This article first appeared on ntv.de.
In the middle of the war, the Ukrainian aircraft manufacturer Antonov is preparing for the return of a flying giant: According to Antonov Director General Eugene Gavrylov, what was once the largest, heaviest and most powerful cargo plane in the world is about to take off and take off again.
Work on the reconstruction of the Antonov An-225 Mrija cargo plane has already started, Gavrylov explained in Leipzig at the opening of an Antonov exhibition at Leipzig Airport. The hub in eastern Germany has been the most important foreign location for the airline subsidiary of the Ukrainian state aviation group of the same name for years.
When exactly the world-famous aircraft can take off again is still completely unclear. Gavrylov did not want to give any details about the schedule for the time being. The reconstruction of the plane that was destroyed in the spring of the war is no small undertaking: the plane was caught in the crossfire a few days after the start of the Russian war of aggression on the premises of the Hostomel cargo airport northwest of the capital Kyiv.
The first images of the An-225 destroyed on the ground went around the world at the end of February and caused a stir, not only among aviation experts: The "Mrija" - the Ukrainian word for "dream" - was unique, a gigantic relic of the Soviet era. There was only one airworthy example of the An-225 in the world. Artillery shells put an end to the Ukrainian dream of a world record freighter: satellite photos showed the shot-up An-225 in its hangar in Hostomel.
The An-225 was considered the shining flagship of Ukrainian aircraft construction and a flying testament to Ukraine's industrial strength and technical know-how. The six-engine jet with its wingspan of almost 90 meters was originally designed to transport Russian space shuttles. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the operator quickly found new uses for the giant craft's unique capabilities. The An-225 transported heavy and oversized air freight through the air from the Leipzig hub for clients from all over the world.
In the first days of the war, the giant aircraft, riddled with shrapnel and partly burned out, became a symbol of the destructive brutality of the Russian war of aggression - even before the traces of Russian war crimes in nearby towns such as Bucha or Irpin became visible to the world.
For Ukraine, the reconstruction of the An-225 has enormous symbolic importance. The ambitious project is obviously intended to draw the world's attention to the hoped-for restart after the end of the war. But the bulky cargo plane is also well-known and popular in its own country.
However, the plans for reconstruction are not new. Shortly after the destruction, various Ukrainian authorities announced their intention to make the aircraft, with its huge cargo hold, airworthy again. "The dream will never die," the Antonov operator tweeted in a first reaction in February.
The project could well succeed: The An-225 was the only airworthy example of the series. In the inventories of the Antonov Group, however, there are still larger components from a sister machine that was never completed. "There is another prototype that has never flown," said an Antonov representative in Leipzig. "We want to build a new machine from this and the remains of the destroyed plane."
Antonov's corporate headquarters are more cautious about the chances of success. According to an expert report, only "about 30 percent" of the wreckage can be "used" for the construction of a successor model. However, the first design drafts are already available. Extensive preparatory work is required: Industry circles said that a successor to the An-225 must meet modern airworthiness standards. A "large amount of design and construction work, selection and purchase of relevant components, test programs" is required for this, reported "AeroTelegraph".
The US aviation group Boeing and the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus could possibly contribute individual components. "We are currently still in contact with manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus and Embraer to ask them to help us rebuild Mriya," said An-225 chief pilot Dmytro Antonov on MDR.
The Ukrainian state-owned company Antonov has so far not announced where exactly the "Mriya" reconstruction is to be built. The work has so far been carried out at a "secret location", it says only. There is no official schedule yet. We are still in the "planning phase".
So far, however, the only thing that is certain is that the planned resurrection will not come cheap. "The cost of building the aircraft is estimated at at least 500 million euros," said the manufacturer Antonov. Earlier estimates from the spring even spoke of costs of up to three billion euros. "We won't know how expensive the whole thing will be until after the war," said Mriya pilot Antonov.
In which quantities the new An-225 will be built is also still open. "It's still too early to talk about concrete numbers," says Kyiv. The Leipzig aviation site, where around 300 Antonov employees are currently looking after the Ukrainian cargo airline's day-to-day business, is to play a special role in the reconstruction. Among other things, Antonow Airlines also operates an extensively equipped maintenance base there. No An-225 parts would be produced in Leipzig, said the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Oleksiy Makeyev. The hub in Germany is not only intended as "a home for the aircraft", but "is also a runway into the future".