A former captain of what was once the largest cargo airplane in the world, the one-of-a-kind Antonov An-225 Mriya, has revealed details about plans to build a second version of the destroyed airplane.
In a two-part interview released on Aerotime Hub, pilot Dmytro Antonov discussed how engineers would use an existing second fuselage of the An-225 to construct a complete airplane. He also offered reasons why the iconic type should return to the skies.
“Everybody knows that we are going to do it, no matter what,” Antonov said. “It is confirmed at the highest political level, so, things are in motion.”
For those who haven’t been following the An-225, the enormous 33-year-old Cold War-era cargo lifter was designed to carry the Soviet space shuttle Buran. In February it was destroyed during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces while parked in a hangar at Ukraine’s Gostomel Airport (UKKM).
The wreckage of the #An225 has been seen by many by now. I still remember seeing it fly over Kyiv last summer – seeing it like this was dramatic. It’s being salvaged for parts that might be useful – maybe we’ll get another Mriya (Dream) someday. pic.twitter.com/3ABtFXfHrC
— Kersti Kaljulaid (@KerstiKaljulaid) June 23, 2022
Owned and operated by Ukraine’s Antonov Company before it was destroyed, the twin-tailed transport with a 290-foot wingspan was powered by six Ivchenko Progress D-18 turbofan engines and could fly up to 250 tons at least 4,000 km (2,159 nm) in about five hours.
Antonov, who isn’t related to the company’s namesake—Soviet designer Oleg Antonov—spoke about initial decisions project managers face. “Now we have to decide which parts of it we can use for its next life. We have to make a step-by-step plan for building the second Mriya. Also, now, before the war ends, we have to start working with potential hardware vendors. We need to calculate the cost of all the equipment that will be installed on the Mriya-2, the cost of the work we are going to put into it.”
Help from Airbus, Boeing, and Others
To minimize the cost of building and testing a new An-225, the airplane “has to be an exact copy of the first Mriya,” Antonov said. “I think even our engineers do not have any doubts about that.” The new version should include modern components that don’t affect aerodynamics, he said. “The latest aircraft—Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus A380, A350—their technology has to be taken into consideration. We have to start working with Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer. We have to look for solutions.”
The Second Airframe
“The second airframe exists, although we can’t talk about its whereabouts right now.” Antonov said 60 percent to 80 percent of the airframe is complete, “depending on how you measure it.”
Details about the new airplane “can only be published after the end of the war. What I can say right now, is that a lot of work has to be done to even start this project.”
#Ukraine‘s President Zelensky thanks the students and employees at “Antonov”, the Ukrainian airline, who created a model of their “Mriya” (Dream) aircraft, the world’s heaviest and with the largest wingspan, which the #Russians destroyed in the first days of the war. pic.twitter.com/AghJdEyh7o
— Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) June 20, 2022
Construction of the second airframe began in the early 1990s, when Mriya’s success as a heavy cargo lifter prompted plans to build three additional An-225s. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, the second An-225 project was abandoned—unfinished and largely forgotten.
In 2018, a second An-225 airframe—presumably from that second aircraft—was photographed sitting in a hangar on the outskirts of Kyiv, according to CNN.
Photos showed the airplane disassembled inside a huge facility, including its fuselage, wings, nose gear, and tail. Now, after the destruction of Mriya, Ukrainian state defense organization Ukroboronprom has estimated that rebuilding the An-225 would cost about $3 billion.
In the interview, the veteran pilot revealed details about additional Antonov aircraft that were destroyed or damaged during fighting at UKKM, including an An-74 twin-engine transport jet and the company’s only Antonov An-26 twin turboprop transport, he said. “As for the damaged aircraft, a decision to restore them has to be taken.” He said two damaged An-124 Ruslans owned by the company remain in Ukraine. Five additional An-124s are located outside the country, he said. “They are conducting flights as usual.”
Producing new parts for the second Mriya could also help to modernize Antonov’s surviving An-124 Ruslans. “In some sense, this might reduce the cost of modernizing [the second] Mriya herself,” he said.
Boeing 747 Versus Antonov An-124
Antonov said the An-124 Ruslan continues to be a relevant cargo platform that can compete with other air lifters. The Boeing 747, for example, “can’t carry the 40-foot shipping containers,” he said. “An-124 can, though.”
“Nothing else comes close to it,” he said. “Even the American Lockheed C-5, which is very similar, is not as well-designed as the Ruslan.”
‘The Most Important Task’
The pilot also said company managers are considering what he called “the most important task”—a large-scale project aimed at reconstructing airport infrastructure at UKKM. Plans have been submitted, including a new cargo terminal, a small passenger terminal. “The base of our company has to be brought back, and the base for testing our aircraft,” he said. “The project is going to be large.”