Antonov AN-225 at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, March 7, 1991
“Mriya,” also known as the Antonov AN-225 and the world’s largest aircraft, taxis at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, on March 7, 1991, after arriving on a humanitarian mission. Credit: Contributed photo / Rollin Tebbetts / All rights reserved / No permissions given

(UPDATED Friday, March 4, 11 a.m.) – News of heavy damage to the world’s largest aircraft as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine has saddened the Connecticut aviation community this week – particularly those who were there to see the plane land at Bradley International Airport more than 30 years ago as part of a humanitarian effort.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 28 that the one-of-a-kind Antonov AN-225 cargo plane was heavily damaged. But Ukroboronprom, the state defense company that manages the Antonov Company that manufactured the plane, reported that it was destroyed and said the Russian Federation would be paying to restore it.

The Antonov AN-225 – dubbed “Mriya” by the Antonov Compay – had a wingspan of nearly 300 feet, and was the only aircraft to feature six turbofan engines. It was under repair at the Hostomel Airport at the time it was damaged, according to a Feb. 27 statement from Ukroboronprom.

However, the new images below – which appear to have originally been captured on video by Russian State TV at the Hostomel Airport – show the severity of the damage to the AN-225:

The plane had the capacity to transport as much as 250 tons of cargo, but on March 7, 1991, it delivered an 11-year-old girl and her family to Bradley after she was diagnosed with leukemia due to exposure to radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. She was to go on to Yale New Haven Hospital for treatment, according to newspaper reports at the time.

Rollin Tebbetts, who worked for 26 years in airport operations at Bradley, said the airport fortunately has a main runway that’s 200 feet wide and 10,000 feet long to accommodate the massive aircraft.

“It was incredible. I had never seen an aircraft that large in my life,” Tebbetts recalled.

Kevin Maloney, who owned Air Freight Services at the time, assisted with the cargo handling of medical equipment that was going to be sent back on board the Antonov to help treat other survivors of the Chernobyl disaster.

Now president and owner of Northeast Express Trans., Inc. located at Bradley, Maloney recalled being amazed at the size of the “Mriya,” which means “dream” in Ukrainian.

“It was like a building with wings driving up,” Maloney said. “It dwarfed the cargo building. The thing is mammoth.”

The plane, which stayed at Bradley for nearly two weeks, was staffed by around a dozen crew members, Maloney recalled. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union in March 1991, a few months before the country voted for its independence.

“Some were, I think, a little standoffish because of all the mush that the Soviet Republic had put in their heads about America,” he said, adding the crew believed some places – such as stores – were off-limits to them.

“So we took them to two or three different shopping malls,” Maloney said. “It was then that they all started to open up.”

Local hotels helped put the crew up at night, and restaurants helped feed them, Maloney said.

The crew members were sad to go, Maloney said.

“Those guys for sure were just taken aback at the generosity and friendliness that we showed them,” Maloney said. “I’m sure there were a couple of them that would have preferred to stay.”

The AN-225 was open to the public for tours during the days it was at Bradley, an effort to raise money to pay for the fuel it would take to return, Maloney said.

“I don’t know if that would be possible today given the environment,” Maloney said, but the tours were successful in raising those funds.

Cockpit instrumental panel aboard the Antonov AN-225
The cockpit instrument panel aboard “Mriya,” also known as the Antonov AN-225 and the world’s largest aircraft, at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. The plane had arrived March 7, 1991, on a humanitarian mission to get treatment for a victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Credit: Contributed photo / Rollin Tebbetts / All rights reserved / No permissions given

Watching the plane take off for its return flight was as impressive as watching it come in, Tebbetts said.

“When it took off it used almost the whole runway,” Tebbetts said.

The AN-225 took its first flight in December 1988. While two AN-225s were built, only one was completed. It was developed to transport the Buran shuttle orbiter and components of the Energiya carrier rocket, according to Antonov’s website.

The crew of the AN-225 set several world records during its flight in June 2004, when it flew 247 tons of cargo from Prague in the Czech Republic to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. In September 2012, on the opening day of AviaSvit -ХХΙ Aerospace Show, Mriya lifted an art exhibition of the Globus Gallery (500 paintings by 120 Ukrainian artists) to the altitude of 10,150 meters (33,000 feet), a flight that was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records, according to Antonov’s website.

While Antonov said via its Twitter page that it could not comment on the state of the plane until experts could evaluate it, Ukroboronprom said on its website that, “Mriya” will definitely be reborn.”

That restoration will cost $3 billion over the next five years. “Our task is to ensure that these costs are covered by the Russian Federation, which has caused intentional damage to Ukraine’s aviation and the air cargo sector,” the statement said.

Antonov AN-225 – the world's largest aircraft
The Antonov AN-225 – the world’s largest aircraft – lands for a fuel stop watched by thousands of onlookers in Prestwick, Scotland on Aug. 2, 2020. The Antonov AN-225 was reportedly damaged beyond repair this week by Russian troops invading Ukraine. Credit: Derek Beattie Images / Shutterstock