The Antonov An-22: The World’s Largest Turboprop Aircraft

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In the late 1950s, the Soviet military required a large transport aircraft to supplement the An-8 and An-12s, and the result was the world’s largest turboprop, the An-22. Originally called the An-20, the An-22 is a conventional high-wing multi-engined aircraft designed to carry military vehicles or large amounts of cargo.

Antonov An-22 getty
The An-24 debuted at the Paris Air Show in 1965. Photo: Getty Images

The Antonov bureau built a mock-up of the giant plane at its workshop in Kyiv before rolling out the first An-22 on August 18, 1964. Now christened “Antheus,” after the ancient Greek for blossom or bloom, the aircraft underwent four months of test flights before debuting at the 1965 Paris Air Show.

The Antonov An-22 was built in Uzbekistan

Manufactured at the Tashkent State Aircraft Factory in Uzbekistan, the An-22 was built to expand the Soviet Union’s airborne troops capability. Specifically, it could transport four of the paratroopers BMD-1 amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles, three more than the An-12 could carry.

BMD-1
The An- 22 could carry four BMD-1 military vehicles. Photo: Olegvdv68 via Wikimedia

The An-22 also could take off and land from short unpaved airstrips allowing paratroopers to perform air-landing operations. To achieve this, the An-22 had four contra-rotating propellers (each propeller rotates in a different direction). The An-22 was also fitted with a rugged landing gear that allows it to land on rough airstrips.

The An-22 looks like a big An-12

Looks-wise, the An-22 follows traditional cargo aircraft designs with a high mounted wing and opening rear door for loading and unloading. The usable cargo space is 33 meters long (108.26 feet), with a usable volume of 639 square meters (6,878.14 square feet). A bulkhead separates the front half of the aircraft at airframe 14, allowing for pressurization and room for up to eight crew and 28 passengers.

An-22
The An-22 has eight propellers on four turboprop engines. Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl via Wikimedia

This also allows the rear cargo door to be opened during flights to deploy paratroopers and their equipment. Other than having a twin tail, the An-22 looks very much like a larger version of the Antonov An-12. Using a twin tail reduced height restrictions found in many hangers and helped with better engine-out performance. Also worthy of a mention are the large anti-flutter masses on the tails top.

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Antonov built 66 An-22s

Antonov even considered building a civilian passenger version of the An-22 capable of carrying 724 passengers on two levels during production. To give you an idea of how it would have compared to civilian airliners, the Boeing 747 can seat between 400 and 500 passengers.

Production of the Antonov An-22 ended in 1975 after 66 aircraft had been delivered to the Soviet Air Force and state-owned Aeroflot. The planes going to Aeroflot were so the Soviet Air Force could fly the units in Aeroflot livery. Having them painted to look like civilian airliners allowed them freer overflight access and landing rights that would not have been available to military aircraft.

Operational history

One of the first military units to receive the An-22 was the 12th Mginsk Red Banner Military Transport Aviation Division based at Migalovo, Tver Oblast. Another military unit that flew the An-22 was the 566th Solnechnogorsk Military Transport Aviation Regiment.

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One of the An-22s first missions was to deliver humanitarian aid to Peru in July 1970 following the 7.2 magnitude Ancash earthquake. During the relief flights, one An-22 disappeared. An-22s were later used by the Soviet Airforce to deliver military supplies to Egypt and Syria during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and to Angola in 1975 and Ethiopia in 1977.

An-22 cockpit
The An-22 needs a big crew to fly it. Photo: Dmitry Terekhov via Flickr

During the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, An-22s were used to deploy airborne troops. On October 28, 1984, one An-22 was shot down by an SA-7 shortly after taking off from Kabul, killing 250 passengers and crew. Two further An-22s crashed at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow in 1992 and at Migalovo Air Base in 1994.

In 1984 the An-22 was used to transport Mi-8 helicopters to help relief operations following the drought in Ethiopia and 1986 to deliver materials following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. An-22s became the go-to aircraft for relief missions and troops’ transportation to hot spots during the Soviet Union’s break-up in the late 1980s.

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The Russian Air Force has three airworthy An-22s

Today, six An-22s are in service with the 76th Military Transport Air Squadron at Tver. However, only three of these are airworthy. The current plan is to keep the three aircraft flying until 2033, after which time the turbofan-powered Antonov An-124 will replace them.

An-22
The Russian Air Force has six An-22s, but only three are airworthy. Photo: Alex Beltyukov via Wikimedia

One Antonov An-22 remains in service with Antonov Airlines, a Ukrainian freight specialist that transports unique cargo to all corners of the globe. A frequent flyer and YouTube aviation vlogger Sam Chui recently flew on Antonov Airlines An-22 while they were transporting a bus from Leipzig to Bremen. Sam, of course, videoed the flight, which you can watch below.

Characteristics of the Antonov An-22

  • Crew: 5–6
  • Capacity: 28–29 pax / 80,000 kg (176,370 lb) maximum payload
  • Length: 57.92 m (190 ft 0 in) approx (dependent on nose config.)
  • Wingspan: 64.4 m (211 ft 3 in)
  • Height: 12.53 m (41 ft 1 in)
  • Wing area: 345 m2 (3,710 sq ft)
  • Airfoil: root:TsAGI S-5-16 ; tip: TsAGI S-5-13[14]
  • Empty weight: 114,000 kg (251,327 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 250,000 kg (551,156 lb)
  • Fuel capacity: 43,000 kg (94,799 lb) maximum
  • Powerplant: 4 × Kuznetsov NK-12MA turboprop engines, 11,000 kW (15,000 shp) each (equivalent)
  • Propellers: 8-bladed contra-rotating constant-speed reversible-pitch propeller
  • Maximum speed: 740 km/h (460 mph, 400 kn)
  • Range: 5,000 km (3,100 mi, 2,700 nmi) with maximum payload
    10,950 km (6,800 mi; 5,910 nmi) with maximum fuel and 45,000 kg (99,208 lb) payload
  • Wing loading: 724.6 kg/m2 (148.4 lb/sq ft) max
  • Power/mass: 0.1789 kW/kg (0.1088 hp/lb) max
  • Take-off run: 1,300 m (4,265 ft)
  • Landing run: 800 m (2,625 ft)

Antonov An-22 records

Since entering service, the An-22 has set 14 payloads to height records, of which the most impressive was an airlift of metal blocks weighing 100 metric tons (220,500 pounds) to an altitude of 7,848 meters ( 25,748 feet).

An-22
Antonov Airlines has one An-22 that it uses to carry cargo. Photo: Vasiliy Koba via Wikimedia

It is unlikely that a turboprop of this size will be ever built again, and as the aircraft ages, it is only a matter of time before they will be all gone.

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Have you ever flown in an Antonov An-22? If so, please tell us what it was like in the comments.

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