Murphy's Law: North Korean Bi-Plane Blues


October 30, 2007: Refugees from North Korea report that the air force there has ceased, or greatly reduced, training flights of the 300 An-2 aircraft it maintains for delivering commandos into South Korea. The reason is apparently lack of fuel, and spare parts to keep the fleet of 30-40 year old aircraft, in working order. The AN-2 is a strange bird. It's a single engine bi-plane made mostly of wood and canvas. This makes it difficult to pick up on radar, especially if it's coming in low. The 5.5 ton aircraft was developed by Russia in the late 1940s, and it was most frequently used for crop dusting and fire-fighting, as well as a light transport. It can carry up to a dozen passengers. The An-2 can fly as slow as 60 kilometers an hour, making it excellent for crop dusting, or parachuting commandos to a precise location. It's range of 800 kilometers is sufficient to reach most of South Korea. Over 10,000 were produced, by Russia, China and Poland, until the early 1990s. The North Koreas regularly had theirs up for training flights, as the pilots had to be pretty good to get across the DMZ (or via open water) into South Korea at night.

Most An-2s were made of metal parts, and many were used as light transports in out-of-the-way places. It was a rugged aircraft, and could land and take off on a short stretch of road, or a field. The North Koreans may have planned to land some of their commandos that way, thus enabling the troops to carry more weapons and explosives with them.

The North Korea Air Force has been cutting back on training flights for over a decade, and most of their combat aircraft are considered very inferior to the more highly trained South Korea pilots as a result.


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