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Retired from the Hungarian Air Force, the An-2 acquired in 1989 by the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California, lumbered over the landscape on exhibition flights. Today, it’s on static display. (Philip Makanna)

Antonovs in America

Where the world’s biggest biplane is under-employed.

Al Stix knew when he bought his An-2 that he wouldn’t be able to certify it for passengers and other commercial uses, but, he says, “This airplane is a blast to fly. It doesn’t do a thing for you. You can’t take your hands off the controls for more than a few seconds, but nothing happens too fast in a plane this big. It’s a sloppy puppy and a gas hog.”

He especially loves landing his An-2: “You’re sitting as high as a commercial airline pilot and you want to flare because you’re going so slow—the theoretical stall speed is 22 knots. So you pull back on the yoke, but the damn airplane starts to climb! They have real good landing gear and every landing I’ve made was beautiful.” Creve Coeur Airport got a second An-2 about five years ago, when a friend donated the aircraft to Stix’s Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum.

In a hair-raising memoir, Antonovs Over the Arctic, Robert Mads Anderson tells of his flight from Anchorage to the North Pole with adventurer Shane Lundgren and four other pilots in a pair of An-2s. With auxiliary tanks aboard, the two crews would stay aloft for more than 22 hours, the huge propellers digging into the air like maniacal kayak paddles. The teams installed helicopter wind speed indicators because, in a 30 mph headwind, the An-2 would practically hover.

The Antonov exodus isn’t over. A recent post on John Webster’s Web site listed an airworthy An-2 in Lithuania for $25,000. Delivered to a U.S. port unassembled, the price rose to $38,500. The biplanes that have hauled cargo, military and civilian passengers, farm harvests, pesticides, and fire retardants since 1948 still carry these and numerous other 3,500-pound loads in countries around the world.

Tom Harpole is a writer in Montana. His first story for Air & Space was about learning to skydive from an Antonov An-2.

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