July 13, 2012: The Russian Air Force is retiring it's An-26 twin-engine transports. Over the last few years the Russian Air Force has been retiring the last of its similar An-24 transports. The An-24 and An-26 aircraft are worn out and too expensive to keep operating. The Russian Air Force wants to rebuild its air transport fleet and replace existing older aircraft like the An-26. First developed in the late 1950s, the 21 ton An-24 design was upgraded in the 1960s to the An-26. The latest version is the An-32. The original An-24 transport entered service in the early 1960s. Over 1,100 AN-24s were built, and over 500 are still in use, mainly by small civilian outfits. About ten percent of An-24s were lost in accidents. Russian production halted in 1978, but continued in China as the Y7.
Starting in 1969, some 1,400 of an improved version, the An-26, were built and over 200 are still flying. In the 1970s, even more powerful versions (An-30, An-32) entered service but only about 360 of these were made. India was the principal customer for the 27 ton An-32, which is basically an An-26 with better engines and modifications for tropical operations. This version can carry 6.7 tons of cargo or up to 50 passengers. Max speed is 540 kilometers an hour and range is 2,500 kilometers. The crew consists of two pilots and a loadmaster.
Antonov built the original An-24 series to be simple, rugged, and easy to use and maintain. They succeeded. Four decades later it should not be surprising that over a thousand of An-24s (and their successor) aircraft are still working. That's not the first time this has happened. For example, after 70 years there are still several hundred DC-3 transports flying in odd (and often remote) parts of the world.
But with age comes problems. Engines, and other parts of these aging aircraft, are prone to fail at bad moments. A major problem with the An-24 is the shortage of spare parts. The network of factories producing the spares fell apart when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The parts supply network has been slowly rebuilt, with many factories outside of Russia now producing needed components. Quality of these parts varies, which adds to the sense of adventure one has when flying in these aircraft.