A Russian firm has developed a modernized version of the World War II era An-2 biplane. The new version has a more powerful modern engine, some carbon fiber structural elements and modern design features on the wings. The 5.5 ton aircraft was developed by Russia in 1947, and over a thousand are still used for crop dusting and fire-fighting, as well as a light transport. It can carry up to a dozen passengers. Nearly 20,000 were produced by Russia, China and Poland. Although designed in the 1940s, is simple, rugged, popular, and remained in production until 2002. 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.
Because of that “low and slow” capability North Korea is a major user. The single engine An-2 has a range of 800 kilometers, which is sufficient to reach most of South Korea. The 300 North Korean An-2s have been seen practicing flying low and at night. Since each An-2 can carry ten soldiers, it is believed they are meant to deliver commandos into South Korea early on in a war. Several thousand of these troops could cause a lot of confusion as South Korea mobilized for war. But since 2007 fuel shortages have meant few An-2s have been flying. That means the pilots are not really skilled enough to carry off a night operation, especially flying low (to avoid radar) through the mountains separating the two Koreas. Using An-2s now would lead to a lot of them, if not most of them, not making it. Then there are whatever surprises South Korea and the U.S. have developed to counter this daring use of An-2s. Despite these problems with the North Korean An-2s the reputation of the An-2 is very positive and there appears to be sufficient demand to justify resuming production.