The Antonov An-225 Mriya was designed by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukrainian SSR within the Soviet Union during the 1980s. The only An-225 airplane built in Ukraine, completed in 1988 was designed to airlift the Russian space shuttle Energia rocket's boosters and the Buran-class orbiters for the Soviet space program. When it first rolled out in 1988 it was 50% bigger than any other plane. The six-engine Antonov An-225 Mriya, the longest and heaviest airplane ever built can transport the equivalent of ten battle tanks. 27 years after it entered service it is still the world’s biggest plane.
Measuring in at 84 yards long and with a wingspan of 88 yard (almost twice the width of a traditional football field and twice the wing area of a Boeing 747) the plane has acted as a commercial transporter of over sized payloads for over two decades. Without a load, the colossal Antonov An-225 Mriya (Ukrainian for 'dream') can fly for up to 18 hours without stopping to refuel. Its cargo compartment is 43 m by 6.4 m by 4.4 m – big enough to hold 50 cars. It’s so large that the length of its cargo hold is longer than the Wright brothers’ first flight. It holds the absolute world record for an airlifted total cargo of 253,820 kg. And there is only one operational Antonov An-225 in the world! There were plans to build several more An-225s but these were scrapped by the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the shuttle program.
In 2016, the Airspace Industry Corporation of China (AICC), a privately-owned aerospace and defense company, signed a cooperation agreement with Antonov for the An-225 program. If it goes through as planned, the skies could soon be flooded by a fleet of Chinese built An-225s. Heavy lift is not the only capability Chinese are after though. “The An-225 can be equipped with spacecraft to high altitude, and can launch commercial satellites at any height below 12,000m,” Zhang tells the BBC. “Its launch time is flexible, accurate, and can quickly send the satellite into intended orbit, which greatly reduces launch costs.”
The men who built the plane have mixed feelings about the prospect of losing the program to the Chinese. “The Mriya is not separable from Ukraine, it’s like our child, and it’s something our children, and our grandchildren can always be proud of.”