Over a month ago I shared my first impressions of the Microsoft/iniBuilds Antonov An-225 for MSFS. I stated that it was a wonderful representation of the Antonov An-225, but that it still felt like there was room to improve to give this singular aircraft the treatment it deserves. After all, the An-225 will only fly in the simulator for the time being, so I lamented the issues that I found – as few and far between as they were.
But the thing with first impressions is that they don’t always give you the full picture. With as complex as the An-225 for Microsoft Flight Simulator is, it is only right to spend more time with it and to release a comprehensive review. Microsoft/iniBuilds also released a comprehensive update for the An-225 at the end of March, fixing bugs and introducing quality-of-life improvements.
During the month and a half I spent trucking cargo around the world in the Microsoft/iniBuilds An-225 for MSFS, I have come to appreciate that while the faults I did notice aren’t going away, they have largely become immaterial. I found myself immersed in the challenge of operating such an unconventional aircraft and enjoying each and every long, quiet hour on the flight deck of the marvelous Antonov An-225.
Table of Contents
The Microsoft/iniBuilds An-225 for MSFS was reviewed on a PC copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator running a Ryzen 5800X3D and RTX 3080. I use a 1440p Ultrawide monitor, the Honeycomb Bravo throttle quadrant, and the Thrustmaster TCA Boeing yoke alongside Thrustmaster TFRP rudder pedals. I have been flight simming since MSFS released in 2020, and I hold no real-world pilot’s license. All currencies mentioned in this review are in $USD. The review copy of Antonov An-225 for MSFS used was not provided by Microsoft, iniBuilds, Asobo, or any affiliates. The opinions and conclusions expressed in this review are solely my own.
Soviet-era Shuttle hauler
The Anotonov An-225 was originally designed as a derivative of the An-124 strategic cargo airlifter with modifications directly intended to carry the Soviet Union’s Buran-class space orbiter, as well as other outsize cargo as a replacement for the Myasishchev VM-T. The requirement for externally-mounted cargo transport resulted in many of the An-225’s distinctive design characteristics, including the two “humps” on the upper fuselage (used to mount the Buran orbiter) as well as the twin vertical stabilizers, widely separated to stay out of the cargo’s airflow.
The An-225 was mothballed for a time after the collapse of the Soviet Union before being re-engined and recertified by 2001. It has been since contracted by both civil and military organizations to carry unusual and important cargo all over the world. Its iconic blue-and-yellow paint scheme has earned it the moniker of “Ukraine’s winged ambassador” and the aircraft became a source of pride for the country. Its final mission was aiding in Covid-19 relief by shipping test kits from China to Billund, Denmark in early 2022.
The An-225 “Mriya” (“Dream”) was destroyed in the Battle of Antonov Airport on the morning of the day that it was scheduled to be evacuated. Microsoft/iniBuilds released the An-225 for MSFS almost a year to the day after its destruction, and have pledged that all proceeds from its sale, at least for now, are given directly to Antonov to either reconstruct or memorialize this iconic aircraft. In this way, the purchase of the An-225 for MSFS both preserves it in-sim, but also could directly result in it flying again.
Purchase and features
The Microsoft/iniBuilds Antonov An-225 for MSFS is available for $20 USD exclusively from the in-game Marketplace. The only thing that has changed since my initial impressions piece is that since the An-225 is considered a first-party release, owners of the Deluxe and Premium Deluxe editions of Microsoft Flight Simulator get a small discount on their purchase. It is also now available for Xbox pilots after Sim Update 12 added WASM support to consoles.
Seven liveries are included, representing the history of the An-225 as well as the expected Flight Simulator “Aviator’s Club” branding. There is a manual included in the download, but as usual, it is buried deep in the AppData folder (which is hidden by default) with the rest of the add-ons. Microsoft/Asobo needs to improve the presentation of documentation across the board – there must be a more accessible way to distribute manuals as this issue is not at all unique to the An-225. Fortunately, iniBuilds does host the manual for the An-225 for MSFS, along with a helpful route guide and responsive support on their forums, and the manual is also available on Microsoft’s Manuals page.
There are sporadic forum reports (Example) of users having issues on older or less-common CPUs. The An-225 for MSFS requires AVX support to properly compile upon the first load, as do many 3rd party add-ons. As the MSFS Marketplace controversially rarely provides refunds, be sure to check your compatibility before purchase – although any mainstream CPU released after 2011 should have no issue.
