Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Flying The World’s Biggest Single-Engine Biplane

An open letter to all who have asked, “What’s the weirdest airplane you’ve flown?”

The first time you see an Antonov Colt, you're reminded a little of a Ford Trimotor with one extra wing and two missing engines. The AN-2 has all the aerodynamic sophistication of a container ship, but like that machine, it hauls a spectacular load, as much as two tons. It stands some 16 feet tall, and there are struts, brace wires and supports everywhere.

There's little question the airplane is built hell-for-stout, and that's only appropriate since many Colts will spend their lives bouncing on and off unimproved dirt strips. To that end, the Colt has such bush features as an onboard fuel pump specifically for refueling from barrels, and air lines to the wheels and struts that allow air pressure to be adjusted in flight. Ailerons and slats cover the full span of the top wing, while flaps are mounted on the trailing edge of the bottom airfoil.

Predictably, maintenance can be a problem in the U.S. The builder said the good news was that 15,000 Colts of all varieties were produced. The bad news was that they were produced in Russia and Poland (and maybe China—no one is certain), and because of their tough missions, many are no longer serviceable. That means some parts aren't readily available and may need to be manufactured.

The Colt is powered by a Shvetsov ASh-62, radial engine, a Russian/Chinese powerplant built under license from Curtiss-Wright and a virtual copy of the Wright Cyclone R-1820. The Shvetsov employs nine cylinders, each with the displacement of a small Chevy V-8. Total rated power is 1,000 hp, only appropriate since max gross on the AN-2 I flew was 11,574 pounds. In other applications, the Colt can weigh in at as much as 13,000 pounds.

From takeoff to landing, the Antonov Colt was quite a bit different from any other airplane I had flown. It uses pneumatic brakes, ala Mack, Kenworth or Peterbilt, to maneuver on the ground, and you can hear the air system working as you use brakes and asymmetric thrust to control direction during taxi.

Gothard put me in the left seat for takeoff, and after runup on his 2,000-foot strip, I brought power to the limit, released the brakes, and we lumbered down the grass runway. The Colt lifted off in a quarter of that distance, elevating nearly automatically in the three-point position.

We climbed out at around 700 fpm and levitated to 3,000 feet. Predictably, the airplane handled like a six-ton pachyderm, but didn't seem to resent me wrapping it over to 60 degrees of bank in each direction. It manifests a certain locomotive sense of straight ahead, and though there's no autopilot, the Colt will happily fly hands-off for long periods.


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