Can the world’s largest commercial aircraft fly again?

(CNN) – Images of the wrecked Antonov AN-225 are now an indelible memory for aviation enthusiasts around the world.

Built to carry Soviet spacecraft in the 1980s, the aircraft came to life after the Cold War as the world’s second-largest freight forwarder, achieving all sorts of achievements, and was destroyed at its home base, Hostomal Airport, in late February. Kiev
“Dream never dies” Has tweeted that Antonov company, the nickname of the aircraft “Miriam”, in Ukrainian means dream. Unity poured in from every corner of the globe.

But can the AN-225 fly again?

The first answer to that question is to assess the damage caused by the aircraft.

When CNN’s Vasco da Gama went to Hostomel Airport in early April with other CNN journalists and the Ukrainian National Police, he saw the wreckage up close.

“Hostomal was the scene of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces from the very beginning of the war,” he says.

The AN-225, the world’s largest commercial aircraft, is world famous.

Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images

“Moscow’s forces were trying to use the airport as a forward operating position so that they could fly in additional ground units. To do so, they carried out air strikes by attack helicopters.

“They seemed to have some initial success, but the Ukrainian response was very quick, hitting the airport fast and hard – to prevent any kind of landing,” he says.

There is no doubt about the possibility of repairing the condition of the aircraft.

“The nose of the aircraft was completely destroyed and apparently affected by direct artillery fire,” Kodovio says. “In addition, extensive damage was done to the wings and some engines.

“If it had not been hit directly in the nose, the AN-225 would have been repairable,” he says, adding that the area around the aircraft was strewn with ammunition, destroying Russian tanks and trucks and destroying armored vehicles.

Second visit

The AN-225 was developed to carry the Soviet spacecraft as part of the Soviet space program.

As part of the AN-225 Soviet space program, the Soviet spacecraft “Braun” was developed to carry on its rear.

Gilles Leimdorfer / AFP / Getty Images

Andrii Sovenko, a Kiev-based engineer and aviation expert who has worked with Antonov since 1987 and flew on the AN-225 as part of its technical team, has compiled a comprehensive list of damage from a large number. Videos and pictures of the wreckage (Antonov staff not allowed back into the hostome for security reasons).

He confirms that the center of the aircraft and the nose of the aircraft – including the cockpit and crew lounge – were destroyed, but only the aircraft’s internal systems and equipment suffered significant damage.

“It will be very difficult to recover them,” he says. “This is because the various electrical systems, pumps and filters used in the AN-225 were all used in the 1980s.

“They are no longer manufactured, so it is not possible to restore them exactly as they were,” he says.

All of this is not bad news: parts of the wings, including the aerodynamic surfaces such as the folds and aerodynamics, appear to have suffered minor damage and are repairable.

Most of the six engines appear to be intact, and the entire tail section of the aircraft is affected by sprain damage and is in acceptable condition.

AN-225 suffered heavy damage during the battle for the Hostomal Airport near Kiev.

AN-225 suffered heavy damage during the battle for the Hostomal Airport near Kiev.

Genia Savilov / AFP / Getty Images

Sovenko, who wrote a book on the history of Antonov Airlines, describes the experience of flying in Maria and admits that the flight in the hostome could not be repaired.

“It is not possible to talk about the repair or reconstruction of this aircraft – we can only talk about creating another Miriam using unique components that can be recovered from the wreckage, combining them with those of the 1980s. For the construction of the second aircraft.”

He mentions the second AN-225 airframe that Antonov has preserved to this day in a large workshop in Kiev. It was part of the original plan to build two AN-225s, which never came out.

“This is a completely finished fuse, in which a new hub is already installed, as well as the load-bearing structure of the wings and tail unit. In other words, almost a complete aircraft frame. As far as I know, it was practically not damaged during the Russian artillery bombing of the plant,” Sovenko said.

A new design

There is a major problem with the idea of ​​creating an unused airframe with parts that can be protected from Hostomel: it still does not contain 100% of the required components.

“It is impossible to build the same aircraft with the right design and equipment,” Sovenko says. If so, Antonov faces two hurdles: the new and old components will have to go through re-certification of the aircraft to ensure compliance with the aircraft’s air conditioning and current regulations.

Over the years the company has gained experience in the first issue, updating many of the AN-225’s systems and replacing the old Soviet technology with modern Ukrainian equations, but full certification will require time and increase costs.

Experts say it is unlikely the original aircraft will return to its former glory.

Experts say it is unlikely the original aircraft will return to its former glory.

Genia Savilov / AFPGetty Images

Unfortunately, this seems almost inevitable: “Today it makes no sense to build an airplane with a 40-year-old design,” Sovenko added. “Based on the original operating experience, it is possible that further changes to the aircraft design may be considered appropriate.”

The AN-225 was not designed to carry commercial goods, and was adapted to work by Antonov’s extensive work in the late 1990s. Nevertheless, despite its enormous capacity, the aircraft was difficult to operate in the eyes of the crew. It has to be lowered to its nose – the so-called “elephant knee” maneuver – to load the cargo, which is rolled aboard the ship using custom tracks and bulldozers.

Due to its unique design, the aircraft’s nose only opens, and there is no ramp at the rear like its more practical little brother, the AN-124. The cargo platform may use some reinforcement and increase the level of compatibility of the aircraft with the existing airport infrastructure, which will be added to the list of desirable upgrades in the hypothetical modern version of the aircraft.

Millions or billions?

The AN-225 broke numerous aircraft records in its lifetime.

The AN-225 broke numerous aircraft records in its lifetime.

Ronnie Hartmann / AFP / Getty Images

Creating a second Miriam may not be cheap, but it is difficult to establish exactly how much it will cost. Ukraine’s national news agency Ukrinform raised eyebrows when it announced the cost of the surgery was $ 3 billion. In 2018, Antonov estimated that it would cost up to $ 350 million to complete the second airframe, although that figure now needs to be revised.

“Nothing is certain at the moment,” Sovenko said. You can guess. “

Richard Abulafia, an aeronautical analyst at Aerodynamic Advisory, agrees: “Depending on whether the aircraft is a prototype or wants to enter business service with full certification, of course $ 500 million or so is fair. With certification, over $ 3 billion.”

The real question, Abulafia says, is who will pay for it? “There’s not much commercial use for this plane. Without it, where would the money come from?”

It is easy to imagine that most of the costs would be borne by Antono, but the company suffered huge losses by destroying many aircraft and facilities; Although it is still operating at a low level, its future is uncertain.

“I’m a believer. I sincerely and deeply want the Antonov aircraft to continue to fly in the future,” says Sovenko. “But I’m also a realist. I fully understand the costs involved in building the second. .

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