Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Requiem for a Dream. History of An-225

Время на чтение 6 мин.

Catch the takeoff or landing of the An-225 Mriya (Ukranian word for Dream) was the cherished dream of spotters around the world. Shots with the largest aircraft in the world have always been spectacular and exciting. Alas, the An-225 remained in history. It was destroyed during the fighting for the Gostomel airport near Kyiv, where Antonov Airlines is based.

The Problem of Cosmic Proportions

Development of the An-225 began in the mid-1980s. The impetus for the creation of a huge aircraft was the need to deliver to Baikonur large parts of space rockets and ships, primarily, of course, the Energia-Buran system being developed. Its parts were too large for the then transport workers, they had to be disassembled into smaller ones, and this increased the preparation time for launch directly at the cosmodrome.

However, Buran turned out to be too large for the Mriya. Therefore, the plane provided for a roof rack to which oversized cargo could be attached. And first — the shuttle itself. The fact is that 14 alternate airfields were provided for the Buran throughout the territory of the Soviet Union, and in the event of landing on one of them, the An-225 was supposed to deliver the device back to Baikonur.

Finally, Mriya could serve as the first stage for the air launch of Buran. Therefore, the designers were faced with the task of creating an aircraft with a carrying capacity of at least 250 metric tons.

Work on the creation of the An-225 was carried out at the Antonov Design Bureau under the leadership of Viktor Tolmachev, before that the lead designer of the An-124 Ruslan project. Developments on the latter were actively used in the creation of Mriya. Therefore, the work took a very short time — already in 1988, 3.5 years after the start of the project, the An-225 took to the air for the first time.

Belated Readiness

The first flight of the An-225 took place on December 21, 1988. The plane took off from the factory airfield (the same one located in the village of Gostomel, 25 km, or 16 miles, from Kyiv), spent an hour and a half in the air and landed successfully.

According to the main structural elements and systems, the Mriya is unified with the An-124. The length of the fuselage was increased and a new center section was invented – the central part of the wing. The aircraft lost its rear cargo hatch and acquired a twin tail. The latter is necessary so that the aerodynamics do not suffer due to the load fixed on the fuselage. Also, the aircraft made additional landing gear and engines.

An empty An-225 weighs 216 metric tons, and its maximum takeoff weight is 640 metric tons, including up to 250 metric tons of payload and 300 metric tons of fuel. Six turbojet engines produced by the Zaporozhye Engine Plant can accelerate the aircraft to a cruising speed of 850 km/h (528 miles per hour). The practical flight range of the An-224 is 15,000 kilometers (9320 miles), with a load of 200 metric tons it drops to 4,000 kilometers (2485 miles). The aircraft is operated by a crew of six people – the control cabin is located on the upper deck. The team accompanying the cargo can also accommodate up to 88 people.

Although the An-225 was created primarily for the Energia-Buran system, in fact, the aircraft never took part in its work. By the time the Mriya was ready for operation, all the parts were transported to Baikonur using the VM-T Atlant heavy transporter. An-225 brought the Soviet shuttle to the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget in 1989 and participated in several demonstration flights at Baikonur in 1991.

Energy Has Run Out

In 1990, work on the Energia-Buran program was stopped, and in 1993 the project was finally closed. There was no other use for the An-225 in the last decade of the 20th century – there were simply no customers with such bulky cargo that would like to charter an aircraft. Therefore, Mriya was put in a hangar and dismantled. The engines and all possible equipment were removed and used for the An-124.

However, already at the beginning of the 21st century, a demand for a huge aircraft appeared on the air transportation market. The aircraft was owned by Antonov Airlines, established in 1989, which provides charter air cargo transportation around the world. In 2001, the company received aircraft type certificates for the modified An-225 and began commercial operation of the vessel.

In 2002, An-225 made its first commercial flight. It was chartered to transport heavy equipment (such as locomotives, mining trucks, bulldozers), generators and turbines, wind turbine blades. An-225 also delivers humanitarian cargo. So, in the same 2002, Mriya transported humanitarian aid for HIV patients from the USA to Africa. In 2011, she delivered goods for victims of the earthquake in Japan.

In 2019, the An-225 underwent an 18-month modification, during which the aircraft received new engines and avionics. In 2020, the An-225 flew around the world, transporting medicines, medical equipment, and protective equipment necessary during the pandemic.

On February 27, 2022, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the statement made earlier by the Ukroboronprom concern that the only An-225 was destroyed in the hangar during the battles for airport Gostomel. The restoration of the aircraft, according to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, will cost three billion dollars.

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