On December 21, 1988, the Antonov AN-225 Mriya flew its maiden flight. A year later, it made its international debut at the 1989 Paris Air Show. Today, this unique strategic airlifter is proudly operated by Antonov Airlines and remains the world’s heaviest operational aircraft.
The design and build of the AN-225 commenced in 1984, when Piotr Balabuyev replaced the late Oleg Antonov as General Designer of the newly-named Antonov Design Bureau. Using the AN-124 Ruslan as the basis for a ‘universal super-heavy transport aircraft’ capable of carrying the Soviet Union’s Buran shuttle orbiter, Balabuyev’s team stretched the AN-124’s fuselage by almost 15 metres (50 feet) and extended its wingspan by a similar distance. With the addition of two further engines (bringing the total to six) and installation of a twin-tail empennage, the AN-225 began operations in May 1989, ‘piggybacked’ by the Buran to and from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.