Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – Photos of the world’s largest Antonov An-225 wreckage have now become an indelible memory during the Russian occupation of Ukraine for aviation enthusiasts around the world.
The aircraft was built in the 1980s to transport the Soviet spacecraft, and the vehicle gained a second life after the Cold War as the world’s largest carrier of cargo and reached records of all kinds before being destroyed at the base in late February. its main airport “Hostomel” near the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
“The dream will never die,” Antonov’s company wrote on Twitter, referring to the nickname “Mriya” aircraft, which means “dream” in Ukrainian.
But can the AN-225 fly again? To answer this question an assessment of aircraft damage is first required.
CNN’s Vasco Kotovio saw the rubble up close when he visited Hostomil Airport in early April with other journalists from CNN and the National Police of Ukraine.
“Hostomeli has been the site of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces since the beginning of the war,” Kotovio said, adding, “The nose of the plane was completely destroyed and appears to have been the victim of direct artillery shelling. stated that there were “serious injuries to the wings and some engines”.
“Had it not been for the direct blow to the nose, the AN-225 could have been repaired,” Kotovio said.
Kiev-based aviation engineer and expert who has worked for Antonov since 1987 and traveled on the plane as part of his technical crew, Andrey Sovenko, made a detailed list of damages by watching a large number of videos and photos of the ruins. Antonov is returning to Hostomil due to security concerns.
Sovinko confirmed that the central part of the fuselage, the nose of the aircraft, including the cockpit and crew compartments were destroyed, but that the systems and equipment on board the aircraft were most damaged.
Their restoration will be more difficult due to “the fact that most of the various electrical systems, pumps and filters used in the AN-225 date back to the 1980s”.
However, the wings, including the aerodynamic surfaces, appear to have suffered minor damage and can be rescued.
Sovinko, who has written a book on the history of Antonov Airlines, detailing his experience flying to Meria, agrees that the plane could not be repaired at Hostomil.
“It is impossible to talk about repairing or restoring this aircraft, and we can only talk about building another aircraft using individual components that can be rescued from the wreckage, and combined with those intended to build a second aircraft. in the 1980s, ”he explains.
Sovenko reportedly refers to the second body “AN-225”, which the company “Antonov” has stored to date in a large workshop in Kiev.
The structure was part of an original plan to build two An-225 aircraft, but was never realized.
Sovinko believed that “it would be impossible to build exactly the same aircraft, with the same design and equipment.”
If so, Antonov will face two obstacles, causing new and old components to work together, and aircraft re-certification may be required to confirm air capability and compliance with current regulations.
The company has experience with the first hurdle, as it has upgraded many AN-225 systems over the years, replacing old Soviet technology with modern Ukrainian ones, but obtaining full certification takes time and increases costs.
“It makes no sense to build a plane today with a 40-year-old design,” Sovinko said.
Millions or billions?
It will not be cheap to rebuild Mira, but it is difficult to determine the exact cost.
Ukraine’s national news agency Ukrinform raised eyebrows when it announced the operation would cost $ 3 billion.
In 2018, Antonov estimated that the completion of the second aircraft frame would cost up to $ 350 million and that number may need to be revised now.
“The cost will depend on the degree of damage to the remaining parts of the aircraft, as well as the number of modifications and new equipment that will be required,” Sovinko said. “A large part of the costs will depend on the amount of certification tests deemed necessary… We can assume that the final amount will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not billions.”
Aerodynamic Consulting analyst Richard Abulafia agrees, but says the real question is who will pay for it. “There are not many commercial applications for this aircraft and without it, where would the money come from?”