Antonov AN-225: Will the world's biggest plane roam the skies again?

The cost is at an estimated $3 billion.
Can Emir

Aviation enthusiasts were devastated when they saw the images of the wrecked Antonov AN-225, the largest aircraft in the world.

Antonov AN-225 was built in the 1980s as a space shuttle carrier but then became the world’s largest cargo transporter, before being destroyed by the Russian army in February, at its home base near Kyiv.

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"The dream will never die," tweeted the Antonov company, referencing the aircraft’s nickname "Mriya," which means dream in Ukrainian. 

Can it fly again?

Representatives of Ukrainian aircraft manufacturer Antonov have arrived at Kyiv’s Hostomel Airport (GML) to conduct a damage assessment of the AN-225 aircraft. 

Andrii Sovenko, an engineer and an aviation expert, who has worked for the Antonov Company since 1987, has compiled a detailed list of the damage, by examining a large number of videos and pictures of the wreckage.

Sovenko confirms that the center section of the fuselage and the nose of the plane were destroyed, but it's the plane's onboard systems and equipment that received the most critical damage.

Sovenko says that restoring the aircraft's onboard systems will be the hardest and he added, “This is due to the fact that most of the various electrical systems, pumps, and filters used on the AN-225 are all from the 1980s. They are simply no longer being made, so it's unlikely that they can be restored exactly in the way they were.”

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But there is a silver lining, portions of the aircraft’s wings, including aerodynamic surfaces such as flaps and ailerons, seem to have suffered minor damage, and they are in a salvageable state.

Besides the wings of the aircraft, most of the six engines seem intact, and the whole tail section of the plane is in acceptable condition.

Sovenko claims that Antonov AN-225 can't be repaired and adds, "It's impossible to talk about the repair or restoration of this aircraft -- we can only talk about the construction of another Mriya, using individual components that can be salvaged from the wreckage and combining them with those that were, back in the 1980s, intended for the construction of a second aircraft."

Sovenko refers to a second airframe that Antonov has preserved to this day in a large workshop, which was built as a part of the original plan of building two AN-225s.

"This is almost a complete airframe. As far as I know, it was practically undamaged during the Russian artillery bombardment of the plant," says Sovenko, but it still won’t amount to 100 percent of the necessary components.

The aircraft faces two hurdles: making both new and old components work together and potentially having to go through re-certification of the aircraft, to confirm its airworthiness and compliance with current regulations. "It will be impossible to build exactly the same aircraft, with the exact same design and equipment," he says. 

Building out a “new dream” will not be cheap, as Ukrinform, the Ukrainian national news agency, declared that the cost of the rebuilding would be as expensive as $3 billion. 

We will have to wait and see if this aviation legend is as dead as it looks or if it's going to fly across the skies once more.

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