The Fight is On: How Ukraine is planning to rebuild the world's largest plane

AN-225 took its first flight in 1988. AFP

When Russian forces destroyed Ukraine’s Antonov AN-225 – the world’s largest plane – in February 2022, its manufacturers said that “the dream will never die.”

Now it seems that they are staying true to their word as plans for rebuilding the plane, which has been nicknamed ‘Mriya’ – the Ukrainian word for dream – is underway.

The state-owned Antonov Company posted a statement on Facebook saying, “Currently, construction work in this direction has begun.”

The statement added that more information will be shared “after Ukraine’s victory in the war.”

Let’s take a closer look at the glory of Mriya and how Ukraine plans to rebuild it.

About Antonov AN-225

The largest plane to be ever built, Mriya was originally developed to facilitate the transportation of the Buran shuttle orbiter and the Energia rocket of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Mriya made its first flight in 1988 when it took off from the factory aerodrome in Svyatoshyn. The plane, with its six engines, 32 wheels and a wingspan of over 88 metres, was flown by a crew that was headed by Oleksandr Galunenko. During its prime years, the plane had an operational range of 15,400 km and a cruise speed of 800 km per hour.

The Fight is On How Ukraine is planning to rebuild the worlds largest plane

Mriya is the largest plane to be ever built till date. AFP

Originally known by its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) operation code ‘Cossack’, AN-225 was expected to be used as a flying space launching site in the reusable aerospace transport system (MAKS). The plane held the capacity to deliver extra-heavy oversize cargo to any location by carrying it inside the fuselage – the main body of an aircraft – or in external stores.

According to a report by CNN, AN-225 was known for holding the record of being the heaviest aircraft to be ever built to date. Its builder, Antonov, claims that Mriya has held around 242 world records since it started flying in 1988.

Mriya entered commercial service in 2001, reports The National News.

The plane also served a duty during the coronavirus pandemic. In April 2020, the plane was commissioned to deliver a large load of medical equipment and protective gear between China and Poland, according to a report by Kyiv Post.

Mriya has an Indian connection too. The plane touched down at Hyderabad’s Shamshabad airport in 2016 while it was en route to Perth to deliver a 117-tonne of power generator from the Czech Republic to an Australian mine.

How was it destroyed?

The destruction of the AN-225 was announced on 27 February 2022 and the news was not well received by aviation enthusiasts among whom the aircraft enjoyed near cult status.

After its attack, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, “Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya’… but they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state.”

At the time of its destruction, the Antonov Company was not able to verify the extent of its damage. However, a CNN journalist who was present at the site noted that the nose of the plane had apparently taken “a direct artillery hit” and was “completely destroyed”.

A statement released by the manufacturers said, “According to the director of Antonov Airlines, one of the engines was dismantled for repairs, and the plane wasn’t able to take off that day, although the appropriate commands were given.”

According to a report by The Eurasian Times, Russian troops had taken over the Gostomel Airport, where the AN-225 was stationed in a hangar soon after the invasion began.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Fire Information for Resource Management System detected that there were multiple fires at the airport, including the hangar. According to NASA data, the fire at the hangar was detected at around 11:13 am.

The Fight is On How Ukraine is planning to rebuild the worlds largest plane

A picture shows the destroyed Ukrainian Antonov An-225 “Mriya” cargo aircraft, which was the largest plane in the world. AFP

Following the attack, the Interior Minister, Monastyrsky revealed that the Gostomel Airport was strategically chosen as the staging ground for the Russian troops to launch an attack against Kyiv. He said, “The initial idea was that cargo planes with paratroopers and vehicles would land here, and it should’ve been an entrance point to Kyiv.”

The plan to rebuild Mriya

As mentioned before, the manufacturers of the Antonov AN-225 cargo plane posted a statement on Facebook confirming that the reconstruction work has already begun.

The company estimates a cost of at least $500 million to rebuild the giant aircraft and even said that the cost could grow further as it was “too early” to specify the actual cost.

According to a report by Bloomberg, it is not yet clear how the reconstruction project would be funded amid a faltering Ukrainian economy which is currently under stress due to Russia’s assault.

Antonov said that assessments made by experts suggest that about 30 per cent of the components from the original plane can be used in building a new version of the plane.

The manufacturer’s parent company, state-run Ukroboronprom initially said that the restoration would take more than five years to complete.

With inputs from agencies

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