Designed and produced at the height of the USSR or Union of Soviet Socialist Republic by Antonov Design Bureau, the heaviest cargo aircraft and the one possessing of the largest wingspan in operational use today, the Mriya Antonov An-225 is a masterpiece in aviation engineering. The Mriya Antonov An-225 appropriately nicknamed The Mriya, which translates to “the dream” in Ukranian is the aviation world’s unicorn. Mysterious, awe-inspiring upon sight and imposing in its stature, its unique design has yet to be replicated anywhere in the world.
Unlike the fictitious unicorn, the Mriya Antonov An-225 does exist in reality, but how a plane so massive can lift off the ground and maintain flight seems somewhat beyond comprehension. After all the cargo hold of the Mriya Antonov An-225 extends an impressive 140 feet in length and although it was designed to haul the Soviet space plane the OK-1K1 Buran, it also at one time successfully transported a whopping 253.8 tons earning the Mriya Antonov An-225 several world records in aviation as well as mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.
At the time of its inception, the Mriya Antonov An-225 was an enlarged variation of a previous successful counterpart, the Antonov An-124 Ruslan. With mission objectives similar in nature to that of the United States’ Shuttle Carrier and developed to supplant the Myasishchev VM-T strategic airlift aircraft, the Mriya Antonov An-225’s intents were two-fold. To securely transport the Soviet rocket Energia’s boosters and to move the Buran’s orbiters for the Soviet space program.
A single Mriya Antonov An-225 was completed and took off on its initial flight in 1988. The mammoth-sized aircraft was later on display at an air show in Paris in 1989 and then was introduced to the public further at Farnborough the following year. After successfully executing several missions for the Soviet military, the Mriya Antonov An-225 was put in a holding pattern or state of suspension for 8 years before being commercially reintegrated into the aviation industry by Antonov Airlines in the transport of oversized air cargo.
Powered by six Progress D-18T turbofan engines each rated for 51,600 lbf, the colossal Mriya Antonov An-225 has a barrel-shaped fuselage with extensions fore and aft of its wings, whose span extends 290 feet. The increased-capacity landing gear innovations include 32 wheels, some of which pivot making the giant aircraft more maneuverable on wide-field runways. The nose of the aircraft opens into a kneeling position allowing for air cargo to be loaded and unloaded effectively. The Myria has a split or twin tail, a design variation meant to improve upon the concept of a conventional tail and the distribution of airflow while carrying oversized or heavy external loads.
The Mriya Antonov An-225’s original maximum gross weight was roughly 600 tonnes, however, following the implementation of a reinforced floor upgrade to the aircraft in 2000, it was increased to 640 tonnes. The extremely spacious cargo hold of the Myria has a total length of 142.2 feet, a width of 31 feet and is 14 feet tall. The pressurized hold supports a volume of 46,000 cubic feet which means the Mriya Antonov An-225 can easily convey 50 standard-sized cars, 16 aeronautical containers, or up to 200 tonnes of single or pieced cargo. Including oversized generators, large utility pipelines, and dump trucks.
The aircraft’s performance isn’t too shabby considering its prodigious girth with a maximum cruise of 432 kn and a range of 8,315 nmi with maximum fuel and 2500 nmi carrying a payload of 200 tonnes.
Over the years, the Mriya Antonov An-225 has transported a number of over oversized air cargo loads, each more impressive and large than the previous, earning the aircraft a global following. Although the aircraft makes little more than a few missions annually, fans hoping to catch sight of the king-sized Mriya Antonov An-225 have started visiting airports to track the Mriya Antonov An-225’s flight schedule. In 2016 it was reported that a record 50,000 people showed up to a local airport in Perth, Australia to see the herculean super transporter in all its glory.
When the Mriya Antonov An-225 is not deployed on a project it sits in respite at Gostomel airport and is tended to by a few dedicated Antonov employees. Those who wish to lease the advantages offered by the Mriya Antonov An-225 can do so for roughly 30,000 dollars an hour. Keep in mind that the Myria’s impressive attributes don’t simply extend to the spacious cargo hold, many items can be conveyed in its spacious fuselage as well.
With the original Myria still considered in service, in August of 2016, Antonov decided to reignite development of a second airframe design originally conceived of in the late 1980s for Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (AICC). The second airframe construction was shelved due to a lack of funding in 1994 and then revived again in 2009.
AICC, a Chinese state-owned aerospace and defense consortium is interested in developing a fleet of Chinese manufactured Mriya Antonov An-225s bearing the second Myria configuration. The purpose of the fleet will be to launch commercial satellites. The commercial satellite business has shown to be a marketable success in recent years and AICC hopes to cash in on the trend. The development phase of the second Mriya Antonov An-225s for China picked up momentum in 2016 with the anticipated delivery and flight of the variant Mriya Antonov An-225 sometime in 2019.
As recently as March of this year, the original Mriya Antonov An-225 aircraft underwent several upgrades to breathe new life into the aircraft and based on results of test flights that were conducted, everything appears to be working accordingly. Fans of the Mriya Antonov An-225 can track its annual globetrotting on FlightRadar24.com using the registration UR-82060 or code A225 or download the app via iOS or Android.