52 Years Ago The Antonov An-26 Made Its Maiden Flight

Earlier this week, the Antonov An-26 marked 52 years since it first took to the skies. This twin-turboprop made its name serving both in the military and commercially, with more than 1,400 examples produced. Let’s take a look at the story of this versatile machine.

Polar Airlines Antonov An-26
Russian carrier Polar Airlines is one of several operators from the country to have flown the An-26 commercially. Photo: Regis Sibille via Wikimedia Commons

Developed from the An-24

Although the Antonov An-26 first flew in 1969, it can trace its history back around a decade further. October 1959 saw the company’s An-24 make its first flight, and the 44-seat airliner proved a popular and versatile design. It saw use in many fields, with the An-24T being deployed as a tactical military transport aircraft.

Although the An-24T proved a technical success, operators began to demand certain modifications. These included the addition of features such as a retractable cargo ramp. After researching the matter, Antonov elected to produce a version of the An-24T with such ramp technology in March 1968. It designated this as the An-26.

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Antonov An-26
Antonov added a retractable ramp to its An-24 to create the An-26. Photo: Steve Lynes via Flickr

A little over a year later, and 52 years ago this week, May 21st, 1969 saw the An-26 make its first flight. It then entered active service the following year. A total of 1,403 of these aircraft were produced between 1969 and 1986. Chinese manufacturer Xian has also produced a reverse-engineered version of the type known as the Y-7H (initially the Y-14).

Numerous specialized variants

The standard version of the aircraft is simply known as the An-26, and has ‘Curl’ as its NATO reporting name. It can carry 40 passengers alongside a five-person crew (two pilots, radio operator, flight engineer, and navigator). However, Antonov has produced several specialized variants of the type to support different customers’ operational needs.

Antonov An-26
Antonov made changes to the An-26 to suit customers’ requirements. Photo: Nicky Boogaard via Flickr

With the An-26-100, Antonov tapped into the trend of ‘convertible’ aircraft for both passenger and cargo use. This version first flew in 1999. The type has also been used for arctic surveillance (An-26 Nel’mo), weather control (An-26 Pogoda/Tsiklon), atmospheric research (An-26 Sfera), laser testing (An-26 Kaira/Kaplya), and firefighting (An-26LP).

In terms of the type’s operators, the An-26 has served in a military capacity in a huge range of countries. These are spread throughout the world, and include Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Serbia, and the USA, to name just a few. Although this was its primary function, it has also flown commercially in countries including Denmark, Hungary, and Latvia.

Antonov An-26
Ukraine’s Vulkan Air flew an An-26 registered as UR-CQD to Prestwick, Scotland earlier this month. Photo: Jonathan Payne via Flickr

Recent incidents

The An-26 first flew more than half a century ago, and production ceased in 1989. Despite this, certain examples of the An-26 remain in active service today. Sadly, some of these have recently been the subject of fatal accidents. For example, an An-26 crash last August in South Sudan tragically killed 17 people (eight of nine occupants, and nine on the ground).

Unfortunately, this year has also already seen a fatal crash, with four of an An-26’s six occupants perishing when the aircraft crashed upon landing in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In a more curious incident, an An-26 lost a propeller inflight in South Sudan the day before its anniversary. Thankfully, on this occasion, the plate was able to land without incident.

Did you know about the Antonov An-26’s recent anniversary? Perhaps you’ve even flown on one of these Soviet-era transport aircraft? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!