Poignant tribute documents last ever commercial charter flight completed by the AN225


26AVIATION launched as a bespoke cargo charter specialist at the beginning of 2021. Since launching, the company has grown, having arranged charters on behalf of a number of logistics companies, global integrators and freight forwarders around the world, utilising aircraft ranging from widebody and outsized project freighters to light turboprops and jets.

However, our the company’s last booking of its first full year of trading was a significant and poignant one.

In January of this year, 26AVIATION secured a 9-flight charter program selected to transport urgent medical supplies in response to the global covid-19 pandemic from China to Denmark. This contract initially involved eight 747 charter flights, however when the final shipment specification was released, it became apparent that no conventional freighter would load the huge batch. Due to the urgent need for the product to be delivered, the consignee insisted that the cargo flew in one charter flight. At approximately 900 cbm, the only aircraft in the world that could carry the shipment was the unique Antonov AN225.

Once 26AVIATION had booked the aircraft, the company knew it was a hugely significant moment in the company’s history. “Having worked in the cargo charter sector for over 15 years I know how rare the opportunity is to complete an AN225 charter and it give us huge pride and excitement to join the small and exclusive club of charter brokers who had successfully completed a flight on the AN225, especially as it would take place in our first year of operation,” 26AVIATION founder Sam Heather said.

However, the company could never have imagined exactly how significant this flight would be, not only to them but to the global aviation community in what turned out to be it’s last ever commercial flight.

The team arrived into Billund a day before the flight arrived and “could feel the buzz around the airfield in anticipation”. The AN225 has always drawn a huge following and an estimated 10,000 enthusiasts young and old descended upon the small Danish airfield to catch a glimpse of the world’s largest aircraft.

Read more: Ukraine situation escalates, Mriya is “destroyed”

The aircraft landed on the Friday evening and begun offload at sunrise on the Saturday morning. “I find it quite poignant that during a week of solid torrential rain in central Denmark, incredibly the sun appeared for the first time in days, completed unexpected at the exact moment the AN225’s huge nose door opened, something we were lucky enough to catch on film. I feel this was a special moment in what was to be the last time in it’s 34 years of service that Mriya would complete a mission,” Heather said.

“After greeting the Ukrainian crew and saying hello to Captain Antonov and our good friend flight Manager Dima, we begun overseeing the offload which was completed with the complete efficiency and professionalism that has given Ukrainian cargo crew such a famously strong reputation within the industry,” he added

Once offloaded, the thousands of gathered enthusiasts and airport staff started to position themselves into locations they wanted to view the take off from. “We were lucky enough to get a front row seat on the side of the runway just where the aircraft lifted off. The aircraft fired up its colossal 6 motor engines and started to taxi into position for departure,” Heather stated.

Mriya then departed Billund on it’s ferry flight to Gostomel, Ukraine, admired by thousands as she disappeared into the clouds.

“After the aircraft ferried to Gostomel, just a few weeks later we heard the terrible news that the aircraft, that just a few weeks earlier had been the centre point of our year, had been destroyed whilst undergoing maintenance Ukraine. Above anything else we were devastated that one of the world’s greatest ever technical achievements had been destroyed and along with the global aviation community, mourned the loss of one of the most iconic aircraft in history,” Heather said.

“Whilst the flight was one of the most exciting charter flights that we have ever been involved with, our tribute video is intended to celebrate the end of an icon which has created memories for endless aviation professionals and enthusiasts alike during it’s 34 years of service,” Heather added.