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Antonov An-2 Colt in Detail

n Text by Martin Waligorski
n Photos by Martin Waligorski and Frank Spahr

Despite being one of the icons of post-war civilian aviation, the large, fabric-covered An-2 biplane remains firmly rooted in the 1920s.

The An-2 was designed by Oleg Antonov as an agricultural aircraft for the post-war Soviet rural economy. The requirement was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in May 1946 to design an aircraft to replace the the aging Polikarpov Po-2. It was the first task assigned to the newly formed formed Antonov OKB. 

The prototype, carrying a designation SKh-1was first flown in August 1947. After successful trials, series production commenced in 1949. About 5000 aircraft were produced in the Soviet Union during the 1950s. It had more than proved its worth not only in as crop-spraying aircraft, but also as paratroop transport, glider tug, navigation trainer, and utility transport. 

In 1960, only after the bulk of the production had ended in the country of origin, the production was transferred to PZL in Poland. It were the Poles that eventually made the An-2 to an aviation icon that we know today, turning out a whopping 11 650 additional aircraft between 1960 and 1989. It became the most numerous export product in the history of Polish aviation industry. 80% of the production went to Soviet Union, with the rest provided to Albania, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, China, East Germany, Yugoslavia, North Korea, Rumania, Tanzania, Vietnam, Cuba and Hungary. An-2 was also produced in smaller numbers in East Germany and China.

The appearance of this biplane in 1947 was widely misread. Western intelligence deemed the An-2 as an obsolete airframe unsuitable for modern large-scale production. The reality proved them too judgemental. Undisturbed by what others might think of its looks, Antonov delivered the smallest, lightest and most efficient solution to the task at hand. The subsequent outstanding success of the An-2 can be attributed to the many virtues of his design: extremely safe (if heavy) flying characteristics, STOL, high reliability in the field, low maintenance costs and the capacious single-bay fuselage with good cargo capacity.

The walkaround

Looking at this hulk of a biplane is interesting in many ways. What especially catches attention are all those industry-size rivets popping out of the massive hunks of surface - bringing to mind those old Airfix kits. Also, when you see how some gallons of seeping oil have done a magnificent work of post-shadowing the already comparatively gaping panel lines. It's a massive piece of engineering in any respect!

Frank Spahr and I have taken these photographs independently in two different locations on three different occasions. The over 30 images have been divided into three sections below to facilitate faster downloads.

General views and engine installation 

Wings and undercarriage 

Fuselage views

An-2 variants

Due the general naming practice in the Soviet industry, sorting out all the variant designations, their precedence on the production line, and the detailed configuration differences between them is a mammoth task which lies far beyond my research possibilities for this article. The source of the difficulty lies in that the Soviets have been using subtype designations to describe the intended purpose of the aircraft rather than technical configuration of the airframe. 

In determining versions of the An-2, one is not aided by any significant visual differences. No airplane in history has been in continuous production essentially unchanged as long as the An-2. The only two "major" An-2 airframe changes over half a century were the introduction of squared-off vertical tail on the An-2M and the enghine change in the An-3 resulting in a new nose. Both changes did not survive long on the production line.


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