Antonov An-225: Ukraine says the aviation giant will soar again

Hostomail, Ukraine (CNN) The sheared nose cone of the turrets of an Antonov An-225 cargo plane over Yevhen Pashinsky.

Known affectionately as Mriya, or “the dream,” the Leviathan was the pride of Ukraine and the 38-year-old Bashynsky, one of its pilots.

This is the first time Bashynsky returns to see what is left of Mriya.

“It’s very hard to be here and see all this situation. A destroyed plane, destroyed hangars. It’s very difficult to see,” he says.

In the first hours of the war, elite Russian paratroopers descended on Antonov Airport, a major cargo airport in Hostomel, northwest of Kiev. It was supposed to be a fulcrum for attacking the capital. The attack did not go as planned. The Russian forces inside the airfield were surrounded, with no chance of quickly introducing reinforcements.

Word quickly spread in aviation circles that Almeria had been damaged in the fighting. When Ukrainian forces retook the airport, the extent of the destruction became clear.

Ukraine’s Security Service said on Wednesday that a joint investigation had been launched with the National Police into the failure of the former head of the state-owned Antonov Corporation to order the planned evacuation of the plane to safety in Germany.

An Antonov An-225 was destroyed in the early hours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in February 2022.

When it flew, Mriya was built for aviation excellence: the world’s heaviest aircraft; longest wingspan of any active transporter; six turboprops with over 50,000 lb-ft of thrust each; Carrying capacity of 250 tons.

Only one flight has been completed, first flying in 1988. It was designed to carry the Buran spacecraft — the Soviet Union’s answer to NASA’s space shuttle — on its back. But after the independence of Ukraine, Antonov Plane renovation many times.

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In the early 2000s, Mriya started working again as a commercial venture. Since its slow beginnings, it has found an important niche, says Ruslan Bykovits, executive director of Antonov’s freight division.

Satellites, electrical transformers, water delivery after the hurricane – the Ukrainian giant moved it all, he says. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has transported vital medical cargo.

Flying on the Mriya “was like feeling part of something great,” says pilot Yevgeny Pashinsky.

The Antonov An-255 is also known as Mriya, or “the dream”.

Pilot Pashinsky says the plane was a challenge to maneuver on the ground, but fun to fly — with a large following of aviation enthusiasts.

“You know it was like feeling part of something great. You were touching something great,” he says.

“It was also a big responsibility because you got so much attention. After a few days of traveling, you can open YouTube and see everything you’ve done.”

In May last year, President Volodymyr Zelensky, sensing symbolic importance for his country, said that Ukraine would rebuild the plane.

Antonov officials say another An-225 was partially built – but abandoned in the 1990s due to lack of funds. The current plan is to use what they already have as the basis for a new aircraft.

Engineers and technicians were scouring the wreck of the Mriya in Hostomel to extract useful parts. Antonov designer Valery Kostyuk says they will eventually remove one of its giant wings in an effort to restore it.

“The plane will be equipped with modern engines. New electronic equipment will be installed on board. Well-known companies will participate,” he says.

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What companies and how Ukraine will bear to build the plane is not clear, or not disclosed by company officials. It is impossible to say exactly how much it would cost to rebuild the aircraft, but some estimates are closer to US$1 billion. Bykovits, the CEO of Antonov, knows it wouldn’t be a top priority for a war-torn country.

However, he says, it must be done.

“This plane is a symbol of Ukraine,” he says. “It’s a symbol like the Burj Khalifa or the Statue of Liberty.”

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