Antonov AN-225: Will the world’s largest commercial aircraft fly again?

(CNN) – The photographs of the now-dismantled Antonov AN-225 are an unforgettable memory for enthusiasts around the world.

Built in the 1980s to carry Soviet aircraft, the aircraft gained a second life after the Cold War as the world’s largest cargo carrier, with records of All sorts of things, before it was destroyed in late February at its home site, nearby Hostomel airfield. Kyiv.
“Sleep will not die,” tweeted the Antonov company, based on the aircraft’s nickname “Mriya,” which means dream in Ukrainian. Unity was poured out from every corner of the earth.

But can the AN-225 fly again?

Answering that question first requires an assessment of the damage caused to the plane.

CNN’s Vasco Cotovio saw debris nearby when he visited Hostomel Airport in early April, along with other CNN reporters and the Ukrainian National Police.

“The hostomel has been the scene of intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian armies since the beginning of the war,” he said.

The world's largest commercial aircraft, the AN-225, is known around the world.

The world’s largest commercial aircraft, the AN-225, is known around the world.

Photos by Jack Guez / AFP / Getty

“Moscow troops tried to seize the airport to use it as a first line of operation so that they could fly to other parts of the country.

“It seemed like they had a first chance, but the Ukrainians responded very quickly, hit the plane fast and hard – to prevent any kind of landing,” he said.

The condition of the aircraft is unquestionable for repairs.

“The nose of the plane was completely destroyed, as if it had been hit by a direct shotgun,” Cotovio said. “Besides that, there was a lot of damage to the wings and some of the engines. The back part of the tail was protected from large impacts and there were small holes made by shrapnel or Explode.

“If it weren’t for the direct blow to the nose, the AN-225 might have been fixed,” he said, adding that the area around the plane filled with disarmed weapons would have eliminated the damage. Russian cars and chariots and the chariots were destroyed.

The coming

The AN-225 was developed as part of the Soviet aircraft carrier. "Burane" on his back.

The AN-225 was designed as part of the Soviet air force to carry the Soviet aircraft “Burane” on its back.

Gilles Leimdorfer / AFP / Photo Gallery

Andrii Sovenko, a Kyiv-based engineer and aviation engineer who worked for the Antonov Company since 1987 and flew the AN-225 as part of his engineering, has compiled a detailed list of accidents. , by viewing a large number of videos and photographs of the rubbish (Antonov employees were not allowed to return to Hostomel due to safety concerns).

He confirmed that the part between the fuselage and the nose of the aircraft – including the cockpit and restrooms of the passengers – was destroyed – but that the aircraft’s systems and equipment suffered the most serious damage. .

“Getting them back is the hardest part,” he said. “Because of this most of the electrical systems, filters and filters have been used on the AN-225 since the 1980s.

“It hasn’t been rebuilt, so it can’t be restored to its original condition,” he said.

That’s not bad news: parts of the wings, along with aerodynamic surfaces such as flaps and ailerons, are known to have suffered minor damage, and can be salvaged.

Most of the six engines seemed to be fixed, and the entire tail section of the plane would only be affected by the shrapnel damage, and left in a state of disrepair.

The AN-225 suffered a major accident during the battle for the Hostomel plane near Kyiv.

The AN-225 suffered a major accident during the battle for the Hostomel plane near Kyiv.

Genya Savilov / AFP / Photo Gallery

Sovenko, who has written a book on the history of Antonov Airlines explaining his experience of flying on the Mriya, admits the plane cannot be fixed at Hostomel.

“We can’t talk about repairing or returning this aircraft – we can talk about building another Mriya, using the same parts that can be used. was rescued from the rubbish and combined with materials that date back to the 1980s, which are thought to have created a second plane. “

He was referring to the second AN-225 aircraft maintained by Antonov to this day at a major factory in Kyiv. It was part of a basic plan to build two AN-225s, which was not finished.

“This is a very solid fuselage, with a new central unit fitted on top, and a cargo -carrying mode of the wings and tail assembly. It was not unharmed when the Russian artillery fired. plants, ”Sovenko said.

It’s a new design

One big problem with the idea of ​​building an unused airframe with parts can be saved from Hostomel: it doesn’t count as 100% of the benefits.

“It’s not possible to build the same aircraft, with the same design and equipment,” Sovenko said. If that’s the case, Antonov faces two challenges: making the new and the old work together or being able to go through the aircraft’s re -certification, to ensure its air quality. and the implementation of current regulations.

The industry has experience with the first issue, including increasing the number of AN-225 systems over the years and replacing old Soviet technology with new Ukrainian ones, but a full test would be it takes time and increases costs.

Experts say the original aircraft will probably never be restored to its former glory.

Experts say the original aircraft will probably never be restored to its former glory.

Genya Savilov / AFPGetty Images

Unfortunately, it turned out to be unavoidable: “It’s pointless to build an airplane today with a 40 -year plan,” Sovenko added. “It’s also possible to feel the need to re -engineer the aircraft, based on the operational experience of the former.”

The AN-225 was not designed to carry commercial cargo, and was converted for use by a large-scale operation undertaken by Antonov in the late 1990s. However, despite its great potential, it was not easy to fly from the sailors’ view. It has to be lowered on its nose – a process called “elephant knee” – to load the cargo, which is rolled onto the ship using standard rails and pulleys.

Due to its unique design, only the nose of the aircraft is open, it has no rear ramp like its more active younger sibling, the AN-124. The fleet can use any boost and can increase the level of performance of the aircraft with existing aircraft services, by adding a list of desired improvements to a control. new hypothetical of the aircraft.

Millions or billions?

The AN-225 broke flight records during its lifetime.

The AN-225 broke flight records during its lifetime.

Ronny Hartmann / AFP / Photo Credit

It’s not easy to build a second Myria, but it’s hard to determine exactly how much it will cost. Ukrinform, the Ukrainian National News Agency, raised its eyes when it was announced that the cost of the project was $ 3 billion. In 2018, Antonov expects the second aircraft to be completed to the tune of $ 350 million, although that number now needs to be adjusted.

“Nothing is clear at this time,” Sovenko said, “the cost will be related to the significant damage to the living parts of the aircraft, as well as the amount of alterations and new equipment that will be required. “It’s a big part of the cost. But in each case, we can choose the final number on the order of hundreds of millions, not billions.”

Richard Aboulafia, an aircraft analyst at Aerodynamic Advisory, agreed: “It’s about whether the aircraft is just a prototype, and if they want to enter commercial service, with full certification. Even with certification, rather than $ 3 billion. ”

The real question, says Aboulafia, is who will pay? “There’s not a lot of commercial demand for this aircraft, and if it’s not, where does the money come from?”

It is easy to assume that most of the costs would be taken care of by Antonov, but the company suffered significant losses due to the destruction of some aircraft and equipment; While it is operating at a low level, the future is uncertain.

“I have a good idea. I really want Antonov planes to continue flying in the skies in the future,” Sovenko said, “but I’m real. He needs to be connected. Mriya with Antonov’s financial capabilities after the war, and the expected income from the construction of this aircraft. “

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