Can the world’s largest plane fly again?

See the remains of the world’s largest plane in Ukraine 0:48 (CNN) — Images of the wrecked Antonov AN-225 plane are already an indelible memory for aviation fans around the world. Built in the 1980s to carry the Soviet space shuttle, the plane had a second life after the Cold War as the world’s largest aircraft, setting records of all kinds, before being destroyed at its base in late February. operations, the Hostomel airfield near Kyiv. “The dream will never die,” the Antonov company tweeted, referring to the plane’s nickname “Mriya,” which means “dream” in Ukrainian. Solidarity came from all corners of the world. But will the AN-225 be able to fly again? To answer this question, it is first necessary to assess the damage suffered by the aircraft. CNN’s Vasco Cotovio saw the wreckage up close when he visited the Hostomel airfield in early April, along with other journalists from CNN and the Ukrainian National Police. “Hostomel was the scene of heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces very early in the war,” he says. The largest commercial aircraft in the world, the AN-225, was famous throughout the planet. (Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images) “Moscow forces tried to seize the airfield to use as a forward operating position to which they could bring additional ground units. To do this, they mounted an air assault with attack helicopters.” They seemed to have had some initial success, but the Ukrainian response was very quick, hitting the airfield fast and hard to prevent any kind of landing,” he says. The condition of the plane left no doubt about the possibility of a repair. “The nose of the The plane was completely destroyed, apparently the victim of a direct artillery hit,” says Cotovio. “In addition to that, there was extensive damage to the wings and some of the engines. The tail section was spared from the big hits and has some holes caused by shrapnel or bullets.” “Had it not been for the direct hit to the nose, the AN-225 could have been repaired,” he says, adding that the area around the plane was littered with spent ammunition, destroyed Russian tanks and trucks, and wrecked armored personnel carriers.A run-off The AN-225 was created as part of the Soviet space program to carry the Soviet space shuttle “Burane” on its back (Photo: Gilles Leimdorfer/AFP/Getty Images) Andrii Sovenko, a Kyiv-based aviation expert and engineer who has worked for the Antonov company since 1987 and has flown the AN-225 as part of its technical crew, collected a detailed list of the damage, looking at a large number of videos and photos of the wreckage (Antonov staff cannot yet return to Hostomel for security reasons.) Confirms that the central section of the fuselage and the nose of the plane—includes — including the cabin and crew rest compartments — are destroyed, but it is the aircraft’s onboard systems and equipment that received the most critical damage. “Restoring them will be the hardest,” he says. “This is because most of the various electrical systems, pumps, and filters used on the AN-225 are all from the 1980s. “They are simply no longer manufactured, so it is unlikely that they can be exactly restored. in the way they did,” he says. It’s not all bad news: Some parts of the wings, including airfoils like flaps and ailerons, appear to have sustained minor damage, and could be salvaged. Most of the six engines they also appear intact, with the entire tail section of the aircraft affected only by shrapnel damage, leaving it in fair condition.The AN-225 was heavily damaged during the battle for Hostomel airfield near Kyiv. ( Photo: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images) Sovenko, who wrote a book on the history of Antonov Airlines detailing his experience flying the Mriya, agrees that Hostomel’s plane cannot be repaired. of the repair ration or restoration of this aircraft. We can only talk about the construction of another Mriya, using the individual components that can be salvaged from the wreckage and combining them with those that, in the 1980s, were intended for the construction of a second plane”. It refers to the second fuselage of the AN -225 that Antonov has preserved to this day in a large workshop in Kyiv. It was part of an original plan to build two AN-225s, which never came to fruition. “This is a completely finished fuselage, with a new center section already installed on it, as well as the supporting structure of the wings and the tail unit. In other words, an almost complete fuselage. As far as I know, it suffered virtually no damage during the Russian artillery bombardment of the plant,” Sovenko says. A new design There is one main problem with the idea of ​​building the disabled fuselage out of salvageable Hostomel parts: it still won’t be the 100% of the necessary components.”It will be impossible to build the exact same plane, with the same design and equipment,” says Sovenko.In that case, Antonov faces two obstacles: making the old and new components work together, and having to re-certify the aircraft to confirm its airworthiness and compliance with current regulations The company has experience with the first issue, having upgraded many of the AN-225’s systems over the years and replaced the old Soviet technology for modern Ukrainian equivalents, but full certification would take time and increase costs.Experts say the original plane is unlikely to survive. regain its former splendor. (Photo: Genya Savilov/AFPGetty Images) Unfortunately, that seems to be almost inevitable: “It doesn’t make sense today to build an aircraft with a design from 40 years ago,” adds Sovenko. “It is also quite possible that additional changes to the aircraft design will be deemed appropriate, based on the operating experience of the original.” The AN-225 was never designed to carry commercial cargo, and was adapted to do so through extensive work by Antonov in the late 1990s. However, despite its colossal capacity, the aircraft was still cumbersome to operate from the crew’s point of view. It must be lowered through the nose — a maneuver known as “kneeling like an elephant” — to raise the cargo, which is rolled on board using custom rails and pulleys. Due to its unique design, only the nose of the aircraft opens, and it does not have a ramp at the rear like its smaller brother, the AN-124, which is more practical. The cargo floor could also be strengthened and the plane’s degree of compliance with existing airport infrastructure could be increased, adding to the list of desirable improvements in a hypothetical modern version of the plane. Millions or billions? The AN-225 broke numerous aviation records during its lifetime. (Photo: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images) Building a second Myria won’t be cheap, but it’s hard to say exactly how much it would cost. Ukrinform, the Ukrainian national news agency, caused astonishment when it stated that the cost of the operation would be US$3 billion. In 2018, Antonov estimated that the completion of the second fuselage would cost up to $350 million, though that figure may now have to be revised upwards. “Nothing is known for sure at the moment,” says Sovenko. “The cost will depend on how damaged the surviving parts of the plane are, as well as how many modifications and new equipment will be required. A large part of the cost will depend on how much certification testing is deemed necessary. But in any case , we can guess that the final amount will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not billions”. Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst at Aerodynamic Advisory, agrees: “It depends on whether the plane would just be a prototype or whether they wanted it to go into commercial service, fully certified. Certainly $500 million or so is more reasonable.” , even with certification, than US$ 3,000 million”. The real question, says Aboulafia, is who would pay for it. “There really isn’t much of a commercial application for this aircraft, and without that, where would the money come from?” It is easy to think that most of the costs would be borne by Antonov, but the company has suffered heavy losses from the destruction of other aircraft and facilities; although it continues to operate at a reduced level, its future is uncertain. “I am an optimist. I sincerely and deeply hope that Antonov aircraft will continue to fly in the skies of the future,” says Sovenko, “but I am also a realist. And I fully understand that the costs required to build the second Mriya will have to be correlated with the capabilities Antonov’s finances after the war, as well as with the expected income from the operation of this aircraft”.

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