Ukrainian Officials Say the World’s Largest Aircraft, Antonov AN-225, Has Been Destroyed

The plane was undergoing maintenance in an airfield near Kyiv

A photo of the world's largest plane, the Antonov AN-225. It is sitting in an airfield. The plane is mostly white and has yellow and blue stripes.
The massive aircraft was initially built as part of the Soviet aeronautical program in the 1960s and 70s while the Soviet Union was undergoing a space race with the United States.
  Larske via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Antonov AN-225, a massive plane with more than 30 years of service, was reportedly destroyed last week during the fourth day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, reports the Agence France-Presse. The aircraft, also known as Mriya ("dream" in Ukrainian), was parked at an airfield near the capital city of Kyiv when Russian forces attacked it, reports Jack Guy for CNN

"Russia may have destroyed our 'Mriya'. But they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free, and democratic European state. We shall prevail!" Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

Last week, Russian forces took control of the airport in Gostomel, where the AN-225 was undergoing maintenance. At the time of the attack, the plane had one of its engines dismantled for repairs, so it could not take off that day despite the commands given, Ukroboronprom, the weapons manufacturer that manages the Antonov company, said in a statement. According to CNN, satellite images from Maxar Technologies show damage to part of the hangar where the Mriya was stored.

Currently, the Antonov company has not released any comment on the plane's status and said that more details would be released after the aircraft is examined by experts, reports Sravasti Dasgupta for the Independent. There is also no independent confirmation of the plane's destruction, although video posted to social media seemed to back-up the beseiged nation's claims.

In an e-mail to Smithsonian magazine, Bob van der Linden, curator of air transportation at the National Air and Space Museum, wrote, "The Antonov An-225 is, or was, truly unique," adding that its design was "remarkable."

The massive aircraft was initially built as part of the Soviet aeronautical program in the 1960s and 70s while the Soviet Union was undergoing a space race with the United States, CNN reports. "It was designed to carry the Soviet Union’s space shuttle, the Buran, in a manner similar to the Boeing 747 that transported the U.S. Space Shuttle," says van der Linden. "Because the Buran project was cancelled, the An-225 was repurposed for very heavy lifting civil and commercial projects."

After completion, the plane made its maiden flight in 1988. Ukraine's Mriya measured 276 feet long and could transport 551,000 pounds of cargo at speeds of 528 miles per hour, the AFP reports. The Soviet Union planned on building three more AN-225s, but following the Union's collapse in 1991, construction on a second plane stopped in 1994, reported Pavlo Fedykovych for CNN in 2018.

Ukroboronprom also stated that the plane will be rebuilt and will charge Russia the estimated $3 billion expsnese to replace it, reports the Independent

According to van der Linden, "The loss of Myriya means that aviation has lost a highly capable tool that was particularly adept at transporting massive quantities of relief materials throughout the world."

The AN-225 has been used to deliver humanitarian aid to other countries during times of crisis. For example, in 2010, the AN-225 was used to deliver relief supplies for those affected by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti. The aircraft also transported medical supplies to various areas during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.