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How Antonov’s world record-breaking cargo plane defined Ukraine

Antonov AN-225 Mriya
Ukraine’s iconic Antonov AN-225 Mriya is the biggest plane in the world Photo: zn.ua
How Antonov’s world record-breaking cargo plane defined Ukraine
The world’s biggest plane – made in Ukraine. The record breaking AN-225, also called “Mriya” was built 28 years ago – and today, the huge cargo plane is renowned around the world. Let’s discover more about the extraordinary plane – from the man who piloted it – for the first time.

Ukraine’s iconic Antonov AN-225 Mriya is the biggest plane in the world. Built in 1988, it was designed to carry space rocket engines for the USSR’s space program. Mriya, which translates to “dream” in Ukrainian, is one of a kind. The aircraft’s first flight was on December 21, 1988.

71 year old Oleksander Halyunenko was Mriya’s first pilot. He recalled his time as pilot of the world’s largest airplane.

Firstly, this is a normal job. You have your job and I have my job. You have one and I have one. Just like your job I follow instructions, mine are written by engineers. And then I do that.”

The pilot calls the first flight a glorious experience. The plane’s practical characteristics perfectly corresponded to the engineer’s plans.

“I am proud that our prominent engineers have created such a wonder. There are a lot of companies who build planes in the world. And in very prosperous countries too, where they have a lot of money. But they still couldn’t make a plane like that. And our engineers succeeded. That’s why I bow before these outstanding people,” says Halunenko.

Mriya earned its place in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest aircraft 28 years ago. It also set hundreds of new records simultaneously, with French Fédération Aéronautique Internationale finding more than 110 unique achievements. For example, the plane managed to take off with 165 tons of cargo on board and climb to an altitude of 12 430 meters before traveling 2000 kilometers. Mriya maintained a speed of 816 km/h for the journey.

No one has ever carried such a load and had a takeoff mass of 508 tons. This has never happened before. This automatically broke all the records,” emphasizes Halunenko.

The plane was originally designed to carry the “Energy” rocket system and the “Buran” spacecraft. Unfortunately, the program was canceled but Mriya’s first flight carried the “Buran” spacecraft on board. Mriya’s arrival at the Le Bourget Airport in Paris was seen as one of Ukraine’s greatest achievements and stunning success in the aeronautic industry.

After the closure of Soviet space program, Mriya fell into disuse. However, Antonov Airlines updated the plane in 2000, and on May 7th 2001, Mriya was reborn. Once again the plane broke aviation records. After the upgrade, it took flight while carrying 5 tanks weighting 253 tons in total. The plane climbed to almost 11 thousand meters with the load and broke 124 international records during the flight.

This was during the warm part of the year, and in the hot time of the year nobody tries to break carrying capacity records. This must be done in winter, when the air is thicker. Despite that, the plane managed to complete the task.The plane has enormous potential to set these records,” recalled Mykola Kalashnykov, AN-225 engineer.

Now Mriya is used for transporting superheavy cargo, humanitarian aid, and conducts transportation services for European NATO members. Every time Mriya makes a landing, crowds gather to marvel at the giant Ukrainian plane.

One of Mriya’s latest journeys was to Australia. Thousands of Perth residents gathered to watch the AN-225 land. Afterwards a Ukrainian flag was raised in honour of the occasion.

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