Is the Mighty Mriya Dead or Lost in the Fog of Russia’s War on Ukraine?

February 28, 2022Noelle Wiehe

The Antonov An-225 Mriya is the largest fixed-wing aircraft ever built. NATO photo.

It won’t be the first dream Russia destroys during its brutal war on Ukraine, but the mighty Mriya might be dead. Or maybe not.

Мрія translates from Ukrainian as “Dream,” and for four decades, the Antonov An-225 Mriya was the world’s largest airplane and the only known model of its kind. Leaders in Kyiv said Russia blew it up Thursday, Feb. 24, with a targeted strike on its hangar inside the Antonov/Gostomel/Hostomel airport complex near the capital. The airport has been the scene of fierce fighting since Ukrainian defenders repulsed a Russian air assault on the field on the invasion’s first day.

But as news of the Mriya’s destruction began to trickle out, Dmitry Antonov, the chief pilot of Antonov Airlines, quickly took to social media to proclaim the “Dream is whole,” even if its airport had fallen into Russian hands.

“Hold on and glory to Ukraine!” Antonov wrote.

The Antonov An-225 touched down at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, on March 7, 2011. The aircraft is the largest on the planet and is the only one of its kind. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington.

On Monday, however, the Antonov Company, the parent company of the airline, cautioned that, until technicians have inspected Mriya, no one could definitively say whether the Dream was dead.

What no one disputes is the inspiring history of the mammoth six-engine, 32-wheel An-225, the longest-bodied, widest-winged, and heaviest plane to ever heave itself into the sky.

The Soviets originally designed Mriya to carry Buran-class space shuttles before the program was shelved in 1993 and the plane was briefly mothballed after nearly five years of service.

By 2001, however, the An-225 had been restored and its floor fortified to carry a 559,580-pound payload, bringing the aircraft’s maximum takeoff weight to 1.41 million pounds, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

war on Ukraine
The Antonov An-225 parked at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in 2011. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington.

To put that into perspective, the Mriya is roughly 31% bigger than the 747-8F, Boeing’s beefiest freight airliner, and almost twice as big as the US Air Force’s biggest-ever plane, the C-5 Galaxy, which itself is about 50% larger than the service’s current heavy lifter, the C-17. You could launch 19 Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters and they still wouldn’t combine to equal the max takeoff weight of just one An-225.

Before Russia’s war on Ukraine, the titanic workhorse of the Antonov Company’s airlift fleet was used often over the past two decades by NATO members, who christened it with the call sign “Cossack.”

The Antonov An-225 touched down at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, March 7, 2011. The aircraft is the largest on the planet and is the only one of its kind. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington.

Mriya’s first foray into commercial service for the military alliance came in 2002, when it departed NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany for Thumrait Air Base, Oman, stocked with 216,000 Meals Ready-to-Eat loaded on 375 pallets for US personnel in the region.

On March 7, 2011, it landed at the Camp Bastion airfield in Afghanistan to bring supplies to US troops fighting Taliban insurgents in restive Helmand province.

The Antonov An-225 flies over the flight line prior to landing at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in 2011. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

After COVID-19 hit, the Mriya ferried 25 million protective masks from China to Germany on April 28, 2020, to equip medical professionals, thanks to a contract from NATO’s Strategic Airlift International Solution program.

Editor’s note: This story was altered due to the US military repeatedly confusing the An-225 with smaller aircraft.

Read Next: EU Blocks Russian Planes From Airspace, Finances Lethal and Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

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