Antonov An-225 : a "Dream" that has been reality for 30 years


Exactly 30 years ago, On December 21st, 1988, the largest aircraft in the world took off, and no other aircraft ever produced has been able to uncrown it.

The creation of An-225 Mriya (Dream in Ukrainian) was due to the need to develop a transport aircraft for the Soviet space shuttle program "Buran".

The mission of the aircraft would be to transport the components of the "Energia" rockets and "Buran" space shuttle from the assembly facility to the cosmodrome.

However, the development was delayed because of several problems and the An-225 could not be used in the Energia - Buran project. In fact, the space shuttle Buran had made its first and only flight before An-225 was put in service.

Instead of An-225, the VM-T aircraft was used to perform the tasks initially planned for the An-225.

The participation of An-225 in the project was limited to transporting the Buran from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to the Paris Air and Space Show in 1989.

The possibility of using the An-225 to launch spacecraft from the air was also contemplated, but it was not proven in the end.

The first flight of the An-225 had been scheduled for December 20, 1988, but because of the bad weather, it was delayed until the 21st.

Due to the great uniformity with the An-124, which has already passed extensive tests and whose impurities were purified, test pilots hardly faced any problem apart from a small engine failure, but it wasn't a big concern since the aircraft had five more engines.

The Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov was responsible for the development of this unique aircraft. However, there were many companies throughout the Soviet Union and thousands of people who participated, directly and indirectly, in the project.

While some parts were manufactured and the final assembly of the An-225 was carried out in Ukraine, its wings came from Uzbekistan, its internal equipment from Moscow, the landing gear from Nizhny Novgorod, etc.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the only completed unit of the An-225 stopped flying in 1994. Its engines were disassembled and installed in an An-124 Ruslan from Russian Air Force.

In the 2000s its usefulness became apparent, and the aircraft was modified and modernized to comply with the civil aviation laws. Today, the An-225 belongs to Antonov Airlines, a Ukrainian freighter operator, which is part of the design office Antonov.

Although it was conceived with very specific objectives, the An-225 turned out to be a quite universal transport aircraft performing challenging tasks.

These include the following:

  • Transport of large cargo up to 250 tons.

  • Continental transport between 180 and 200 tons.

  • Intercontinental cargo transport up to 150 tons.

  • One piece cargo transport on the external anchor with a maximum weight of 200 tons.

The large size of the cargo bay and its power allow the An-225 Mriya to transport up to 16 universal containers of 10 tons or 50 cars.

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The plane has two upper decks. One of them, which is just behind the cockpit, is the crew rest area.

The second deck is not directly connected to the first deck and is located behind the wings, where up to 80 crew members can travel supervising the loading.

Another important aspect of the cargo bay of the Mriya is the fact that it has a pressurized cabin, which expands its transport capacity greatly.

Although An-225 can carry the largest cargo in the world and receives orders regularly, An-224 Ruslan gets more orders than the An-225 Mriya, since Ruslan has more units available. In case of technical failures, it can be replaced by another one. But Mriya is the still only one to perform more massive and riskier tasks.

At present, there is only one An-225 flying unit, but there is a second unit that was built on 70%. The possibility of completing it is still on the table, but so far no company expressed interest in participating in the project, which has already lasted for almost 30 years.