Did Russia destroy Ukraine's Antonov AN-225, the world's largest plane?

Satellite images show damage to the aircraft's hangar

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The world's largest plane, the Antonov AN-225, is being inspected after coming under attack from Russian forces in Ukraine.

Ukraine's state-owned defence conglomerate Ukroboronprom said the unique aircraft, known as Mriya, was destroyed at the Antonov Airport in Gostomel, near Kiev.

"The occupiers destroyed the airplane, but they won’t be able to destroy our common dream," the group said in a statement. "Mriya will definitely be reborn. The restoration is estimated to take over $3 billion and over five years."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba confirmed the attack on the Antonov, while satellite images showed damage to a hangar at the airport.

However, the Antonov Company has yet to write off the 84-metre-long aircraft.

It said on Twitter: "Currently, until the AN-225 has been inspected by experts, we cannot report on the technical condition of the aircraft. Stay tuned for further official announcement."

The airport has witnessed violent clashes since the start of Russia's invasion, launched by President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

Antonov AN-225's role in aviation

With its six engines, 32 wheels and wingspan that matches the length of a football pitch, the Antonov AN-225 has claimed 242 world records since it started flying in 1988, according to Antonov Airlines.

Its role in the aviation industry took on greater significance amid the coronavirus pandemic, as it delivered tonne after tonne of vital aid to countries worldwide.

The Mriya ("dream" in Ukrainian) entered commercial service in 2001 and was originally developed to transport the Energiya carrier-rocket and Buran space shuttle.

The aircraft could carry a maximum payload of 250,000 kilograms, and had a wingspan of 88m. Its size meant it could fit a helicopter or haulage lorry inside.

The next biggest commercial airliner is the Boeing 747-8F, which can handle up to 150 tonnes. Sandwiched between is the AN-124, which can handle up to 150 tonnes but has a single deck, in contrast to the 747-8F which has both the main deck and lower cargo hold.

The Airbus BelugaXL, shaped like a whale and complete with a smiley face, is actually bigger than the Antonov in one respect: at 63m long and 8m wide, it has the largest cargo bay cross-section of all existing cargo aircraft.

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Updated: February 28, 2022, 8:11 AM