EFB and flight planning
The Microsoft/iniBuilds An-225 for MSFS comes with an EFB to control the functions of the aircraft. It is the same tablet model as the EFB included in the iniBuilds A310 and includes a number of useful features. Through the EFB, you can adjust the aircraft doors and chocks, as well as the aircraft payload. There are also a few aircraft options and a very handy unit converter – although I would have loved it if the converter could pull values (such as speed and altitude) directly from the aircraft to make entry a little easier.
The An-225 for MSFS does not directly support SimBrief flight planning. SimBrief does have a profile for the An-225 already that seems to work extremely well, but in order to get your flight plan into the aircraft the best way I have found is to use the SimBrief Downloader application to download the flight plan, then import it into MSFS before starting your flight, so that it is automatically loaded in the GNS530W before you set off. Payload planning is done through the EFB, but I actually had more luck getting fuel in with the MSFS weight and balance utility.
An-225 for MSFS textures and modeling
iniBuilds has proven through their past products for Microsoft Flight Simulator that they are masters of the sim’s modern graphical capabilities. Throughout the An-225 for MSFS, this mastery is on display in the way that they create a unique, faithful experience to the original, within the limitations of the simulator. However, looking closely does reveal a number of flaws that, while superficial, remind me that I am still in my home.
The scale of the An-225 for MSFS’s massive six-person flight deck is captured extremely well. As someone used to Western airliners – Boeing and Airbus – it feels entirely foreign. Not just because all the text is Russian by default, but because the conventions by which the instruments are organized are flying by a different set of rules. Fortunately, the manual provided by Microsoft/iniBuilds is sufficient to familiarize yourself with the basics of the flight deck, and the in-sim checklists are comprehensive and easy to use. Almost every relevant instrument and switch that you could expect to use during normal operation has received a translation that is optionally selectable through the EFB.
The textures and details on the instrument panels are fantastic, both on the pilots’ stations as well as the navigator and flight engineers’ stations in the rear of the flight deck. There is good differentiation between the materials on the panel itself, clearly delineating polymers from metals and glass. All of the instruments are modeled in 3D. I particularly like the annunciator lights and panels: they have a lovely faded texturing with a warm glow that really accentuates the flight deck character of the An-225 for MSFS.
The navigator, radio op, and engineers’ stations are modeled and textured with the same attention to detail. The panels and instruments are augmented with smartly-varnished wood desks – a rarity in aircraft, and lovely to see here. All text and instrumentation across the board are crisp and readable, even if not understandable if you leave the translations off.
An imperfect cockpit
The flight deck is not perfect, however. Sun visors and curtains are not operable. Additionally, although the panels, annunciators, and instruments are textured outstandingly the cockpit framing is not. I think that it’s not the lower resolution that is the issue, as that is not immediately noticeable from typical pilot viewpoints. To me, it appears to be the material texturing that falls down in comparison to the panels: while the instrument panel has a wonderfully tactile texture, the window pillars and beige cockpit in general lack the same physicality.
This belies the only overarching issue with the flight deck of the An-225 for MSFS: flat lighting. Although the cockpit windows are large, the flight deck extends far enough back that you would expect some difference in lighting. That aft flight deck and the cabin behind it have only one tiny window in the exit door, and you’d expect significant shadowing. Yet, the flight deck is uniformly lit with the ambient light from outside. The lighting in the pilot’s view is realistic, but if you spend any real time in the rear of the flight deck you’ll quickly come to notice the lack of emissive light sources and dynamic daytime lighting. There is a good chance that some of this is a sim limitation, just more noticeable than usual on the massive flight deck of the An-225 for MSFS.
The flat daytime lighting is made all the more obvious by how generally excellent the night lighting is in the An-225 for MSFS. There are still some sources that cast light without an obvious emissive source, but there are just so many adjustable light sources that it’s not really an issue. Floodlights, backlighting, and directed panel lighting are all individually adjustable and there’s a wealth of customization to light the cockpit however you see fit.
Instrument lighting is warm and crisp, but has the weathering and inconsistencies that you’d expect from an aircraft of this vintage. The positions of lights aren’t adjustable like they are in the An-2 for MSFS. However, that is a bonus and not having that adjustability here does not detract from the otherwise excellent nighttime atmosphere on the flight deck of the An-225 for MSFS.
