Ukraine’s engineering pride, An-225 aircraft took off for commercial flight. So, what does our 30-year-old innovation look like?
On April 03, for the very first time in 18 months, world’s largest cargo aircraft, An-225 Mriya, took off for commercial flight. It departed without cargo from Kyiv to Leipzig (Germany), and from where it will transport about 150 tons of cargo to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A total of four commercial flights are scheduled for April. Moreover, major contract may be concluded for a series of flights throughout Latin America.
Mriya is considered to be legendary aircraft, since it has set more than 200 records, recorded by the International Aeronautical Federation and Guinness World Records. In 2001 Mriya lifted a total payload of 253.8 tons to a height of 10,700 meters. The previous record was also set by Ukrainian aircraft: An-124 Ruslan lifted 170 tons to a height of 10,750 meters. “This was the best what Ruslan could do. But Mriya may easily transport commercial cargo weighing up to 250 tons,” – said CEO at Antonov Airlines, Mikhail Kharchenko, who participated in both flights.
The aircraft was developed in 1988 by Design Office named after Antonov and is categorized as superheavy transport aircraft. Its empty weight is 250 tons, length – 84 meters, height – 18.1 meters, wingspan – 88.4 meters. Each of main landing gears consists of seven wheelpairs.
Innovation House figured out who is currently in need of giant aircraft, what unusual cargoes were placed aboard and how much money it takes to build new Mriya.
Mriya performs commercial flights for customers from all over the world. However, services rendered by it are rarely ordered – if the company shall transport oversized cargo and falls behind delivery schedule stipulated by its contracts. Fines for the failure to meet the delivery date are rather high and exceed the cost of cargo transportation by air. If supplier has enough time, then oversized cargo is usually transported by sea.
For all years of existence of Mriya it has transported oil installations and oil derricks, electric power systems, satellites, parts of aircrafts and entire helicopters. Transportation of weapon and military machinery is a common thing, since Antonov State Company is subordinated to State Concern UkrOboronProm and cooperates with NATO.
The most unusual cargo transported by An-225 was 12-meter long robotic dragon weighing 45 tons. The dragon was a gift of La Machine French street theatre to the Chinese people as a sign of 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between countries.
In light of the fact that Mriya was developed in 1980s, its avionics (on-board radio electronic equipment) differs from equipment of modern aircraft. “Indeed, Mriya and Ruslan have no solid glass cabins full of flat-screens, since they were designed in 1980s. However, we are constantly upgrading them with new systems to meet the highest standards of international aviation community applicable to advanced aircraft,” – Mikhail Kharchenko said.
According to him, requirements for aircraft are constantly rising. As a rule, they relate to control precision. After all, the number of aircraft increases from year to year, and airspace is getting tighter. For this reason, aircrafts are placed heightwise at various flight paths for them not to collide. While previously the distance between the echelons was 600 meters, but now it was reduced to 300 meters only.
Moreover, requirements as to engines emission (harmful atmospheric emissions) and noise level are also being tightened.
Pilots of Antonov Airlines are the only ones who may navigate Mriya. The total flying staffing of the company is 140. The aircraft that flew to Leipzig had eight persons headed by captain Dmitry Antonov. Usually, both Mriya and Ruslan have augmented crew: two pilots in command, two co-pilots, two navigating officers, and two flight engineers.
By considerations of commercial secrecy, Mikhail Kharchenko could not say how much money it annually takes to upgrade equipment and to train pilots.
The price of Mriya
There are no fixed prices for the services rendered by Mriya. The price is calculated on a case-by-case basis and ismuch depends on various factors. Individual contracts are concluded for each separate transportation. The cost of flight, like this one to Leipzig varies between $600,000 and $800,000.
An-225 aircraft is the one and only. However, there are rumors about construction of the second aircraft of this type. Thus, in 2016 there were talks about the arrangement reached with Airspace Industry Corporation of China and the sale of rights to create a second, modernized aircraft. However, Antonov State Company denied these rumors. “That is straight up lie. I do not know who is spreading these rumors,” – Mikhail Kharchenko said. Nevertheless, he did not exclude the possibility of manufacturing of the second Mriya by Chinese companies jointly with our company. Mr. Kharchenko is confident that the Chinese will not be able to succeed in this without the assistance of Antonov State Company.
CEO of Antonov Airlines believes that hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to create the second Mriya aircraft. “I am afraid I cannot tell you the precise figure – two hundred or three hundred, – but under all circumstances, this is surely more than hundred million dollars,” – he said. This is the price of airplanes of today. The price of Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for instance, is some $300 million.