Look, up in the sky!

One of the nice things about living here in the desert is that, for whatever reason, there’s a fair amount of air traffic by unusual aircraft. I regularly see Marine and Navy aircraft, and quite a few antiques and warbirds. So it wasn’t terribly surprising to just now look up and spot an AN-2 Colt puttering on by.

AN-2 Colt

While the Colt looks like a refugee from World War One, it is actually a post-World War Two aircraft. The Soviet Union (and the PzL factory in Poland) built thousands of the sturdy Colt as a utility aircraft, and it is still in widespread use.

A word on naming conventions- during the Cold War, the NATO nations often had little information on Soviet aircraft designs and designations. In response, each new Soviet design was assigned a code-name by NATO as it was spotted. To give some clarity, each code name started with a letter roughly corresponding to the aircraft’s role; that is, fighters were given code-names that started with “F” and bombers were given names starting with “B.” The AN-2, being a utility/cargo aircraft was given the name “Colt” since cargo airplanes were named with the letter “C.”

The Colt was widely used throughout the Warsaw Pact nations and by other countries friendly to the Soviet Union. In addition to its military utility/cargo role, it found widespread use as a short haul airliner, agricultural plane, and civilian cargo plane. Militarily, it was used for liaison, insertion of special forces, and even as a bomber. Its rugged, simple design made it easy to operate and maintain in austere forward locations, and a very forgiving aircraft for crudely trained pilots. Its large wing area (thanks to its biplane design) gave it outstanding short field performance, able to lift relatively large loads out of unimproved airstrips that would cause other cargo pilots to blanche in fear.

We in the West often mock the crudity of Soviet designs, but forget that the Soviets often used a simple solution to a simple problem. And it often worked. If a Western airplane designer were to try to duplicate the performance of the AN-2 today, chances are, he would come up with some exotic design. But his design would also likely cost quite a bit more, and only incrementally improve the performance. Sometimes, “good enough” is good enough.

2 thoughts on “Look, up in the sky!”

  1. I’d hate to see what oil costs for the thing.

    A friend at Church was a WO pilot in Vietnam and did a tour in Germany flying H-37 Mojaves. Those things were powered by twin Wright radials in sponsoons on each side of the ship. he said they had a 55 gallon drum of oil in the cabin with feed lines to the engines. Those old radials were oil hogs.

  2. Ivan never really tried for elegant, but there is a certain beauty to most of his aircraft – and ship – designs. This is no exception.

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