Mriya pilot Dmytro Antonov on flying An-225 and the future of aviation [Part 2]

AeroTime News

Let’s say you reconstruct the An-225. In the process, the aviation industry of Ukraine is going to get a sizeable boost. What do you think is going to happen next? New An-124 Ruslans? New models of large cargo aircraft? 

In regards to new models, the question is very difficult. Manufacturing large parts for them is problematic. When it comes to the second Mriya, we are lucky, a lot has been already done. Sixty, 70, some say even 80 per cent of the airframe is completed, depending on how you measure it. Theoretically, of course, it would be good to restart building those large airplanes. But for that some serious infrastructure has to be built. This is a question of a whole other level. Modernization of the existing fleet of large airplanes is more realistic. We have seven An-124s, plus one which has been in maintenance. That one was ours, but then we sold it to Libya, and now we theoretically have it, but it has been in storage for many years. So, potentially there is one more. Modernizing them is paramount. Also, the question of making the parts for the second Mriya plays an important role in that. Everything that will be created for the Mriya-2 can be used for modernizing our Ruslans. In some sense, this might reduce the cost of modernizing Mriya herself. And the airframes, the metal which is in them, still has a lot of potential. It is going to last at least 25 or so years if you look after them well. So, we are going to keeping the fleet we have, but expanding it is difficult, because the rest of these airplanes belong to our enemy [a number of An-124s are operated by the Russian military and the Russia-based Volga-Dnepr companyAeroTime]. So, of course, nobody is going to give them back to us, despite all the lawsuits. First, we have to fix what we have.  

There is an argument that large aircraft are not well-suited for the modern world. The Airbus A380 was unprofitable, the Boeing 747 is going away too. Disregarding the cargo ones that are still required, what do you think of the future of very large airplanes? 

You are right, A380 is done for. But not only because it is huge. Everything is because of economics. The aircraft, in order to recoup its costs, has to fly almost constantly. It has to spend as little time on the ground as possible. For example, the Boeing 373, or Airbus A320, they spend less than an hour on the ground each day. And the A380, although it takes four or five times more passengers, spends much more time on the ground. Loading and unloading passengers, security procedures, cleaning, food delivery. All of that contributes. It is not the problem of the aircraft’s design, I think, and this is my opinion as a pilot. Business and profitability play a big part here.  

As for the Boeing 747, it mostly carries oversized cargo. Palleted cargo, small containers. But it can’t carry the 40-foot shipping containers. An-124 can though. So, if the whole world comes together and says: we need an aircraft like the An-124 for its cargo capacity, another aircraft like the An-124 is going to happen. Because nothing else comes close to it. Even the American Lockheed C-5, which is very similar, is not as well-designed as the Ruslan. Here is a simple example. Once we participated in an exercise which took place in Prestwick, Scotland. We exercised quickly loading and transporting a submarine rescue system across the world. There were trailers, a small submarine, lots of other equipment. We loaded the system onto our An-124 in less than an hour. For the C-5, it took a whole day. So, that’s the story of how easily you can load the An-124. It is a very good design, Ruslan can do things neither the B747 nor C-5 can. Not even the [Airbus] Beluga can do such things. The Beluga is of course great, it can carry huge loads, but not heavy ones, and that’s its niche. And for these reasons our An-124s are very well regarded, some of them fly non-stop for the last five years or so. We do all kinds of projects, fly to all kinds of airports all around the world. So, I hope aircraft of the same class as the An-124 will be required in the future. 

You flew the Ruslan a lot, as well as the Mriya. What are some memorable flights you had? 

Every flight on these large aircraft, especially on the Mriya, is unique. Maybe the most memorable cases are when we do a series of flights to the same destination. Those always leave an impression. For example, I remember the work we did between Chile and Bolivia on the An-225. We carried energy equipment for a powerplant in Bolivia, large containers, similar to shipping ones, but bigger. Each of them weighed 160 tonnes. Naturally, nobody else could carry such weight, and there were no other ways to get them from the shore to Bolivia because of the mountains. They considered driving them through the whole of South America, through Brazil, the Amazon, but after calculating how many new bridges have to be built, other kinds of infrastructure, they understood that it is impossible. Then they found us. Twelve flights, 12 containers to the Bolivian forests. The flights were not long, around an hour and 20 minutes each. The clients were very happy. You can find videos about those flights on YouTube, I uploaded several of them, it was the beginning of my YouTube career.  

Another very interesting flight was in 2016 when we flew from Europe to Australia. It was Mriya’s first visit there, and two months in advance it was picked up by all the Australian news channels. It was such a stir, people waited for us at every airport we visited on the way. Even Turkmenbashi. Turmenistan is quite a closed-off country, but still, we were greeted there. It was just wonderful. In India there was a huge welcome as well. And in Australia it was a tumult, over 15,000 people came to Perth Airport, it was the first time I saw such a crowd coming to see our airplane. So, it was quite memorable.  

