Monday, 14 November 2022

Reviving A Dream: Who Will Build The Second Antonov An-225 Mriya?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Battered and bloody Hostomel airport stands as a monument to Ukraine's struggles against Russia's invasion force. Like a true David against Goliath, it broke the back of the Russian assault on Kyiv, in the process sadly losing its own gentle giant the Antonov An-225 Mriya (meaning: dream). Yet like the dream of a Ukrainian nation free from enemies and oppressors, the An-225 Mriya lives on in its unfinished sister airframe. Its construction, like the construction of this free Ukraine, is set be accomplished in memory of those Ukrainian pilots who perished during the war and to act as a flying symbol of Ukrainian national identity and a free and democratic country filled with Mriyas (dreams). [1]
Nowadays the An-225 remains the world's heaviest, largest (but not the widest) aircraft ever built, capable of carrying nearly 250 tons of cargo. The sole An-225 was operated by Antonov Airlines before its destruction at Hostomel airport in March 2022. The An-225 Mriya had been scheduled for evacuation on the morning of February 24 after the United States had warned Ukraine of the impeding invasion. Unfortunately Russian Airborne Forces (the VDV) managed to take control of Hostomel airport hours before its scheduled departure, preventing its escape to safety.

The idea of completing the second An-225 was first raised in 2011, when China voiced its interest to develop the aircraft into a platform to launch commercial satellites into orbit with. [2] [3] The first phase of the project would have seen the completion of the second airframe that is still stored at Antonov's facilities outside Kyiv, Ukraine, while the second stage called for the recommencement of the An-225's production in China. High costs doomed these ambitious plans, and the project appears to have been quietly abandoned in the following years. [4] [5]
In October 2020, Turkish President Erdoğan raised the idea of completing the aircraft during a visit of President Zelensky to Ankara. [6] Although little has been heard of the plan since, Turkish involvement could mean a breakthrough in providing the stimulus to finally complete the second An-225 and bringing it into service, replacing the An-225 destroyed in March 2022. [7] Though associated with huge costs, the symbolic value of the world's largest plane arising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Russo-Ukrainian War, marking the technological rise of Türkiye in the process, could be worth a fair sum of money alone. Crowdfunding has bridged the gap with many projects associated with the restitution of Ukraine's economy and national pride, and could play a factor here again as well.
The first An-225 (UR-82060) made its maiden flight in December 1988 as a transporter for the Buran orbiter, which was carried on the plane's back. Two aircraft were ordered, but only one example was finished before the collapse of the Soviet Union, after which the An-225 fell under the jurisdiction of the newly independent Ukrainian republic. However, the aircraft soon lost its intended purpose of carrying the Buran orbiter following the cancellation of the Buran space programme in 1993. In 1994, the An-225 was placed in long-term storage at the Antonov Aircraft Plant in Kyiv and work on the second An-225 airframe came to a grinding halt after having been 70% completed.
By the late 1990s the need for a cargo aircraft as big as the An-225 began to re-emerge, and the stored example was brought back to active service in 2001. [8] Plans to complete the second An-225 began to surface around the same time, and a decision for its reactivation was finally made in 2006. [9] By late 2009, work on the aircraft still had not started and the plan appeared to have been abandoned. Then in May 2011, the CEO of Antonov stated that the second An-225 could be completed in three years if an interested party was to come up with at least $300 million. [9]

The An-225 with the Buran orbiter on its back.

While completing the second An-225 is certain to benefit international cargo travel of oversized items, the $800 million projected cost of completing the aircraft means it will never become profitable. [1] This was affirmed by Oleksandr Donets, the current CEO of Antonov, who in 2019 stated that: ''This is a very expensive project. The cost of design and engineering work, the purchase of new equipment and certification of the aircraft will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Such a project may be effective in the aerospace program, but not for commercial air transportation." [12] Of course, the An-225's use would not merely be as a commercial transport plane, but rather as a testament to the fact our ability to dream big has not been lost in the 21st century, and that a world that stands united in its efforts to keep that ideal alive does not let its dreams be determined solely by financial considerations.

[1] Zelensky Pledges $800 Million An-225 Mriya Rebuild To Honor Ukrainian Pilots
[3] Chinese aero group eyes world’s largest plane
[4] Ukraine mulling to complete the second Antonov An-225 Mriya
[5] UkrOboronProm seeks investments to complete second Mriya aircraft
[6] Turkey interested in completing An-225 Mriya – Dpty PM
[7] Sky Giant: Turkey Mulls To Complete The Second Antonov An-225 Mriya
[9] Why Wasn’t The Second Antonov An-225 Finished? 
[10] Black Sea Hunters: Bayraktar TB2s Join The Ukrainian Navy
[11] Pandora Papers: How A U.S. Law Firm Attemped To Sell A Defence Giant To China
[12] Президент ГП "Антонов" Александр Донец: Мы должны вернуться к тому, что умеем делать очень хорошо – к грузовым, военным самолетам. Это у нас всегда получалось
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