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Why Is There Only One Antonov An-225 ?

People who have seen the gigantic Antonov An-225 ‘Mriya’ in person, know that they have been fortunate to see an incredibly rare aircraft. Known for its sheer size, the An-225 draws significant attention wherever it goes because it is the only flying example in the world.

What is little known is that Antonov do have a second example, but this particular aircraft remains unfinished, residing in a hangar collecting dust.

HISTORY

The first An-225 took to the skies for the first time in December 1988, and appeared on static display at the Paris Air Show the following year. In 1990, it also performed demonstration flights at the Farnborough Air Show. The Soviet space program ordered two An-225s to carry its orbiters and boosters, but only ever took delivery of the first example.

The fact that Antonov never delivered the second An-225 to the Soviet space program was due to the fall of the Soviet Union, which led to the end of the Buran space program.

The first An-225 ended surplus to requirements, and it was initially placed into storage in 1994. This unfortunately caused construction work on the second example to grind to a halt. However, the turn of the century saw a revival for the completed An-225, and Antonov turned its attention to finishing the second example.

In 2006 construction recommenced with the aim of having the second aircraft completed by 2008. But by 2009 construction was again abandoned, with the aircraft reportedly 60-70% complete. Two years later in 2011 it was reported that $300 million was needed to complete the aircraft, as China was interested in using the second example. These funds never materialized.

During 2009, the An-225 was painted in its current blue and yellow paint scheme.

Recently, Antonov’s CEO declared in 2020 that getting the second unfinished aircraft airborne is now ‘economically unviable.’

With the existing An-225 already only carrying out fairly limited operations, completing the second aircraft makes no financial sense, as the first Antonov costs in excess of $40,000 per hour to charter. Not many companies are willing to pay these extravagant fees.

On 25 March 2020, the existing freighter commenced a series of test flights from Hostomel Airport near Kyiv, after more than a year out of service, for the installation of a domestically designed power management and control system.

In conclusion, a combination of the fall of the Soviet Union and a lack of demand has resulted in the world not having a second flying An-225.

SPECIFICATIONS

The An-225 is powered by six turbofan engines and is the heaviest aircraft ever built, with a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tonnes. It also has the largest wingspan at 88.4m of any aircraft in operational service.

The airlifter holds the absolute world record for an airlifted single-item payload of 189,980 kg (418,830 lbs) and an airlifted total payload of 253,820 kg (559,580 lb). It has also transported a payload of 247,000 kg (545,000 lb) on a commercial flight. In 2000/2001, the aircraft underwent modifications at a cost of US$20M for the addition of a reinforced floor, which increased the maximum gross weight to 640 t (710 short tons; 630 long tons).

The landing gear has 32 wheels, some of which are steerable, enabling the aircraft to turn within a 60-metre-wide (200 ft.) runway. Like it’s An-124 predecessor, the An-225 has nose gear designed to “kneel” so cargo can be more easily loaded and unloaded.

The empennage design was changed from a single vertical stabilizer to a twin tail with an oversized, swept-back horizontal stabilizer. The twin tail is essential to enable the aircraft to carry large, heavy external loads on top of the fuselage that would disturb the airflow around a conventional tail. 

The An-225 participated in the COVID-19 pandemic relief effort, conducting flights to deliver medical supplies from China to other parts of the world.