An aviation wonder and the world’s largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-225, has been “destroyed” in an attack on its base at Hostomel/Gostomel airport in Ukraine.
Concern grew over the fate of the giant plane after Russian troops began moving into Ukraine, and there were reports of attacks on the airport and its vicinity around February 24, leading to aviation chatter on social media over the last 48 hours about damage, which was largely speculative and based on grainy images of the airport and its hangars.
Confirming the development in an E-mail from Kyiv, Ukraine, to The Hindu on Monday, the Commercial Director of Antonov Airlines, said, “Today the fact was confirmed that as a result of [the] attack and capture of Ukrainian civil Kyiv-Antonov airport (Gostomel) by Russian troops, the largest aircraft in the world, [the] An-225 Mriya, was damaged and burned down. The aircraft was at the home base in Ukraine for maintenance. The loss of this unique aircraft, which was the real piece of technical art, is a great loss not only for [the] Antonov Company and Ukraine, but for the entire aviation world.” No other details were shared.
Known formally as the “Cossack”, its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operating code, the world knew the “super-heavy transport plane” better by its Ukrainian name, “Mriya”, or “the Dream”.
The six-engine 84-metre-long behemoth, with its 32-wheel landing gear, had its first flight on December 21, 1988, built mainly for the transportation of the Buran shuttle orbiter and components of the Energiya carrier rocket. After an uncertain future following the breakup of the USSR, the aircraft bounced back and reinvented itself to don a variety of roles — and creating cargo transportation records — leaving spectators spellbound with its appearances across the world. It underwent extensive technical upgrades as well.
It made its maiden landing in India, in May 2016, at Hyderabad’s Shamshabad airport while en route to Perth to deliver a 117-tonne power generator (from Prague, the Czech Republic) to a mine in Australia. It played an important role too in the COVID-19 fight, ferrying nearly 100 tonnes of medicines, laboratory kits, medical masks and personal protective equipment in various missions across Europe, Canada and to Africa. It was even chartered to transport ‘Puma’ helicopters from Kabul to the U.K. after U.S. ended its mission in Afghanistan.
There is much speculation about happens next. If the “Mriya” cannot be repaired — aviation sources estimate it to be $3 billion — there is some hope left in the form of a second but unfinished fuselage that lies in an undisclosed warehouse in Ukraine.