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The Mighty Antonov An-2 Soviet Workhorse

The An-2 was designed as a utility aircraft for use in forestry and agriculture. However, the basic airframe is highly adaptable and numerous variants of the type have been developed; these include hopper-equipped versions for crop-dusting, scientific versions for atmospheric sampling, water-bombers for fighting forest-fires, flying ambulances, float-equipped seaplane versions and lightly armed combat versions for dropping paratroops. The most common version is the An-2T 12-seater passenger aircraft. All versions were originally powered by a 1,010 hp nine-cylinder Shvetsov ASh-62 radial engine, which was developed from the Wright R-1820. The An-2 typically consumes 150 litres of fuel and approximately 5 litres of oil per hour depending on the temperature

The Antonov An-2 was originally built to meet a 1947 Soviet Ministry of Forestry requirement for a replacement for the much lighter, largely wooden-airframed Polikarpov Po-2, which was used in large numbers in both agricultural and utility roles.

Ploikarpoz PO-2

Antonov designed a large single bay biplane of all-metal construction, with an enclosed cockpit and a cabin with seats for twelve passengers. The first prototype, designated SKh-1 and powered by a Shvetsov ASh-21 radial engine, flew on 31 August 1947. The second prototype was fitted with a more powerful Shvetsov ASh-62 engine, which allowed the aircraft's payload to be significantly increased from 1,300 to 2,140 kg and in this form it was ordered into production.

Initial Soviet production was at State Factory 473 in Kiev, Ukrainian SSR, where the bulk of up to 5,000 units had been produced by 1960. Later Soviet production was at State Factory 464 at Dolgoprudniy, Russian SFSR. After 1960, however, most An-2s were constructed at Poland's WSK factory in Mielec. It is believed that over 13,000 aircraft were built in Poland before principal manufacturing activity ended during 1991. However, up until 2001, limited production was undertaken using remaining stocks of components, spares and maintenance coverage, such as a small batch of four aircraft that were produced for Vietnam. China also builds the An-2 under licence as the Shijiazhuang Y-5. It has been occasionally and erroneously reported that there was East German production of the An-2, however, while An-2s often underwent extensive refurbishment in East German facilities, no new aircraft were constructed there.

Shijiazhuang Y-5

The An-2 is commonly used as a light utility transport, parachute drop aircraft, agricultural work and other tasks suited to a large slow biplane. Its slow flight and good short field performance make it suited for short, rough fields, and some specialized variants have also been built for cold weather and other extreme environments. The Guinness Book of World Records states that the 45-year production run for the An-2 was for a time the longest ever for any aircraft but the An-2's production duration run record was exceeded by the four-turboprop, 1954-origin, Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport.

AN-2 on skies

During the early 1980s, Antonov experimented with a development of the An-2 powered by a modern turboprop engine. The unit used was a 1,450 hp Glushenkov engine. Aircraft fitted with this engine had a longer, more streamlined nose to accommodate it. It received the designation of Antonov An-3.

Antanov An-3

During 2013, Antonov announced that it had successfully flown for the first time a new version of the An-2, dubbed the An-2-100, which was fitted with a three-blade reversible propeller and a 1,500 hp Motor Sich MS-14 turboprop running on kerosene rather than Avgas, which is no longer produced in CIS countries. That same year, the company stated that it had received orders for upgrading "hundreds" of the An-2 planes still in operation in Azerbaijan, Cuba and Russia to the An-2-100 upgrade version.

Antanov An-2-100

The Siberian Research Institute of Aviation (SIBNIA) has test flown a highly modified Antonov An-2 with carbon fibre winglet-like braces and carbon fibre wing structures. It was equipped with a five-bladed turboprop engine, most probably the Honeywell TPE331 already installed on a modernized version of the An-2 that entered service in 2014. According to Russian aviation company Sukhoi, this aircraft was built to demonstrate the aerodynamic and structural changes that were planned for an eventual An-2 replacement announced on 10 June 2015.The autoclave-cured carbonfibre composite materials – including wing panels, spars and ribs – were produced by the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant. Sukhoi says the design change improved the speed of the An-2 by 50%, and testing also has shown the minimum flying speed of the aircraft is “close to zero”.

Sebina Antanov AN-2

The An-2 is equipped with various design features which make it suitable for operation in remote areas with unsurfaced airstrips. It is fitted with a pneumatic brake system (similar to those used on heavy road vehicles) to stop on short runways, along with an air-line attached to the compressor, so the pressure in the tires and shock absorbers can be adjusted without the need for installing specialised equipment. The batteries, while sizable, are relatively easy to remove, so the aircraft does not need a ground power unit to supply power for starting the engine. Likewise, there is no need for an external fuel pump to refuel the aircraft as it is provided with a built-in on-board pump, which allows the tanks to be filled from simple fuel drums.

Antanov An-2 on Skis

The An-2 has no stall speed, a fact which is quoted in the operating handbook. A note from the pilot's handbook reads: "If the engine quits in instrument conditions or at night, the pilot should pull the control column full aft and keep the wings level. The leading-edge slats will snap out at about 40 mph and when the airplane slows to a forward speed of about 25 mph, the airplane will sink at about a parachute descent rate until the aircraft hits the ground. As such, pilots of the An-2 have stated that they are capable of flying the aircraft in full control at 30 mph This slow stall speed makes it possible for the aircraft to fly backwards relative to the ground if the aircraft is pointed into a headwind of roughly 35 mph, it will travel backwards at 5 mph whilst under full control.

The An-2's ability, looks and flying characteristics, and its status as the world's biggest single-engine production biplanes, mean that demand for the An-2 is increasing in Western Europe and the United States and South Africa, where they are prized by collectors of classic aircraft, making it an increasingly common sight at airshows.

Many western countries prohibit the use of the An-2 commercially because the aircraft has not been certified by the relevant national aviation authorities. These restrictions vary by country, but all prevent the An-2 being used for any 'for profit' purpose, with the exception of the United States, where An-2's imported since 1993 are limited to experimental certification.

General characteristics

Crew: 1–2

Capacity: 12 passengers

Length: 12.4 m (40 ft 8 in)

Wingspan Upper wing: 18.2 m (59 ft 8 in)

Wingspan Lower wing: 14.2 m (46 ft 7 in)

Height: 4.1 m (13 ft)

Wing area: 71.52 m² (769.8 ft²)

Empty weight: 3,300 kg (7,300 lb)

Useful load: 2,140 kg (4,700 lb)

Loaded weight: 5,440 kg (12,000 lb)

Powerplant: 1 × Shvetsov ASh-62IR 9-cylinder supercharged radial engine, 750 kW (1,000 hp)

Maximum speed: 258 km/h (139 kn, 160 mph)

Cruise speed: 190 km/h (100 kn, 120 mph)

Stall speed: 50 km/h (26 knots, 30 mph)

Range: 845 km (456 nmi, 525 mi)

Service ceiling: 4,500 m (14,750 ft)

Rate of climb: 3.5 m/s (700 ft/min)

Power/mass: 0.136 kW/kg (0.083 hp/lb)


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