$800M Needed To Build A New An-225 Mriya Cargo Jet Zelensky Says

Oleksandr Halunenko is glad to hear Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talk about building a new An-225 cargo jet to replace the only one ever built that was destroyed during the Russian occupation of Hostomel airport.

But Haluenko – the first pilot of the world’s biggest operational airplane known by its nickname Mriya – Ukrainian for dream – said any replacement will never be the same.

“It will be a completely different aircraft,” Halunenko told The War Zone Saturday afternoon.

And if anyone should know, it would Halunenko. He helped design Mriya.

For one thing, the aircraft he piloted on its first flight – December 21, 1988 – was built largely from systems made in the then-Soviet Union.

“In Mriya-2, they will need to be replaced by European, American or some other systems,” said Halunenko.

Oleksandr Halunenko helped design and was the first pilot to fly the Antonov An-225, known as Mriya. Photo courtesy of the Halunenkos

Then, the new aircraft will have to be tested all over again.

“As a result, another aircraft in terms of characteristics,” said Halunenko. “Externally, like Mriya-1, but inside, completely different.”

Last week, Zelensky announced his intentions of building a new Mriya during an online meeting with Ukrainian students.

“We wanted to build it, we needed $800 million,” he said, according to the Interfax Ukraine news agency. “I appealed to the President of Turkey with a proposal to build the 2nd MRIYA, but we did not find the money,” he said.

“But in this case, it’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of ambition. We were approached by Ukroboronprom, the Antonov team. This is a question of the image of our country and all the excellent professional pilots who died in this war.”

The idea, said Zelensky, is to dedicate the new aircraft to Ukrainian pilots who have been killed defending their country since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24.

“How much they have done, and today we can already say how many lives of people who remained in Mariupol, especially in Azovstal they saved … How many pilots gave their lives to bring everything there, from weapons to water. And how many wounded they took from there. A large number of these people died heroically,” Zelensky said. “To build a Mriya for the sake of the memory of heroes is the right state position.”

A view of the wreckage of Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo plane, the world’s biggest operational aircraft, destroyed by Russian shelling. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Zelensky’s estimate to build a new Mriya, however, is far less than what Ukroboronprom, the Ukrainian defense industry conglomerate of which Antonov is part, said it would take.

Ukroboronprom said on Feb. 27 that building a new Mriya will cost more than $3 billion and take five years. This seemed like a massive figure at the time.

The funds, it said, will come from Russia via war reparations.

“Ukraine will make every effort to ensure that the aggressor state pays for these works,” Ukroboronprom states optimistically on its website. “The occupiers destroyed the airplane, but they won’t be able to destroy our common dream.” 

The aircraft known as “Mriya will definitely be reborn. Our task is to ensure that these costs are covered by the Russian Federation, which has caused intentional damage to Ukraine’s aviation and the air cargo sector.”

The Antonov design team created the first Mriya by expanding the An-124 Ruslan. The fuselage and wingspan were lengthened, two additional engines were added, fuselage barrel extensions were placed fore and aft of the wings, the iconic tail with twin vertical fins was crafted, the number of landing gear tires was increased to 32, and the rear cargo doors were removed.

Mriya’s six Ivchenko Progress/Lotarev D-18T, three-shaft turbofan engines each produced a maximum thrust of nearly 52,000 pounds-force. 

The plane’s twin tail enabled it to carry large, heavy external loads — like the Russian Buran space shuttle — which would normally disturb the airflow around a conventional central vertical tail.

During its years of flight, Mriya set a number of world records, including the greatest weight. On Sept. 11, 2001, with Halunenko piloting, Mriya flew five tanks weighing a total of more than 250 tons.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mriya shifted from transporting space equipment to serving as a charter cargo jet, working for civilian companies as well as governments and militaries. Before it was destroyed, it provided a lot of lift for COVID-related supplies, including a flight carrying medical supplies from Germany to Namibia in July, 2021. One of its last missions was delivering 110 tons of Covid-19 testing kits from Tianjin, China, to Linz, Austria in October, 2021.

Unlike the Ruslan, Antonov only produced one finished An-225 and one additional fuselage.

That unfinished fuselage is stored somewhere in Ukraine, but it is unclear whether it can or will be used for a new Mriya. Neither Zelensky nor Ukronboronprom specifically addressed that.

Halunenko, who likened the destruction of Myria to a child being killed, said any effort to build a new version of such a huge aircraft won’t be easy.

“It would be very good if it worked out,” he said. “But it is very difficult.”

In an interview earlier this month, he said funding is a huge impediment. You can read our in-depth, wide-ranging interview with Halunenko here.

“Unfortunately, it needs a lot of investment,” he said at the time, adding that Ukraine does not have the funds for such a project. “It can only be built with donations.”

To help pay for a new An-225, Antonov has launched a crowdsourced fundraising campaign.

“Please be advised that in order to ensure full transparency, report on arrival and use of funds for the restoration of the world’s largest An-225 “Dream”, DP “ANTONOV” has opened a separate target multi-currency account for the deposit of money,” the company notes on its Facebook page.

But according to the May 2 Facebook post, which hasn’t been updated, the effort raises a little more than $4,200.

So paying for a new An-225 is still in the dream phase.

A drawing of Mriya, from the Antonov Facebook page.

And as much as he loved Mriya, Oleksander Halunenko, 76, is not dreaming of flying the new one.

If Mryia-2 ever does get off the ground, he won’t be at the yoke.

“His age no longer allows him to do that,” his wife, Olha Halunenko, told The War Zone.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.