The Antonov An-26 was developed from the An-24 of 1962 for the airliner passenger / general transport role. First flight of the An-26 product was on May 21st, 1969 and production spanned from then until 1986 to which 1,403 examples were ultimately realized. A plethora of variants then emerged and operators have ranged the globe with many airframes still in active service today (2014).
The original An-24 proved a design that was robust for the most harshest of conditions available across the vast Soviet empire - particularly in hard to reach areas of the frontier where few services were available. This propelled a new, modified form to gain traction, one in particular that included a powered loading ramp for ease of moving cargo pallets to and from the aircraft to awaiting bays or transport trucks. With a new ramp design finishing its testing phase, the installation commenced to produce the new working designation of An-26.
As finalized, the An-26 carried over much of the same form and function of the preceding An-24 model including its high-wing design and twin engine layout. The tail unit remained a single vertical fin with low-set horizontal planes. The flight deck was held at the extreme front end of the fuselage aft of a short nose cone. The cargo hold then made up a bulk of the available internal space remaining. Initial production models were recognized simply as "An-26" and were identified in NATO nomenclature as "Curl-A". A combo passenger/cargo-hauler form then became the An-26-100. The local Chinese variant became the Xian Y-7H military transport.
Other limited production variants followed including an Arctic reconnaissance platform with special mission equipment, an atmospheric air lab, an assault transport prototype, various testbeds, a fire-fighting platform, and other proposed (some unrealized) designs.
Operators have gone on to range from Angola and Belarus to Yemen and Zambia. Many military operators have since abandoned the type including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Poland, and Somalia. The United States operated An-26s through the 6th Special Operations Squadron of the United States Air Force from the period of 2003 to 2007. Soviet An-26s were passed on to the emerging states after the fall of the Soviet empire. Most current operators remain civilian in nature including fifteen operating in the Ukraine.
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