Today in History: The Largest Airplane in the World Takes Flight for the First Time
by M.C. Millman
On December 21, 1988, Antonov An-255 Mriya, the largest airplane in the world, flew for the first time.
The behemoth was initially designed by the Soviet Union to transport rockets and shuttles for their space program. The plane holds a number of world records for transporting the heaviest payloads. The Soviet Union built only one Antonov AN-255. It was put in storage for nearly a decade before being remodeled to fly as a commercial cargo plane in 2001.
Mriya, pronounced Mer-EE-ah, means The Dream in Ukrainian. The plane has six jet engines and twin tail fins. The plane is 276 feet long and six stories high. It has 32 landing wheels and a wingspan of 290 feet. Its maximum takeoff weight is 1.4 million pounds. It was scheduled to remain in service until at least 2033.
The plane was a casualty of the war in Ukraine as it was heavily damaged early in the war on April 22, 2022, after receiving a direct hit while inside its airport hangar. The news of Mriya’s destruction devastated airplane buffs worldwide. The plane was not hit on purpose. The Russians bombed the area because they wanted to gain control of the airport’s long runway to fly in their army.
The loss of the plane was announced on February 27, 2022, when Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba posted a tweet reading, “Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya’… but they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state.”
In another tweet, the airplane’s manufacturer tweeted after Mriya was reported as gone, “The dream will never die.”
True to their word, the company announced in November 2022 that they plan to rebuild the damaged Mriya. The estimated repair costs are $502 million, according to the manufacturer, which directly contradicts the Ukrainian state defense company Ukroboronprom, which issued a statement stating that the estimated restoration of the plane is over $3 billion. They then vowed to make Russia pay for their loss, which could explain the price difference. It is estimated the rebuilding of Myriya will take at least five years.
For those who can’t wait the full five years to get a sneak peak at Mriya, a Ukrainian startup named Metal Time is selling working mechanical design kits of the plane for $99 each, with all profits going not only to help fund the airplane's rebuilding campaign but also for rehousing Ukrainian employees who will be working on the restoration project as their homes were destroyed by war, and training for new Ukrainian pilots and aviation engineers.