A Biplane After World War Two? Seriously?
Monoplanes had been growing in numbers through the interwar years and the Second World War brought the concept of aircraft with a single set of wings fully into its own. After the war, monoplanes were the standard and biplanes were often seen as leftovers from a bygone era.
With that in mind, one could be forgiven for questioning the logic of the Antonov aircraft bureau when they designed their big biplane, the An-2, immediately following the conflict.
The An-2 first flew in 1947 and was quickly put into use in agriculture and forestry. However, it would find its way to doing much more than that in its long life; a life of length and practicality that most would be skeptical of a biplane being able to have in the post WWII era.
The Farm Girl Hits the Big Time
The An-2 very quickly expanded beyond the mundane task of spreading fertilizer and was continually finding new work to do including aerial survey and photography work, monitoring gas and electrical lines, air ambulance, general transport, research flights, bush flying, wildlife management, glider tug, and skydiving platform to name but a fraction of the Colt’s employment history.
In the process of showing of its adaptability, the aircraft also put up its share of impressive numbers and statistics:
At a staggering 45 years, it held the record for the longest production run of an aircraft for many years.
It still holds the record as the largest single engine biplane to ever enter series production.
Between Soviet, Polish and Chinese production lines; over 18,000 An-2s were made.
The An-2 has been used by both civil and military operators in over 50 countries.
The Secret to Near Everlasting Life?
If you could create a formation of aircraft types that were likely to still be flying in notable numbers when their original design hit the century mark, the An-2 would most certainly have a spot in it. With a high production run and airworthy examples still abundant; numbers are certainly in the Colt’s favour. However, there is much more to credit for its success than that; let’s look at what’s kept it going for so long already:
The An-2 is quite self-sufficient; consequently, its demands on airports are minimal.
Among the self-contained support equipment is an on board air pump that can be used to adjust the air pressure in the tires and brakes to suit a wide variety of operating environments. There is also an on-board fuel pump that allows it to take fuel directly from drums on the ground and bypass the need for fueling trucks and the like.
The undemanding nature of the aircraft is further shown by the lack of complex systems aboard it. Most An-2s still have analog instruments dominating their cockpits. This bypasses the issue of more complex digital based instruments and systems breaking down in remote areas, away from specialist services.
The An-2 has one of the lowest stall speeds of any aircraft, which is to say that it’s almost impossible to fly it so slowly that it falls out of the air. This quality makes it unique even among other STOL, Short Take Off and Landing, capable aircraft and gives it the ability to operate from areas that many other aircraft in that category can’t.
Many An-2s carry on today in practical applications for both civil and military operators, their unique flying qualities and undemanding nature still very much in demand and appreciated in many places around the world.
Additionally, the An-2 has attracted a global network of enthusiasts of the type who are making sure that when the type’s last practical application has been handed off to other aircraft, there will still be Colts active on the airshow circuits for quite some time to come.
A good summary of the An-2’s history and development can be found at Antonov’s own website: