It’s nice to see this behemoth in the air again

I’ve posted about the giant Antonov An-22 Antei turboprop transport in the past, particularly an incident in Angola during the 1970’s that almost turned the Cold War hot.  That caused a lot of consternation and monkeyhouse in certain circles at the time.

The An-22 has long since been retired from front-line military service in the Russian Air Force.  However, Antonov Airlines, a heavy air transport division established by Antonov in the Ukraine, has restored one that was grounded for seven years, and returned it to service as a civilian freight aircraft.  I find this absurdly pleasing for some reason.  The sight of that lumbering propeller-driven giant has always made me smile.  It’s like a monster that shouldn’t logically be able to fly . . . but it does.  Also, the An-22 is still a very capable aircraft, particularly given its rough-field capabilities.  It can deliver up to 70 tons into dirt airstrips if necessary, a capability matched only by the much more modern (and much more expensive) Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.

Courtesy of Wirecutter, here’s a video clip of the civilian An-22, landing and taking off at Ostende in Belgium.  Watch it in full-screen mode to get an idea of the size of this giant plane.

Note the huge Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprop engines, the most powerful of their class ever developed, and the massive contra-rotating propellers.  The same engines were fitted to the famous Tupolev Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber and its variants.

You’ll have noticed how the plane has to “feel” for the runway, easing down gently, because the pilot is a long way above and ahead of the landing gear.  In the clip below, you can see over the pilot’s shoulder as he lands the same aircraft in Zurich, Switzerland, last year.  Note how he has to almost wrestle the plane down, constantly making corrections to its flight path.  That’s 1950’s-vintage control technology for you, very much more demanding than the computer-assisted controls of modern aircraft.  Furthermore, the relatively small vertical stabilizer and rudder surfaces (in comparison to the overall size of the plane) make for sluggish directional response.  It’s clearly a handful to fly.

And here’s the same landing in Zurich, filmed through the glass nose of the An-22.  That’s a relic of its military design.  The Soviet Union insisted that all its transport aircraft had to be able to drop parachutists and supplies to its army, if necessary;  so they all had windows in the underside of the nose, to allow the navigator to take ground observations, and to make it easier to drop troops and supplies right on the mark.  Some British transports of the 1950’s and 1960’s (e.g. the Blackburn Beverley, Armstrong-Whitworth Argosy, and Handley Page Hastings) also had a glass panel in the nose, for similar purposes.

An elephant of the skies!  Warms the cockles of my heart, so to speak . . .



  1. I wonder how many aircrew permanently lost a good part of their hearing flying those and Bears? There's a huge difference between sound-isolating headsets for cockpit crew and active noise-cancelling units. Then again, T-37 'Tweets' had a shriek about them, and A-6 Intruders on approach had a sort-of banshee howl on landing that was near-maddening to my ears when camped near NAS Oceana. I lost a lot high-freq hearing, my brother lost 50% of his hearing working on the flight deck of a carrier, and an uncle lost half of his during helicopter flight school. Sensitive but delicate hearing seems to run in the family. Heck, even with earplugs, several hours in a couple of fights in a C-130 Hercules left my ears ringing for a day afterwards (though a Ted Nugent concert in 1981 left them ringing for 3 days).

    The RSA got screwed with foreign support in Angola. They shouldn't have asked permission to shoot down the An-122. It's not like they'd have got more than one since they'd have stopped flights as soon as one was lost and the disturbed beehive reaction of security forces would likely have resulted in withdrawal of the recce force (since hiding and waiting for a second shoot-down would likely have been fatal to them). ONCE would've been deniable unless the recce force was caught/killed, and the Soviets would've become a lot more cautious. Twice or more would've been Really Bad.

  2. Amazing…simply amazing!…

    Dunno just what it is about watching really, really big aircraft taking off and/or landing, or simply passing along overhead at relatively-low altitude (so you can see a lot of detail…), but it's always fascinating. I worked on-contract for a German company, years ago, in a small town called Kelsterbach, which is very close to Frankfurt Flughaven, the big airport adjacent to Frankfurt am Main, and daily walked to work from the S-Bahn train-stop to work under the main approach to the primary West-to-East arrivals runway – and every day that the weather was clear that summer (which it was quite a lot), and I had the time, I would stop and stand as near to the airport boundary as the footpath allowed, and watch the near-continuous stream (Frankfurt Flughaven is a very busy airport, especially in the summertime!) of big (often-international) commercial planes coming in – the Boeing 747s and the big Airbus birds were especially impressive…

    And that Antonov is, of course, substantially-larger than any of the planes I saw back then.

    You watch that plane going down the runway towards take-off, and you somewhat begin to wonder: Will it ever lift off? – Then – it just lifts, nearly straight-up at first…and tilts a bit, and soars away…kind-of watching one of the space-shuttle rockets launching (ANOTHER truly-impressive sight!) – only, more-or-less horizontally, and with a lot less smoke and steam and fuss-'n-feathers…

    Sort of reminds me of the old joke about the Dancing Bear – the most-impressive thing about a plane that size/weight (must be about like that of a 20 – 25 story building, in both respects) is not so much that it flies so very, very well (although it – apparently – does), but just as much that it flies at all!!

    Genuinely impressive –

  3. @Larry: If South African forces had shot down the first An-22 of the evening's flights, the others would have been screwed. There's no other airport within several hundred miles where they could safely divert, and at the end of a long flight from the Soviet Union or Cuba, they'd have been low on fuel. With their rough field capabilities, they might have tried to land at a minor airport in Angola, but I doubt they'd have had charts to find them – and in third world Africa, there were (and mostly still are) few, if any, aids to navigation to help them find them. Beacons? Well, yes, airports are supposed to have them. It says so in the book. However, African ants, termites and sundry other creepy-crawlies often make sure that they don't work, even if they're there!

    I suspect that if one plane had been shot down early one evening, all the others coming in that night would have been in serious trouble. Only those far enough away to turn around and go back, or (if flying south from Europe) find a diversion field in a friendly country big enough and well-equipped enough to handle such a big plane, would have survived.

  4. I was standing a Quarterdeck watch the first time I saw a C-5A. The largest AC to land that day at NAS NorVA was a C-141. Most of the time the largest I saw was a USCG C-123. In comparison to the other traffic, the C-5 was an improbability.

  5. Just watched your earlier post video of the airshow. What came to mind was the thought: please don't pull a B-52 Fairchild Follies routine. Whenever I see a very large aircraft doing low altitude maneuvers I am reminded of that display of incompetence.

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