Showcasing one of the largest armies in the world during the Cold War (1947-1991), the Soviet military required many large transport-minded aircraft for airlifting men, machines and supplies. Its stable of such aircraft eventually included the Antonov An-22 "Antei" for heavy strategic airlifting. The product became the largest aircraft in the world to feature turboprop engines and was produced in 68 examples from the period spanning 1966 into 1976. The An-22 remains in active service today (2017).
Its name is derived from the Greek mythology character of "Antaeus", the son of Poseidon.
The An-22 first flew in prototype form on February 27th, 1965 and, following the requisite testing scheme and earning certification, the product was introduced a short time late in 1967. To this point, the Military Transport Aviation service of the Soviet Air Force was relying on An-8 and An-12 models which fulfilled medium-lift roles and a larger transport was required.
The Antonov Design Bureau was charged with design and development of a shoulder-winged, multi-engined aircraft and this begat the designation of "An-20". The product eventually evolved under the well-known An-22 designation by the time it reached its first flight. During the 1965 Paris Air Show, the An-22 was unveiled to the public for the first time, allowing Western observers a first-hand look at the large aircraft.
Antonov engineers created a unique-looking aircraft, though in many ways decidedly an Antonov design. The fuselage was tubular though squat, creating the wide-body internal volume required in the transport role. Bulges along the lower fuselage sides housed an array of landing wheels to coincide with the nose gear (also designed with rough-field operations in mind). The aircraft was purposefully low to the ground when landed which aided in loading and unloading cargo. The high-wing nature of the aircraft also allowed for strong lift principles and clearance of the spinning propeller blades away from ground personnel. Each wing managed a pair of turboprop engines at their leading edges. The cockpit was set well-forward in the design with a commanding view over the short nose assembly. The empennage was raised and capped by a split-rudder arrangement. The operating crew numbered. Dimensions included a length of 190 feet, a wingspan of 211 feet and a height of 41 feet. Rear cargo doors allow access to the deep hold within. The forward section of the fuselage - including cockpit - is pressurized and includes a space for seating twenty-nine personnel.
Power was served through 4 x Kuznetsov NK-12MA turboprop engines driving contra-rotating propellers and each delivering up to 15,000 shaft horsepower. Performance included a maximum speed of 460 miles per hour with a range out to 6,800 miles under load. When empty, the aircraft weighed 250,000lb - this value drove up as high as 550,000lb for a maximum take-off weight (MTOW).
Variants of the An-22 was limited beginning with the three prototypes (differentiated by their heavily-glazed noses). Thirty-seven production forms of the base An-22 then followed. The An-22A designation marked new aircraft with improved electrics and communications as well as an "air-start" function. Some twenty-eight of this mark were completed. The An-22PZ was a short-lived follow-up design noted for its three-finned tail unit and able to utilize the wing sections of the An-124 and An-225 aircraft. Only two were converted for this purpose. Antonov even developed a proposed civilian airliner with seating for over 700 passengers but this initiative fell to naught.
In practice, the Antonov An-22 proved its airlift capabilities, first by undertaking a series of humanitarian missions to ravaged parts of the world. The military was soon to enjoy its benefits when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. During the fighting, at least one was lost to the enemy outside of Kabul in 1984. Beyond that, the An-22 has served its purpose in delivering large quantities of personnel, vehicles (including medium-lift helicopters and supplies to various points in the world. Despite her qualities, operators of the An-22 have proven relatively few over the years - the Soviet Air Force An-22 stock fell to the now-Russian Air Force and limited examples have been in service with Ukraine and Bulgaria (only leased). Numbers of the An-22 have dwindled over time with the Russian Air Force having moved on to the An-124 line.