The Antonov An-225 Mriya is an incredibly rare aircraft, with only one ever put into service. There was the intention to build a second, and it was almost completed, until the project was abandoned altogether. For a long time, the only finished An-225 remained operational – that is, until it was destroyed in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Antonov An-225 was developed as part of the space race
The Antonov An-225 was a strategic airlift cargo aircraft with a maximum payload of 250 tons that could be carried either within or on its back. It was powered by six Progress D-18T turbofan engines and held multiple records, including the heaviest aircraft ever built and having the largest wingspan of any aircraft in operational service.
The motivation behind designing such a large aircraft was to support the Soviet space program. It was intended to transport the Buran space shuttle, as well as components of the Energia carrier rocket. It replaced the Myasishchev VM-T Atlant, and served the same function as the Boeing 747 airliner NASA had deployed.
The Soviet Union ordered two An-225 aircraft, but only ever received one.
The collapse of the Soviet Union
Construction on the Antonov An-225 began in the 1980s, with the first aircraft taking to the skies in December 1988. Work on the second began, but the collapse of the Soviet Union brought an end to the Buran space program and halted construction of the second An-225.
Following the Soviet collapse, the need for the An-225 dwindled. The fully built aircraft was no longer required and was placed in storage. The partially built one was also put into storage, as Antonov turned its attention toward building other aircraft.
The first An-225 spent years in storage before being restored for display at airshows and to perform commercial transport flights.
A second Antonov An-225 – Yes? No? Maybe so?
The partially built Antonov An-225 remained in storage for a long time. In September 2006, Antonov intended to restart construction and fully finish the aircraft by 2008. This was delayed and, in August 2009, abandoned, this time at around 60-70 percent completion.
In 2011, murmurs about whether construction would restart were quieted when the Ukrainian Journal reported it would cost $300 million to complete. The CEO of Antonov insisted that starting up production on the second An-225 was not financially viable, as the existing one already had limited operational functions.
2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
The first and only completed An-225 continued providing transportation for different operations, including the collection of COVID-19 testing kits from China, to be dropped off in Denmark. However, in February 2022, the aircraft was destroyed by the Russian forces invading Ukraine. The An-225 was parked at its home base at Antonov Airport, where it was prepared for evacuation.
During the Battle of Antonov Airport, the nearby runway was rendered unusable, and while it was reported the aircraft was intact, that turned out to not be the case.
Following an investigation, it was found the hangar had been significantly damaged by multiple fires. Confirmation of the An-225’s destruction was quickly released, and new footage showed the aircraft damaged, split into nearly two parts. Antonov intends to rebuild the An-225 at Russia’s expense, at a projected cost of around $3 billion USD.
Where the world once had only one An-225, it now has none.