The An-225 for MSFS has a cabin, but you won’t want to spend any meaningful time there. To be fair, the actual An-225’s cabin is not a particularly hospitable place either. Only the forward cabin, behind the flight deck, is modeled in the An-225 for MSFS, and it is extremely basic. In my opinion, this is fine. Due to the lack of windows, and the wonderful internal views available from an engineering station, I never even wanted to spend time in the cabin during my flights.
For me, wanting to stay out of the cabin is a rarity amongst my long-haul flights in MSFS and is more a testament to the strength of the flight deck than it is to any failings of the cabin. However, the cabin does have the most noticeable modeling issues on the entire aircraft, with significant bleed from external light spilling into the cabin around the edges. I’m happy that Microsoft/iniBuilds decided to include it, even if I don’t plan on utilizing the crew rest areas.
From any angle at the distance it will typically be viewed, the An-225 for MSFS has an excellent external model. You can find small issues if you break out the fine-toothed comb but overall, I cannot fault the modeling. There are some compromises made in some lower-poly external items such as the elevator and the “humps” on the rear, likely in service of performance – but thanks to really clever LOD manipulation and well-crafted texturing, the few jagged edges that are present disappear into the imposing bulk of the aircraft.
Microsoft/iniBuilds have done a similarly wonderful texturing job across the bulk of the An-225 for MSFS. The way the bumps, warps, and rivets in the skin of the aircraft catch the lighting, in particular, is a highlight, and there are plenty of small details as well. Placards and writing are crisp and clear, and little details and “greebles” are modeled and textured with care instead of cheaply stenciled on.
Weathering is believable and not overdone. The An-225 for MSFS is a well-used but smartly maintained aircraft, and across all the liveries the textures do a great point of driving that point home. The six Progress D18-T engines trail dirty smoke when on the ground (and there is an option to disable this for performance) and at low altitudes, a lovely detail.
There is, however, some variance in texture quality that doesn’t match the same standard set by the rest of the aircraft. While the engine nacelles are particularly well-done, for example, the leading-edge slats have an uninspired metallic texture. The only external model gap I was able to find (in the cargo entrance) is right next to some of the best aircraft skin textures in the sim. The ups and downs, though, are largely up – and the result is a well-made An-225 that feels like it belongs in the high-standards graphical environment of Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Cargo bay and loading animations
The central feature of the Antonov An-225 – the cargo bay – has received special attention. The process of opening the cargo door is fully animated: the nose raises, supports are lowered, the aircraft kneels and the ramp unfolds, all in real time. This takes approximately 10 minutes if set to “realistic” speed via the EFB but fortunately, you can increase this speed if you’d like.
There are a few distinct options for cargo to carry in the An-225 for MSFS including helicopters, an industrial boiler, fire engines, monorail trains, and stacks of crates. Each has its own weight and balance if selected directly through the EFB for easy loading, but you can fully customize the weight & balance. Although they are not animated, the cargo gantry and dual tow bar are included in the cargo bay, as are several spare wheels. The internal hatch & ladder to the flight deck, as well as the main personnel door, are animated. I love these little additions, adding more immersion and character to the An-225.
Excellent in-sim performance
The An-225 for MSFS is just about as heavy on performance as Microsoft/iniBuilds’ A310. With my PC, there was very little noticeable stutter or slowdowns that I could attribute directly to the aircraft. Certainly, it was not markedly worse than other complex aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and its smooth performance could be considered a great achievement given its size and complexity.
An-225 for MSFS sounds
In my initial impressions piece, I criticized the sounds of the An-225 for MSFS as particularly weak. However, with the additional time I have had to spend with the aircraft since then, I realized that while the external sounds still leave something to be desired in my opinion, I did not give Microsoft/iniBuilds enough credit for the cockpit soundscape. I’ve come to love the “sports car” rumble of the engines on takeoff – a sound that is unique to the Antonov aircraft and certainly accurate to real life. Microsoft/iniBuilds also have a wonderful variety of switch and button sounds in the cockpit, so it never feels dull when going through the significant set-up process.
