single-item payload at 418,830 lbs and an airlifted total payload of 559,580 lb. The Antonov An-225 has carried locomotives, massive power plant generators and even lengthy wind turbine blades.
It’s the plane to carry the cargo that no other plane could.
And now, according to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister and confirmed by Antonov, the Dream has been destroyed.
The aircraft was thought to have been destroyed days ago, but reports were unconfirmed, and a Captain for Antonov said that it was in fact intact. However, the aircraft’s unfortunate fate has been confirmed.
As of now, there are no confirmed images of the plane’s destruction, and Antonov says that the exact condition of the aircraft cannot be ascertained until an inspection is completed.
As Ukraine state arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom notes, the aircraft wasn’t able to leave the area before the battle because it was parked for repairs with one engine removed.
Ukraine does give hope. It says that the plane will be rebuilt. It’s unknown what that rebuild will look like, but in a worst-case scenario, Antonov actually has a second airframe off-site. A second aircraft was ordered by the Soviet Union but never completed. That unfinished aircraft was an evolution of the An-225 with improvements like a rear-opening cargo door, but the project has been shelved repeatedly over 30 years due to a lack of funds and interest.
Hopefully, one day we will see those glorious wings taking to the skies once again. This story will be updated with new and confirmed information as it comes.