Another interesting flight was between China and Denmark. I did not fly then, but people who did told me. They carried two 44-meter-long wind turbine blades for a crash test. Of course, no other aircraft could carry them. I think they could have been carried by a ship, but the client needed them transported as soon as possible. So, they loaded the blades, both of them weighed around 10 tonnes, which is like nothing for Mriya. She took off and did a direct 12 hours flight to Denmark. For a pilot, such a flight is very easy, but very interesting. 

Also, in 2012 there was an art exhibition in Hostomel. The organizers agreed with our management and placed an exhibition inside the aircraft. Some 550 paintings of various painters organized by the Kyiv gallery, and on the final day we conducted a 40-minute flight for the Guinness World Record. An art exhibition at the highest altitude. It was very interesting.  

Do you remember your first flight on the An-225? 

I don’t. I constantly get asked about this, but I really don’t remember. It disappeared in the routine, and I don’t want to make it up. I know the date – it was in 2002. But there was nothing remarkable about it. We don’t just come to the aircraft and start flying it, it doesn’t work like that. We start gradually. Get acquainted with the aircraft at first, get to know other pilots. They give you a lot of papers to fill in, lots of documents. I followed all the procedures, my recommendations were approved, I learned everything that was needed and then got to flying. I remember my first flight on the Ruslan though: it was February 9, 1995, I remember everything about it. But not for Mriya. Maybe that’s a sign that you don’t have to romanticize everything. 

In one of your videos you mention that you flew a Boeing 737 once. How did that happen? 

Six years ago, we had some free time, and we decided to get additional experience on the 737, so we could understand the airplane, its equipment, the way it works. The idea was to transfer some of that experience to our regular work. We, at our own expense, went and learned to fly the 737. It didn’t take long. Then some ‘higher powers’ interfered, other problems appeared, and I only did one flight from Zhuliany [Kyiv Zhuliany International Airport] to Batumi and back. It was a good experience, even the theoretical knowledge and the work on a simulator was useful for my job. The whole thing was very valuable.  

And in total, how many different models of aircraft have you piloted? 

I never counted them. Let’s try. Antonov An-12, An-24, An-26, An-72, An-74, An-148, An-158, An-140, An-124, An-225, An-22. Not that many. On some of them I did a lot of flying, and on some I flew just a couple of times. For example, the An-2, I don’t count it because I flew with it only once. On An-148 and An-158 I was a test pilot. As for commercial flights, with cargo or passengers, it’s An-74, An-124, An-225 and some An-26 at the beginning of my career. 

You probably get asked about this a lot, but which one is your favorite? 

I don’t do this. I don’t put one aircraft above another. I love my job, and aircraft are my job. My soul rests when I fly, I find working in an office a lot more difficult. Working with papers is hard, and when I get to an airplane, it’s as if I can breathe again, as if I get younger. Of course, flying Mriya is very interesting, mostly because it draws a lot of attention from people. But sometimes you get tired of that. You want to rest, and then some journalists want to talk to you. So, I can’t say that I prefer any particular airplane.  

And besides airplanes, what other interests do you have? 

This so-called blogging on YouTube somehow naturally happened. I think of it is a consequence of my main job. Besides that, I have a bit of land – six acres [600 square meters]. Unfortunately, if you want good results from your garden, you have to put a lot of time in it, and you have to be working on it in constantly. If you plant something and then fly away, and your family does not have time for that, it’s not going to end up well. You have to work on it constantly. But I still like to spend free time there, it’s a good place to make some shashlik, to do some gardening. Also, I like going to the cinema with my child, with my family. Of course, you can watch everything on TV, but there is a whole process with the cinema. We have wonderful cinemas now, even better than the ones abroad. And of course, traveling. Especially the places that have not only a nice beach, but some history you can experience.  

Finally, I know that our readers would like to wish one thing for you – for the war to end as soon as possible. However, what would you like to wish for our readers and other aviation enthusiasts worldwide? 

Most importantly, I wish for everybody to see the constant development of aviation, for new technologies to appear. So that we could fly on electricity as soon as possible. In some sense it is already happening, but it should be developed further, so that big aircraft would ‘learn’ to use electricity or hydrogen.  

And of course, I wish that all aviators will see the invention of teleportation as late as possible. It is probably going to happen sooner or later, and cargo transportation is going to become absolutely boring [laughs]. 

Also, I wish for an aircraft not to become a computer that is controlled from the ground. That would be very boring as well. We already see how good the unmanned aerial vehicles are, and based on that, somebody could get some ideas. That shouldn’t happen. Not only should aircraft be beautiful, they should have beautiful crew inside as well.  

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