LONDON – Back in the 1980s Ukrainian aircraft manufacturer Antonov Design Bureau was tasked with producing an aircraft that could carry the Russian space shuttle, the Buran, for the Soviet Space Program.

The Antonov 225 Mriya – Mriya translating to the term ‘dream’ – was built for this task. It was built to replace the Myasishchev VM-T which was a four engine T-Tailed aircraft built in 1981.

There was only ever two VM-T’s built and they operated from 1982 to 1989, to which from 1989, the Antonov 225 had become their replacement.

PHOTO: Dmitry Pichugin

Both aircraft began to operate for the Soviet Space Program carrying rockets and other large space vehicles to and from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which still to this day is home to the Soviet Space Program.

The Antonov 225’s first flight was on December 21, 1988 where it flew from Kiev on a 74-minute test flight.

The following year, the aircraft then appeared at the Paris Air Show on static display and then at the Farnborough Air Show in 1990 where it flew during the public days.

Two Antonov 225’s was originally ordered, however, only one aircraft was ever fully built as during the collapse of the Soviet Union the second aircraft was only partially built and was then subsequently put into storage.

PHOTO: Sergey Kustov

During the period of the Soviet Union collapse, the only operational 225 was stored in 1994 where it’s six Ivchenko-Progress D-18T turbofan engines were removed for use of the smaller Antonov 124 aircraft.

However, shortly after this, it became clear that a cargo aircraft larger than the Antonov 124 was required for more abnormal cargo loads, which the first operational Antonov 225 was re-engined and put back into commercial service.

On May 23, 2001, the 225 received it’s type certification from the Interstate Aviation Committee Aviation Register (IAC AR) and later that year, in September, the aircraft flew a record load of four main battle tanks at a weight of 253.82 tonnes.

The 225 still retains it’s 1980s style cockpit, however, has had a few upgrades, such as new autopilot and navigation systems to keep up with the constant changing aviation industry and to enable it to fly under modern IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) conditions.

Everytime the 225 flies, crowds at airports will gather in the thousands, just to watch the aircraft arrive or depart, due to it’s immense size and uniqueness, especially with there only being one of it’s kind.

However, in August 2016, representatives from Antonov Design Bureau and Airspace Industry Corporation of China (AICC) signed an agreement to recommence production of the 225 and to fly the first model in 2019, but unfortunately due to the on-going Ukraine-Russia conflict, required parts are unavailable at present, however, could be produced in China instead.

The aircraft is permitted to fly cargo loads up to a Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of 640 tonnes up to a distance of 15,400 kilometres or 8,351 nautical miles, with a service ceiling of 36,000 feet (ft).

The 225’s Progress D-18T turbofan engines, sometimes known as Lotarev D-18T, produce 51,670 pounds (lb) of thrust and weigh 4.1 tonnes each.

These particular engines are manufactured by Motor Sich in Zaphorizhia, Ukraine.

PHOTO: Igor Bubin

I have only ever seen the Antonov 225 once myself which was in 2013 at Manchester Airport, United Kingdom, and in my opinion, photographs do not do the size of this aircraft justice.

When the 225 visited Manchester in 2013, it taxied past the largest mass produced passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, to which the A380 looked miniscule compared to the Antonov 225.

In conclusion, the Antonov 225 continues to be one of the aviation industries greatest feats of engineering and will continue to operate on a regular basis carrying abnormal cargo loads around the globe.

For more information on the AN-225, visit Chapman Freeborn.