When on the ground, sounds change suddenly and dramatically when going in and out of the open cargo bay, but I believe this is a sim limitation. I still feel like there is something lacking in the external sounds on the ground, but I can appreciate the challenge a developer faces replicating the ear-rending scream of six engines while not actually making you want to rip your ears off. As one further point, I suspect that I might be more appreciative of the intricacies of the sounds this time around due to getting my headphone amp repaired and finally being able to use my high-quality headphones again. I am not certain that the subtle, rumbling bass tones that give the An-225 for MSFS its feeling of power will come through quite as well in all setups.
Please note: Any stuttering in the videos below is the fault of my recording software. Performance in the inBuilds An-225 was excellent.
Flying the Mryia
Microsoft/iniBuilds could not rely on the usual massive crowd of type-rated pilots who come crawling out of the woodwork to provide their informed assistance when it came time to create the An-225 for MSFS. However, they were able to talk to the few lucky people at Antonov who do know what it is like to fly the world’s heaviest aircraft, and they have taken that experience and provided an excellent facsimile for us home sim pilots.
The sheer scale of the An-225 for MSFS is continually striking, but even more so is the surprising agility by which it scythes through the air. The Hughes H-4 Hercules (The “Spruce Goose”) is one of only two other aircraft ever made to match or exceed the An-225’s incredible size, and you might expect the An-225 for MSFS to be just as reluctant and unwieldy as the Spruce Goose in the sim – or worse, considering the Mryia is more than three times its weight.
However, a little research makes the reasons for the An-225’s maneuverability apparent. It is fitted with hydraulically operated fly-by-wire control systems, helping to mask the effort required to operate the huge control surfaces. Its gargantuan wing is noticeably anhedral – a common feature on large transport aircraft, especially Eastern-bloc designs. One of the advantages of this design is that an anhedral wing is less inherently stable, and does not counteract the effects of a roll as effectively as a dihedral wing. The fly-by-wire controls offset any disadvantages in stability while this anhedral design “assists” the aircraft in agile maneuvers.
The An-225 for MSFS is, therefore, excellently responsive and easy to fly. Due to the (accurate) failings of the autopilot, it is usually flown by hand for much of takeoff and approach, flying on data when applicable, and even often visually. I found the An-225 for MSFS surprisingly easy to control in manual flight, and able to fly visual circuits and approaches with ease. The trim is quite sensitive – again, apparently a real-life detail – but the controls themselves are so light and responsive that trimming within the “ballpark” of correct is enough to let your small manual corrections do the rest.
…but not without bulk and challenge
Don’t get it confused though, the An-225 for MSFS does not fly like a Cessna. Every moment flying this, whether on automatics or by hand, I was reminded that I had 600 tons of aircraft behind me. The responsiveness of the controls does nothing to diminish this feeling, and the An-225 will still punish you immediately for getting behind the airplane.
The An-225 for MSFS is not an especially slippery aircraft, but energy management is still paramount and you don’t have a lot of tools to compensate for poor planning. The speed brakes are not very effective, and the flap speed windows are surprisingly small. I found it just as easy to overspeed the flaps as it was to bring myself to a dangerous, low-energy situation and stall. This is especially true on approaches with challenging speed requirements or steeper-than-normal glide slopes, so it is important to get yourself prepared and configured early and carefully. The An-225 for MSFS gives no warning either when it is about to stall, and does so quickly upon reaching that point.
It might leap into the sky on takeoff due to its large flaps, but it takes most of the runway to get there. Deceleration on landing feels realistic, and ground handling feels about up to par with any other large airliner in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Flap drag and “buoying” is about what I would expect, as even though it does have fly-by-wire controls it’s not anywhere near as sophisticated as the later Airbus systems that would compensate for things like this. I had to apply significant nose-down trim after takeoff, which felt odd until I watched this video of Captain Antonov taking the An-225 into the sky himself – and applying the same huge amount of trim.
Successfully piloting the An-225 for MSFS is the most rewarding experience I have had flying large aircraft in the sim all year thus far. Wrangling the autopilot down through broken clouds before disconnecting, flying down on raw data, and landing in the touchdown zone, on speed, with minimum visibility gave me a unique and very satisfying sense of pride and accomplishment. Weeks of learning and practicing finally paid off the moment I got it right, and that’s one of the things I love about large, complex aircraft like the An-225. While I can’t say with confidence that the flight model Microsoft/iniBuilds have created here is 100% realistic, it is hugely enjoyable, and rewarding to master.
