Unique Soviet An-225 Lost? World’s Largest Aircraft Reportedly Destroyed in Russia-Ukraine Clashes

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the world’s largest aircraft, the unique An-225 six engine jet built in the Soviet Union, was destroyed in clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces on January 27. The fate of the aircraft remains uncertain, with drone footage of its hangar released on the day shows a major fire and an aircraft silhouette resembling that of the An-225. The possibility remains that the aircraft was damaged but could be restored after hostilities cease. The aircraft first flew in 1988, and while a second was under construction when the Soviet Union collapsed the fact that the Antonov company fell in the territory of Ukraine after 1991 ensured production was never completed due to economic decline in the country. Although the decision to complete second An-225 airframe was taken in 2006 after six years of stalling, work was abandoned in 2009 due to considerable delays. The aircraft was reportedly 60-70 percent complete by then, and although Chinese sources of funding were made available Western pressure on Ukraine restricting its cooperation with the East Asian state in fields of high tech ultimately prevented a deal from materialising.

The An-225 aircraft holds records for the largest wingspan, the heaviest airframe and the largest cargo capacity at 640,000kg, and was designed to be able to launch Buran space planes. Should the Russian military intervention in Ukraine place a Russian-friendly government in power in Kiev, the possibility remains that the An-225 program could gain new momentum with Russian funding and technical support, with the decision of the Ukrainian and Russian tech sectors having contributed to hampering progress after 1991. It could also pave the way to Chinese involvement in and funding for the program, possibly under a trilateral effort, with China and Russia already jointly pursuing development of airliners under the program CR929 program. The An-225 program provides a strong technological base for development of a new generation of very large aircraft, although its future depends largely on the outcome of current conflict in Ukraine and the political orientation of the Kiev government in its aftermath.

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