On June 24, 2021, Antonov An-225 Mriya departed Karachi, in Pakistan en route to RAF Brize Norton, with a special mission. The aircraft was contracted to assist with the withdrawal of the British armed forces from Afghanistan. As such, it carried three RAF Puma helicopters from Afghanistan back to the United Kingdom.

With an MTOW of 600 metric tons and a hold volume of 1,300 cubic meters, the unique plane is the perfect asset for such specific transport operations. It was about to take off upon delivering the impressive payload when the power of its 6 Progress D-18 turbofan engines blasted the perimeter fence around the airbase. Fortunately, no injuries were reported among the planespotters that were standing behind.

(Credit: Michael Miklos, used with permission)

The flight marked the return to operations of the Antonov An-225 after almost a year of routine maintenance work.

Announced by US President Joe Biden in April 2021, the withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan began on May 1, 2021, and should continue until September of the same year. The retreat is primarily carried out using British and US C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft. Several private transport contractors, notably operating the Antonov 124 Ruslan, were also called to assist.

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The USAF deployed six B-52 strategic bombers and 12 F/A-18 fighter bombers to protect the withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan.