In a remarkable act of defiance, the Antonov An-225 appears to be airborne orbiting Kyiv this morning (March 11) with the callsign 'FCKPUTIN'.
The soviet-built, six-engined behemoth was confirmed as having been destroyed in a battle for the Ukrainian capital's Gostomel Airport - also known as Antonov Airport - on February 27th. It is therefore expected that, rather than the world's biggest aircraft having risen from the ashes, another aircraft is flying with its transponder adjusted so as to appear on Flightradar24 and other aircraft monitoring platforms as the 'Mriya' (Ukrainian for 'Dream').
The An-225 and the Ukraine-Russia War so far...
As Russian troops crossed Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern borders in the early hours of February 24, the Antonov An-225 had been undergoing repairs and routine maintenance. Engineers had worked feverishly to ensure the iconic jet could be flown to safety, but time had ran out.
Around 8am on the morning of February 24 – just hours after Vladimir Putin had ordered the start of his ‘special military operation’, around 30 Mil Mi-8 and Kamov Ka-52 helicopters flew south across the Ukrainian-Belorussian border before descending on Gostomel Airport – around 10 miles north of Kyiv. Having captured the airfield – and with it the world’s largest aircraft.
As news broke that the facility had fallen into Russian hands, rumours began circulating of the behemoth’s potential destruction. Aviation enthusiasts across the globe held their breath, while others fearing the worst shared images of the Soviet-built superheavyweight on social media.
With Gostomel in Russian hands, Antonov Airlines were unable to assess the aircraft’s condition until the airfield was recaptured by Ukrainians on February 27 - at which point, the state was able to confirm that the giant jet had been destroyed, reportedly by a Russian airstrike. This was later verified by Russian state news video.
That same day, Ukroboronprom – the state-owned enterprise which controls Antonov and its airline – issued a defiant statement declaring that Russia be held accountable for its actions: “The occupiers destroyed the airplane, but they won’t be able to destroy our common dream. Mriya will definitely be reborn. The restoration is estimated to [cost more than $3bn] and [take] 5 years. Our task is to ensure that these costs are covered by the Russian Federation, which has caused intentional damage to Ukraine’s aviation sector.
In its press release, Ukroboronprom all but confirmed that the existing An-225, UR-82060 (c/n 19530503763), had been deemed damaged beyond economical repair. Yuriy Husyev, Ukroboronprom’s general director commented: “Russia has destroyed our ‘Mriya’, but Ukraine’s dream of freedom cannot be destroyed. We will fight for our land and our home until we win. And after the victory, we will definitely finish our new "Mriya", which has been waiting in a safe place for many years.”
Hold on, there’s a second An-225?! Yep! The type was designed and built as part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ (USSR) Buran space shuttle programme. Two aircraft were commissioned to transport components for the Energia rocket boosters as well as carrying the Buran space shuttles atop its fuselage – roles which NASA allocated to the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy and Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCAs) for its rival project.
As we all know, one An-225 flew – doing so for the first time in December 1988 – while the second example was still under construction at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. It was around 60-70% complete when the Buran programme was cancelled and work abruptly halted. For the past 30 years, it has been stored at Sviatoshyn, another airfield in Kyiv which is home to the Antonov Serial Production Plant.