The largest commercial cargo plane has been destroyed by Russian soldiers during fighting at an airport outside Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian government’s official Twitter account.
The Antonov AN-225, nicknamed Mriya, or “Dream,” had six engines, could carry 225 tons of cargo and consumed about 20 tons of fuel per hour of flight.
“Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya.’. But they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state. We shall prevail!” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kulebo wrote on Twitter.
The Ukrainian government said Russia burned the plane during its assault of the Antonov airfield in Gostomel, on the outskirts of the capital city. The Antonov Company, which originally built the gargantuan plane and has been operating it for 20 years, said it can’t verify its condition.
“Currently, until the AN-225 has been inspected by experts, we cannot report on the technical condition of the aircraft,” it said in a separate tweet.
A Ukrainian defense industry association said the AN-225 will be restored at Russia’s expense, which it put at $3 billion. Rebuilding the plane would take five years, it said.
Antonov Airlines used the monster-sized aircraft for special moves, such as electric transformers or other massive equipment that couldn’t easily fit in its giant – but smaller – AN-124 freighters, or when using the AN-225 was cheaper than two AN-124s. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has also transported humanitarian assistance and medical supplies such as personal protective equipment.
The AN-225 holds aviation records for transporting the longest and heaviest cargoes, including a generator for a gas power plant that weighed nearly 419,000 pounds.
The cargo airline owns seven AN-124s. Russian carrier Volga Dnepr also has a fleet of AN-124 cargo jets and there are a handful of others with small operators. But there was only one AN-225 in operating condition.
It was built in the late 1980s by Antonov Design Bureau in Ukraine to transport rocket sections for the Soviet space program, borrowing design concepts from the AN-124, a military transport.
The AN-225 and several AN-124 planes ended up in private hands after the end of the Cold War. The Mriya had to be refurbished after several years of neglect before it took to the air again in 2001.
“We will rebuild the plane. We will fulfill our dream of a strong, free and democratic Ukraine,” the government said in its post.
The AN-225 is based on the AN-124 design, with fuselage extensions fore and aft of the wings. It also has similar nose gear, which allows it to “kneel” so that cargo can be easily loaded and unloaded. The landing gear consists of 32 wheels, allowing the plane to turn on a narrow runway.
However, unlike the AN-124-100, which has a rear cargo door and ramp, the AN-225 is only loaded through the nose. It has a twin-tail, swept-back horizontal stabilizer that enables it to carry heavy loads on top of its fuselage. Its cargo compartment can be pressurized, extending its transport capability.