The Antonov An-12 (NATO codename of "Cub") was the primary medium-lift military transport of the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies during the Cold War decades. It operated in similar form and function to the American Lockheed C-130 Hercules which proved exceedingly popular in the West. The An-12 held a direct origin to the An-8, a twin-engine, high-winged light military transport adopted by the Soviet Air Force as well as the civilian passenger airliner concern of Aeroflot. The An-10 was then born of the An-8 to become a four-engined passenger hauler with lengthened fuselage for Aeroflot and, from this, was delivered the military-minded An-12 - retaining the former's four-engine design and high-mounted wings while introducing a rear cargo access ramp akin to the preceding An-8 design.
With more land area to defend than any other superpower of the time, the Soviet military was faced with the daunting prospect of finding ways to mobilize and transport large amounts of men, equipment and weapons to hotspots wherever they may arise. As such, the nation went through an extended period of developing medium and heavy freighters (which continued to this day) to help fill this important logistical role.
The An-12 was designed by Russian Oleg Antonov whose bureau shares his name. First flight of an An-12 prototype was on December 16th, 1957 and powered through 4 x Kuznetsov NK-4 turboprop engines. This same prototype was then severely damaged on a landing approach in 1958, perhaps serving as a symbol of the aircraft's troubled existence still to be realized. Further testing finally cleared the type for military service as the An-12BP and these were outfitted with 4 x Ivchenko AI-20 series turboprop engines. Production of the type spanned from 1957 into 1973 to which 1,248 were produced under various configurations and designations.
The value of such platforms as the An-12 lay in their short runway capabilities and hauling qualities. This was aided, in part, by the high-mounted wings and four engine installations. The high-mounted wing allowed for strong lifting qualities while also clearing the spinning propeller blades from ground personnel moving around the outside of the aircraft. The raised tail unit also allowed unrestricted access to the cargo hold by way of a powered door and loading ramp. With the cockpit set well-forward in the design, the fuselage could largely serve to manage cargo as well as fuel stores and other mission-pertinent components. While traditionally unarmed, some Zn-12 variants featured a 2 x 23mm NR-23 cannon installation at the tail to counter perusing aircraft - a common practice seen in many large aircraft of the Cold War period. A typical crew numbered five personnel to include a pair of pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator and a radioman.
The aircraft was powered by 4 x Ivchenko (now Progress) AI-20L turboprop engines of 4,000 horsepower output each. This allowed the airframe a maximum speed of 480 miles per hour with a cruising speed of 415 miles per hour. Range with a complete fuel load was 3,540 miles. Service ceiling was listed at 33,500 feet with a rate-of-climb (depending on load) of 1,960 feet per minute.
The "Cub" would go on to fill a myriad of other roles in both wartime and peacetime, chief among these becoming an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) station, an aerial refueling tanker and primary crew trainer. India received some forty units and converted some as bombers during the Indo-Pak War. Similarly, Sri Lanka modified a pair of transports as ad hoc bombers in ongoing battles with Tamil Tiger rebels. After the Soviet-Chinese split of the 1960s and having acquired kits for license production of the An-12, China built the aircraft locally before reverse-engineering the line and reintroducing it as the Shannxi Y-8. The Y-8 line was equally broadened into a myriad of available variants including a dedicated maritime reconnaissance variant. Soviet examples of the Cold War were exported solely to allied nations.
The An-12 is still in active use today (2013) but it's terrible accident record had precluded its use across some airspaces of the world. The series has seen nearly 200 recorded accidents during its service lifetime. In fact, an An-12 has recently been linked to a December 2013 crash in Russia, killing five of its crew memebers.
The Antonov An-12 "Cub" series was eventually formally replaced in Soviet/Russian service (among others) by the larger, jet-powered Ilyushin IL-76 "Candid" line which, itself, continues in service today (2013).
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