An-12, the Soviet military turboprop that became an airport celebrity

Equivalent to the C-130 Hercules, a peculiar aircraft travels the world carrying special cargo

The scene takes place in several airports around the world: an aircraft with its striking black and orange paintwork lands to pick up cargo that will be taken to remote points on almost every continent.

It would be a trivial flight were it not for the four-engine turboprop being an Antonov An-12. Rival of the C-130 Hercules, the “Cub”, as it was named by NATO, emerged in the 1950s, during the Cold War. The Soviet Union needed a versatile and capable military freighter and Antonov, then part of the communist bloc, designed the An-12 based on the twin-engine An-8.

The first flight took place in 1957 and two years later the An-12 entered service with the PVO, the Soviet Air Force, not long after the C-130 debuted in the United States.

As was common at the time, the Antonov had some peculiar features such as a glass nose and a cannon turret at the base of the tail, a legacy of World War II bombers.

More than 1,200 units of the aircraft were produced by Antonov until 1973, making it one of the most versatile and popular models in the country, with exports to numerous countries.

The An-12 has a slightly lower capacity than the C-130, but a very large range

Low operating cost

If it didn’t have the popularity of the Hercules, which is still produced today, the An-12 does not fail to impress with its longevity. With dimensions slightly smaller than the C-130, the Antonov has an immense range of up to 6,000 km. It can carry around 19 tons of cargo in its unpressurized compartment.

The low cost of operation – estimated at US$ 8,600 to US$ 10,000 per flight hour – and its ability to operate on any type of runway made the An-12 an interesting option for cargo flights. Currently, some specialized companies operate the plane, including Cavok Air, from Ukraine, which has a fleet of seven of them, painted in the aforementioned red and black livery.

Although it is an aircraft developed by Antonov, known for the massive An-225, the An-12 does not compare in size to other aircraft of the manufacturer such as the An-124 or even the An-22, another turboprop, but with a large load capacity.

Despite this, the An-12 is a curious sight in the skies, both for the sound of its Ivchenko Il-20 engines and its unusual silhouette in the West.

The four-engine turboprop gave rise to around 60 different variants


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