Autopilot and systems modeling
As touched on earlier, the autopilot for the An-225 for MSFS is a historically-accurate mess. Its “flight level change” (Translated to Vel., climbing/descending at a set speed) mode will pitch aggressively to maintain its targets, and even then under or overshoot them, when the autothrottle struggles to catch up. Adjusting the rate of climb/descent in Vertical Speed mode is also incredibly sensitive. To initiate and maintain a smooth climb or descent for example, the convention is to actually use the “pitch” mode, disable autothrottle and adjust the aircraft’s pitch and speed manually until the desired speed and rate of descent are reached, then engage the appropriate automation modes to maintain that.
In this way, the automatics are more “assistants” than they are automatic pilots. You’ll definitely have a chance to put your manual flying skills to the test on every flight. Fortunately, this challenge is only really present during changes in phases of flight – takeoff into the climb, then into the cruise, for example. Once the An-225 for MSFS is stabilized (usually manually), then the automatics do a good job of maintaining that. I had full confidence in the autopilot to navigate and hold speed during the cruise on long-haul flights.
Similar to the flight model, it is difficult to critique the accuracy and depth of the systems modeling because few freely available resources exist against which to double-check. In the absence of my own real-world knowledge, I will leave the critique at this: Microsoft/iniBuilds have done a wonderful job emulating an aircraft that none of us will ever fly, with no flying example to check against. There were no weird bugs or inconsistent operations that I was able to detect in my time with the An-225 for MSFS. The systems that are modeled appear to be done well. Every switch and button that you’ll be expected to use in normal operation is operable, and things like the electrics and hydraulics do affect dependent systems when switched around.
A one-pilot six-person crew
The best thing that Microsoft/iniBuilds have achieved with the An-225 for MSFS is making a six-crew aircraft easily flyable by a single flight simmer, while not dumbing down the complexity and majesty of the aircraft. The navigator’s station is largely replaced by the GNS530W in the pedestal, and the engines and other systems operate so reliably in-sim that there is no need for a flight engineer to constantly monitor them. But Microsoft/iniBuilds have not invalidated these stations: Power-up and engine start are handled at the engineer’s station, and the only way to easily track multiple VORs and ADFs is as the Navigator. You can only adjust a VOR or ILS course at the Navigator’s station, and you can only monitor fuel burn while playing the part of the engineer.
Everything that you have to, or would want to, do out of the pilot’s seat can be done in a phase of flight while you are assisted by the automatics or on the ground – there’s no frantic switching of station viewpoints here. But the crowning achievement of the An-225 for MSFS is making all of these stations and systems relevant to amateur home enthusiasts operating as single pilots. It lets us indulge in the fantasy of being fully in control of the An-225’s operation (and does let us make mistakes!), but it doesn’t overwhelm us with items about which we needn’t be concerned. It doesn’t matter to me if this systems simulation is surface-level because, at the end of the day, it’s exactly the depth I am looking for.
Calling the Antonov An-225 an “airplane” somehow feels reductive. It doesn’t accurately describe its complexity, immense size, or how special it is amongst the other titans of aviation. Instead, the An-225 is an orchestra, an airborne ensemble of wonderful pieces that coalesce into something timeless. Microsoft/iniBuilds have the unenviable task of directing this performance for a picky crowd of highly discerning home simmers, and have pulled this task off masterfully with the An-225 for MSFS.
Most orchestral directors know to whom not to give the solos, and the same is true in the An-225 for MSFS. If you know where to look, you can find weaknesses, but the few that exist are unable to overpower the excellence of the whole. I have enjoyed every moment in the An-225, from flipping dozens of satisfying switches and hearing the behemoth churn to life, to lazy hours over the Pacific shipping generators to Guam, to intense, poor-weather landings where all my skills and effort are tested in a few laser-focused moments.
I’ve written before about the importance of simulators as tools of history, preserving aircraft that may never again take to our skies. The An-225 is one such aircraft. Even if you decide to buy the An-225 for MSFS solely to support the Antonov Corporation’s goal of getting the Mryia off the ground again, you will be delighted at the recreation of this incredible “airplane” that Microsoft/iniBuilds have brought to Microsoft Flight Simulator. It deserves your flight hours and your screenshots, and it definitely deserves a place in your hangar.
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