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For avgeeks, the destruction of the world’s largest commercial plane was one of the key images at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In February, the Antonov AN-225 was attacked at its base in Hostomel, near Kyiv.
“The dream will never die,” tweeted the manufacturers when it was destroyed.
Now it looks like they have stayed true to their word, with the company announcing that plans to rebuild it are already underway.
Nicknamed “Mriya” – Ukrainian for “dream” – the massive plane was built in the 1980s to carry the Soviet space shuttle.
Its later life, while slightly less glamorous, was equally iconic – it was the world’s largest cargo transporter, with around twice the hold capacity as a Boeing 747, winning cult status among self-styled avgeeks. It stretched to 84 meters, or 275 feet, with the longest wingspan of any fully operational airplane. To date, it is the heaviest aircraft ever built.
Its destruction was announced on February 27 2022, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeting that “Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya’… but they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state.”
The Antonov Company said at the time that it was unable to verify the condition of the plane, while CNN journalist Vasco Cotovio noted that the nose had apparently taken “a direct artillery hit” and was “completely destroyed” when he saw it on an April visit.
“There was extensive damage to the wings and some of the engines. The tail end section was spared from any large impacts and has a few holes caused by either shrapnel or bullets,” he said at the time, predicting that a repair would be unlikely.
On Monday, however, the Antonov Company announced in a tweet that the rebuild project had already begun, with “design work” already in the offing. While it had estimated repair costs, the company predicted a bill of over €500 million ($502 million) to get it back in the air, promising more information “after the victory.”
Already the company has around 30% of the components needed to build a new one, it announced.
Originally, Ukrainian state defense company Ukroboronprom, which manages Antonov, had issued a statement estimating the restoration at over $3 billion – which it vowed to make Russia pay. The rebuild would take at least five years, it said at the time.
Antonov subsequently confirmed to CNN that it was working on the project.
“The process of rebuilding ‘Mriya’ is considered as an international project, with the participation of aviation enterprises of different countries of the world,” it said via email.
“The possibility of attracting funding from various sources is being considered and proposals from many organizations that are ready to join the project are being reviewed.”
The company said it would coordinate the research, design and assembly, and confirmed that there are still main airframe units for a new plane that have not been destroyed.
“The program is developing in the direction of carrying out an expert assessment of these units, for subsequent calculations and design works,” it wrote, adding that the build would take place “immediately after the victory of Ukraine.”
The announcement coincides with the launch of an exhibition dedicated to the plane at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany, which is home to five other Antonov aircraft. “Light and shadow: The Antonov story” shows photos of the aircraft before and after its destruction, focusing on the engineering prowess that was lost when it was attacked. It will be on display until the end of December.
At the opening, Oleksiy Makeiev, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, announced that although he’d flown on “almost all AN aircraft, the Mriya remained a dream for me,” in a statement released by the company.
“We hope that it will be restored and we will see this mighty bird in the sky again,” he added.
In the meantime, if you’re missing Mriya, you can build your own – or, at least, your own model. Ukrainian startup Metal Time is selling working mechanical design kits of the AN-225. Each cost $99, and profits go straight to Antonov to fund the Mriya rebuild, as well as the rehousing of Antonov employees whose homes have been destroyed by the Russian invasion, and training for new Ukrainian pilots and aviation engineers.
Jacopo Prisco and Jack Guy contributed to this report