There are many items still left on my AvGeek bucket list, but last week I was fortunate enough to cross a pretty BIG one off.
I was very excited to be invited to witness the arrival of the world’s largest aircraft ever produced, the mighty Antonov An-225. Nicknamed “Mriya”, which is the Ukranian word for dream. The aircraft first flew in 1988 and is the only plane of its kind in service today. There was a second model built to about 70% completion, but due to funding problems it remains in a desolate state in Kiev.
The original mission scope of the aircraft was to carry the soviet spacecraft Buran, much like the American version of the 747-based Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aircraft remained in storage for almost a decade before it was brought back into operational service as a cargo air-lifter, operated by Antonov Airlines. Mriya is primarily based in Kiev, Ukraine but has completed various missions all around the world.
Mriya was scheduled to make a series of three flights from Ostrava Airport in the east of Czech Republic. Once the schedule was released, I realized that I would only have one chance to get some decent shots, as two of the three flights were scheduled to take place during darkness.
There was much fanfare at Ostrava Airport, and I estimate close to 200-300 spotters came out for the arrival, not just from Czech Republic but also from Poland and Slovakia. It always amazes me the amount of enthusiasm that is clearly present in the Czech population for all things aviation.
I was fortunate enough to be on the other side of the fence, as one of my friends works at the airport. Thanks to this unique access, I was able to not only get some amazing shots of the aircraft, but also partake in assisting my friend with the preparation for the arrival of this beast. As there was about four inches of snow on the aprons, I got to witness first-hand the complex and demanding task of snow clearing.
It was truly an awe-inspiring experience to be able to see this colossal, yet somehow majestic, aircraft up-close. This really goes down as one of my best AvGeek experiences to date!
Note: For the best viewing experience, be sure to click on each photo for the full resolution image to be displayed.